Fiction Review: "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal" by Christopher Moore

I talked a bit about religion in various fantasy worlds last week which got me thinking about religion in our world.

It's a touchy subject, whether in office conversations or your gaming group. I've gamed with followers of Christianity, Judaism, Paganism. I'm not certain but I think I may have gamed with a Hindu and a Buddhist. I've gamed with believers, atheists, and agnostics. And truth to tell I'm comfortable with all of them. But I've also learned to respect people have different comfort levels with the way their beliefs (or things they don't believe in) are treated in fictional works. When I had a group playing D&D 3.0 several years ago I was strongly tempted to run a game using Green Ronin's Testament setting, based on the lands of the Old Testament of the Bible. One of my players was, quite honestly, horrified of the idea of using that for a game. I had thought it made for a fascinating setting with lands being conquered, betrayals, nomadic tribes, competing religions, etc. It didn't seem worth insulting a friend over a game.

With that in mind that brings me to Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. Just looking at the title it sounds like an awfully offensive work, one sure to get Christians up in arms. And I'm pretty certain it has done just that with some people, though as one who considers himself Christian I greatly enjoyed it.

So what's it about? Essentially it involves "Levi bar Alphaeus who is called Biff" being resurrected from the dead into our modern world. He's been brought back to write a new gospel - as Jesus' best friend from childhood he is well suited for this task. Though even that statement is an inaccuracy which Biff corrects - no one called Jesus "Jesus". That's a Greek name. In his home he was referred to as "Joshua Bar Joseph" or just "Josh". 

Just from that preceding paragraph the tone appears to be light - and in a lot of ways it is a light-hearted book. It has running jokes, like Biff having a crush on Jesus' mother. Josh as a human wants to understand sin better but does not want to engage in sin - so Biff makes the great sacrifice and engages in the services of prostitutes so he can report back to Josh.

I'm getting perhaps a little ahead of myself though ad perhaps a little more discussion of the plot is appropriate. This book covers Josh's life from his early childhood through his death. In his childhood we see him experimenting with his powers and trying to figure out what he is supposed to do as the Messiah. We see him and Biff meet Mary of Magdala, referred to as Maggie in this book, with both of the boys attracted to her. 

In Josh's efforts to better understand what he should do he and Biff go out in search of the three wise men, spending years and years learning from each of them, traveling to modern-day Afghanistan, China, and India to learn from them. There the two learn all sorts of martial arts, learn about different world religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and manage to get into lots of trouble along the way. Biff also tends to seek out the company of any woman he can find. Eventually the two return home and Josh begins his ministry and we witness many of the events of the Bible, albeit from Biff's unique perspective. We even get some twists of the death of Josh and of his betrayer, Judas Iscariot.

So should you read the book? I loved it. I'm a pretty liberal Catholic (i.e waiting for the pope to give me the boot) so do with that as you may. But I'd think it is a portrayal that a non-Christian - including agnostics and atheists, can find much to enjoy. If for nothing else Moore clearly did his homework in the world of the New Testament of the Bible. We get some fantastic glimpses of life in Roman-occupied Judea as well as other places in the world like India and China. 

It's also a fun book. There is a certain amount of enjoyable zaniness seeing Josh and Biff learn martial arts, seeing some of the scams that Biff and even Josh get involved with (including getting Maggie away from her husband).

As far as RPG-ers go... Like I said above, I view the world of the Old Testament a fantastic period for gaming. Well this gives us a great view of the world of the New Testament - that of the early Roman Empire, though none of the action to place in Europe. 

It's also a short read - in this world of 5-book trilogies, it's nice to be able to just read a story that stands on its own.

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