I’m Catholic. Or, well, I should say, I was raised Catholic and now just kind of mumble my lips to the lyrics so my parents don’t feel like they’ve raised a monster. I don’t really practice anymore and I’m not sure when exactly I stopped, but I do know I have mostly fond memories and the bad are few and far between (at least 5 years of Catechism from when I was around 8 to when I was 13 in which I gave up about three hours every Saturday morning and every Sunday being forced to wear a dress to Mass).
So when a friend, who knows all this, told me I had to drop whatever I was reading (nothing, actually–convenient, eh?) and pick up Lamb and yes, he did have a copy I could borrow, I was excited. Lamb’s been recommended to me before, by a coworker when I was working at Waldenbooks/Borders Express, but I never bothered. Now just because I’m not 100% dedicated to my religion, doesn’t mean I’m not comfortable with it. I grew up with it, so I’m stuck with the influences of it no matter what I do and I’ve even grown to be extremely comfortable with Catholicism to the point where, yes, I can laugh about it. If I couldn’t, I think I would have gone crazy a long time ago.
If you’re like me and have never read a Christopher Moore book before, then you don’t know what you’re missing. But I just finished Lamb and am now educated enough to say, Moore is one of the most hilarious humorists I’ve ever read. Lamb is a fictitious construction of the life of Jesus H. (you’ll find out what the “H” stands for) Christ through the eyes of Biff, who is also called Levi, his childhood best friend. Biff’s adventures start when he’s reawakened from the dead by Raziel, an angel, sent to resurrect him so the bits and pieces of Joshua’s (a.k.a Jesus–that’s explained, too) life left out by Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke can be filled in.
While Raziel occupies himself with soap dramas and pro wrestling matches on T.V., Biff plunges into his narrative on the day he meets Josh (Joshua) for the first time at the age of six. It’s at this point he makes the distinction between the Messiah Josh would become and the uncertain, seemingly crazy young boy Biff ran around with–the boy we’re all really interested in.
Biff, Josh, and Maggie (that’s Mary of Magdalene) are just regular kids living it up in Galilee among the rocks and desert sand, trying to make the most of what fate and a lack of technology, gender equality, and generalized time-granted progress has given them. Biff and Maggie work together to support Josh through his childhood and adolescence when he decides it’s time to go find the three wise men that visited him on his birth day and see what they have to say about him being the Messiah. They leave Maggie behind to get married to Jakan, the local bully, and begin a journey of spiritual (in the case of Biff, sexual) enlightenment.
Moore is quite clever in using the principles of Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism as those from which Josh learns to build his Messianistic pronouncements. A good chunk of the book is dedicated to this journey with the rest being either introductory or a return to the familiar stories in the Bible with Moore’s signature twist. It’s refreshing to hear his adaption of what Jesus would really be like around his close friends and how things “really happened” in the middle of all the literary minimalism the Bible seems to thrive on. Lamb is raunchy and light, humorous and heart-warming. It’s provocative and perverse in all the ways that make for great satire and hopefully provides the witty insight that lets the religious laugh at themselves and remember: it’s never a good thing to take yourself too seriously.
I told a lot of people about this book (some of them were Catholic and Easter’s right around the corner so the religious fervor is in full force, if you know what I mean) as I was reading it and I had a lot of people tell me this book came close to blasphemy, but if it does, or even if it is blasphemous, then call me a sinner ‘cause it was so totally worth it. Except maybe for that part about Buddhism in the middle. That kind of dragged on for a while. Oh, and, the Star Wars fan in me wants to say, there’s like a page dedicated to movie-related discussion and it’s good.
But if anything, if you are Christian and are thinking twice about reading this book, don’t. Just read it. It’s funny, sure, but it’s also quite touching to read a fictional account of what it could have been like to have grown up around Jesus, especially as his best friend and then having to watch as he allowed himself to die when you’ve made it your mission in life to protect him from all the loonies and mean-spirited individuals of the world that you’d never thought you’d feel the need to protect him from himself. Lamb might even tug at your heartstrings and reinforce your beliefs in religion.
And if you’re not religious at all, or even remotely familiar with the events outlined in Lamb, I’m actually not sure if you’ll even understand some of the snide and subtle jokes here or if you’ll even like it. Try it anyway. If Lamb isn’t the right fit, I know there’s plenty of other Moore books for you to choose from.
Release Date: February 1, 2004
Reviewed Format: trade paperback