Jesus, the Missing Years

I grew up in a very religious family: church every Sunday, Catholic school, confession, sacraments, the whole lot.  Generally, I’m satisfied with my religious upbringing and feel that I’m a better person for it.  That’s probably a fairly unpopular sentiment in what is a very secular age, but I’m happy to admit it.

I think that many outside observers have a skewed view about what it means to be raised Catholic.  Leaving aside the horrendous experiences of those raped by clergy (and I say this not to in any way belittle their trauma, but as unacceptably numerous as these cases are, they are not the majority), there is a stigma attached to being raised in the church.  It’s viewed as stodgy, humorless.

On this last count, I couldn’t disagree more.  My upbringing taught me that God, if He’s (She’s…why not?) up there, most certainly has a sense of humor.  And, this may be a bit presumptuous of me, but I’m fairly certain that He/She finds Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Jesus’ Childhood Pal very, very funny.

Christopher Moore’s main creation is Biff, Jesus’ closest friend, who is never very far away during Jesus’ entire life.  Biff is resurrected by an angel to tell his version of the story.  The stories of the Gospels are retold humorously enough, but the shining section of the book is the middle, where Jesus and Biff head east for eighteen years, a span of time completely absent in biblical accounts.  Jesus spends the time in Afghanistan, China, and India preparing for his eventual ministry.  Biff learns kung fu and gets laid, much to the annoyance of his pal, the Son of God.

In a shining example of Moore’s humor, Jesus and Biff are staying in a mountain fortress with one of the wise men and his Chinese concubines.  For Jesus’ birthday, the concubines prepare a magnificent Chinese feast, a tradition which, according to Biff, survives to this very day among Jews.

Later, as Jesus and Biff travel to China, the run against the Great Wall.  Waiting to get through the gate, Biff figures it’s taking too long and suggest they just go around.  A month later, at the same gate, Jesus suggests, since the wall doesn’t have a name, Biff should name it.

And so it came to pass that through the ages the wall was known as the Ostentatious and Unpleasant Wall of China.  At least I hope that’s what happened.

Christopher Moore points out, in an afterwards to this book, that his intention was simply to tell a funny story, not to offend anyone’s faith.  In that way, this book is remarkably refreshing.  Mean-spirited and sarcastic works skewering Christianity are very much in vogue and easy to come by.  This book, while certainly irreverent, is never scornful or mean.  It is, in fact, quite respectful of Jesus and his teachings.  Moore adheres to Christianity’s main tenants while fleshing out the New Testament in a decidedly unorthodox way.

There’s a time and place for scathing satire, even when it comes to religion. I can appreciate that.   There’s also a time for simple, good-natured fun and Lamb is a healthy dose of the latter.  I’m pretty sure that Jesus would concur.

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9 comments

  1. When I read this book I thought really funny, but its humour is not hurtful, more the humour of one friend ribbing another, and instead of throwing missiles at an easy target you get the impression that Moore loved his hero & his friend.

  2. Nice review–I’ve been debating picking up this Christopher Moore book and this probably clinches it. Sounds like it will be a good vacation book for me, come June.

  3. I’ve had this book on my shelf for more than a year now, and I’ve avoided picking it up for just the reason you mentioned. My background sounds a lot like yours (except I’m not Catholic) and I figured this book was going to be more disrespectful and disparaging than I wanted. So it’s kind of a relief to hear you thought it was funny.

  4. This is my favorite Moore book and really, my favorite book overall. It would have been very easy to write something that was satirical and scathing of the Catholic faith, but you’re right, this isn’t that. It’s funny and sarcastic and dark at times but it does respect Jesus and the Christian teachings. Although I suppose it’s easier to make fun of the church than it is to actually make fun of Jesus. I’m sure there are people who will find this offensive, but I think they’re looking to be upset.

  5. @parrish – that’s an excellent way to put it and, by not lobbing easy missiles Moore took the more difficult, but more refreshing route.
    @Laura – This is only the second Moore book that I’ve read. The other, Bloodsucking Fiends, was also a wonderful read. His sense of humor is very unique in that it’s never cynical or mean, but it still has an edge to it. I hope that you enjoy them!
    @Emily – Why wait till June? They’re easy books, this one I read over the course of four or five days reading only on the subway to and from work. They’re definitely what I’d call ‘light reading,’ but not insubstantial at all. Hope that you like them!
    @Kathy – I think that you’ll be surprised. When I picked it up, I was a bit apprehensive as well – not because I don’t enjoy books that are critical of Christianity but because mocking mean-spiritedness can just be tiresome. While reading it, I realized that this book wasn’t going to be that way at all. In fact, Moore even says that he took it as a given in writing this book that Jesus was who the gospels say he was. Pick this one up, you really don’t have much to worry about.
    @Alley – I didn’t really find the book sarcastic or dark at all. There was some gentle ribbing and much absurdity, but it was overall a very respectful book. For the people who would get upset at this, I imagine they are the same people who decry Harry Potter for promoting satanism. You’re absolutely right – they’re the ones looking to be upset. If they calmed down for a moment and actually read the book, they’d probably be surprised. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Biff…how funny is that. 🙂 I think I might have to check this one out. I haven’t read any religious books for my blog yet.

    You will LOVE Into Thin Air. Can’t wait to read your review. 😉

  7. I’ve read Fluke and Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore, the latter on audiobook. I was ‘meh’ on Fluke and downright disliked Bloodsucking Fiends. I’m not sure I’m on the same wavelength as Moore’s humor, unfortunately as he seems so well-liked by many readers and I’ve heard a lot of good things about ‘Lamb’ too.

  8. @socrmom78 – It’s funny alright, you’ll like it. It’s a very light and quick read. My thoughts on Into Thin Air will be coming soon.
    @Christy – Everyone has a different sense of humor and I can see how Moore’s might be viewed negatively by people. I haven’t read Fluke, but the humor was very similar to Bloodsucking Feinds. So, if you didn’t enjoy that one, you might want to give this one a miss as well. Thanks for coming by!

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