Sunday, August 26, 2007

10. Lamb

by Christopher Moore

First of all, let me say that this book was so much more than I expected.

Christopher Moore is a much lauded author over at Chicklit and Lamb is the book most often mentioned, so I always wanted to get my hands on the fictional gospel covering thirty-some years of Jesus’ life not detailed by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Told by his childhood friend Levi, whose nickname Biff comes from the practice of being whacked upside one’s head, Lamb offers the events and travels that influenced Jesus’ teachings. Now, this isn’t just fictional speculation – Moore goes way beyond that to include wacky encounters with demons, yeti, monks, and more. He even has Christ learn Judo (“Jew-do” as it’s properly named). And yet, it’s completely inoffensive in every way.

The story really begins on the eve of Maggie’s wedding (Maggie=Mary of Magdelene), when Biff and Joshua (from Yeshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus) sneak off in the night to explore the idea of Joshua being the Messiah. At this point Joshua feels within himself that he’s the Messiah and has had some experience healing small animals and even bringing a Roman soldier back from the dead for a few minutes. But it’s not exactly the easiest thing to go around claiming you’re the son of God, so when the love of their lives is married off to someone else, Biff and Joshua go off in search of the Three Wise Men to learn more about what drew them to Joshua’s birth.

Somewhere around Kabul, the two find Balthasar living in a stone fortress with eight concubines, each named for a different…well…talent. Joy (full name: Tiny Feet of the Divine Dance of Joyous Orgasm) features most prominently, as she befriends Biff and teaches him all about elixirs and poisons. While Joshua and Balthasar are off studying and training, Biff keeps himself entertained with the concubines, trying to gain entrance to the locked iron door Balthasar has forbidden them to enter. Of course, source of comic relief that he is, Biff unlocks the door and lets out a demon with whom Balthasar has made a pact for immortality. Once the demon is banished Balthasar ages his two-hundred-some years and dies, but not without leaving Joshua with knowledge about kindness coming before justice.

After Balthasar’s death, the two seek out Gaspar, another of the Wise Men who is now living in a Chinese monastery. Here they learn to conduct their own heat, are trained to jump nimbly and move quickly, and find out what it’s like to shave a yak (Joshua does this far more adroitly than Biff who ends up with three of his four limbs in splints). After Joshua learns to leave his physical self behind and become invisible, Gaspar takes them on a special meditation pilgrimage into the mountains. They gather food along the way and meditate to keep themselves warm, except for Biff who merely falls asleep and awakens to find himself face to face with a large, white, furry monster – a yeti that the monks have been bringing food to each year. After the yeti dies and Joshua takes with him the lessons of compassion and unconditional love that the monks displayed for the creature, he and Biff travel to India to find Melchior, the third Wise Man. Here they find an extreme caste system, with some men so far down on the social ladder that they literally live in pits and have their children sacrificed to the god Kali. After a little switcheroo wherein Biff dresses up as Kali and the two save some children from certain death, they finally find Melchior practicing yoga on a cliff. Not only does he teach Joshua how to multiply food, he also introduces him to the idea of the Divine Spark, a certain special power that is in everyone (meanwhile Biff busies himself with the intense study of the Kama Sutra).

What I really liked about this book is that while it was pretty funny – Biff is much more than slapstick comic relief and some of the things he says are hilarious in that great sarcastic, witty way – it also melded together really well. When the two return to Nazareth, Joshua begins his teachings and men interested in hearing his word join the group. These become the apostles and we start to see events familiar to all Christians. There’s the turning of water into wine, the multiplication of fishes and loaves, the forty days and nights in desert and the devil’s temptation. Christopher Moore is very respectful of the Biblical writings this way, but he’s also genius in how he’s set up these events in earlier parts. We can see how the three Wise Men’s teachings have influenced Joshua’s own and in doing this Moore is suggesting that the world’s major religions – Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity – don’t exist in a vacuum, but are drawn from each other and could very well coexist in harmony. I’m not saying Moore set out to write a political document on the need for peace between religions, but he does seem to suggest that these religions aren’t as different as we make them out to be. It’s a profound statement for what could be interpreted solely as comedy. (Actually, I’m kind of surprised that there haven’t been any protests against this book.)

The only thing I would have liked to see is more interaction between Biff and the angel Raziel after he’s raised from the dead to compose his gospel – the two of them talking about TV and pizza and modern conveniences was hilarious – and I would have liked to read Biff’s perspective of the Resurrection. Biff’s gospel ends just after Joshua is crucified and dies and, in his anger, Biff seeks out Judas and hangs him. The curtain closes on that point. I suppose we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to go to if we want to find out more, there’s nothing like a little humor infusing the seriousness of religion. In this book, Moore’s teachings would be that it’s okay to laugh a little…and to wonder, “What if Christ knew Judo?”


Blogger piksea said...

I love this book! I have decided that Moore is probably right and this is who I want to believe Jesus was.

After reading this, I bought the book for a few of my very Catholic relatives and other my cousin, a senior at Catholic University, who thinks Josh/Jesus seems dumb to her, people generally really like Moore's portrayal.

Have you read anything else of Moore's? I also loved Fluke and am currently whittling away at his oeuvre.

2:16 PM  

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