Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#33 Friend Recommended - Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff

My friend Andrew has been bugging me for years to read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, a controversial satire by Christopher Moore, for years. And I always meant to, but it wasn't until it was recommended to me by my friend Kelly as well, when I asked for book recommendations to complete task #31 of my 101 Tasks that I finally went to the library and got it. Coming so highly recommended from two of my friends, I knew that it was time.

And I'm glad I did.

I found this book to be both satirically witty and earnestly serious. In a world where so much of Western Civilazation's history has been founded upon Christian beliefs, politics and wars, and a country where the Right is trying to turn secular law into religious, it was a relevant and fascinating read.

I have never been one to take the Bible too seriously. That's not to say I think I'm a bad Christian, just that I recognize certain realities and that while the Bible may be divinely inspired, it is not necessarily the unedited, unaltered Word of God. First of all, it's been translated over and over again, and before the printing press it was translated by hand, leading to all sorts of possible uncondoned edits. It's also not the complete story, since the Council of Nicene (made up of men with all sorts of political and ideological agendas) completely through out some of the original books of the Bible (heretical, you know) and did who knows what else to the ones that got to stay. In addition, let's face it, not all the books deal with Jesus' teachings. In fact, there seems to be more of Paul's opinions in there sometimes than Jesus'. And the most glaring omission: How did Jesus become the person Christians follow? We jump from his birth to the time he started preaching at 30 years of age. What happened to him during that time period? What was his life like? Did he learn lessons like the rest of us? Did he ever doubt like the rest of us?

Lamb strives to both answer and mock these questions. The Angel Raziel has brought Biff, Christ's childhood best friend, back to life in order to write his Gospel, which has been missing from the Bible these many years. Rather than focusing on Jesus' preachings or Paul's later interpretations of his teacher's lessons, Biff focuses on the boy that would become the man. In Lamb, Jesus is shown to be, not just the son of God, but also a man. Reading this book somehow makes Jesus more relatable: he gets into fights with his best friend, wonders about sex, searches for his identity, and occasionally wonders if he's gotten it wrong and he's not the Messiah and Son of God. Some of his most famous teachings are grounded in this book, showing that they aren't just words, but that there are reasons and actions behind those teachings, human reason and human actions that made these lessons important to Jesus and that is why he passed them on to humanity.

Even more intriguing, to me anyway, is how the story integrates other world religions as Jesus and Biff travel to China and India.

I loved this book. Not just because I'm a cynic and I appreciate humor, but as a Christian and spiritual person I loved how this book really combined the Son of God with a human persona. Christ is not just man's Savior (if that's what you believe), he's a man himself, and this book really shows off how that duality might have played out during his formative years.

Obviously... this is not a real Gospel. It's not even really a "maybe this is how it happened" story. But it's a good funny read. I enjoyed it. It made me think. It made me happy. It made me wonder if maybe that is how it happened, or at least closer to what the actual Gospels have written. Somehow, even at its most supernatural, the events of the book seem more human and grounded than a lot of the Bible.

This is not a book for anyone who believes that the Bible is word for word true or can't handle anyone asking questions of their faith, because those who have never questioned don't have enough faith to handle the questions and uncertainties this book may pose to them (That's just my opinion, but I think I'm right) and so they won't enjoy it. Because if you can't suspend your belief about your faith, then this book is just going to seem like a bunch of junk. But if you enjoy questioning, if you sometimes wonder what Boy Jesus might have been like, and if you don't mind operating outside the bounds of strict interpretations, this will be a fun book for you. Or, if you don't believe at all and would like to read a hilarious romp about that guy the U.S.'s political Left claims to follow, then this is a good book for you.

Happy Jesus' Birthday... except not really because that actually happened in the Spring but because the Catholic Church needed a holiday to help stamp out the pagan Mid-Winter Celebrations they moved the celebration of Jesus' birth to Midwinter. If you appreciate the irony in that last sentence, you'll probably like the book.

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