SPOILERS, BUT THEY AREN’T TOO IMPORTANT
If I were to describe this book in one word, it’d be “hilarious”. Other words I might use would be “astute”, “intelligent”, and “plain good fun”. Honestly, a part of me wishes this were an actual gospel, because then the Bible would be a lot more interesting than it is now.
Lamb is Biff’s story as Jesus’ (otherwise known as Joshua, since that’s what he’d actually be called in Judea) best friend. The angel Raziel has been charged to raise Biff from the dead and have him write his own gospel of Jesus’ life to go along with all the ones previously written by the other disciples. Biff’s gospel does include a portion of Jesus’ preaching and sermons, leading up to his crucifixion, but the majority describes their collective childhood and growing up, as well as their adventures travelling through Asia.
As such, the book pokes gentle fun about Jesus’ story and all the various deeds and miracles Jesus is said to have performed. It’s satire, but it’s not biting, nor is it done with the intent of exposing any hypocrisy or shortcomings of Jesus or Christianity as a religion. It’s more like a top-notch comedy act and, as such, everything is fair game for being mocked or exaggerated for comic effect. If anything, I am impressed at how the author included depictions of four separate religions and twice as many different ethnic and cultural groups, and none of them were caricaturized beyond the confines of satire.
For me, the best thing about this book is Joshua himself. Biff, being Josh’s best bud, isn’t in constant awe of his abilities to heal the sick and wake the dead. More often than not, Josh acts like an idiot and Biff isn’t afraid to tell him when he’s being stupid. Even so, Josh has known from the beginning that he’s God’s son, and throughout his life, he worries over whether he has what it takes to be the Messiah and what exactly it is he’s supposed to do. Josh’s unwavering dedication to his belief that love and kindness is the most important path is written in a way that feels sincere without being overdone or making him look like a transcendent, holier-than-thou saint. To sum it up, in Biff’s gospel, Jesus is human, with human hopes, dreams, curiosities, and foibles.
Biff, on the other hand, is definitely trope-derived character. If this book were a sitcom, he’d be the well-meaning sidekick who’s always tripping over things, losing his pants, and falling in love with every female he meets (which Biff does do). What’s cool about Biff is that he, in some ways, saves Josh from himself. A funny example is that Jesus refuses to tell a lie, even to save the two of them from danger. As such, he needs Biff around to be the sensible one (as much as Biff can be sensible) and navigate their way around the various people they encounter. I did think that his goofy sidekick persona was hammed up too much in how he was almost constantly thinking about sex, or having sex. Biff was definitely the more one-note of the two main characters for most of the book, but he gains some depth in the last portion when Josh begins spreading God’s word and becomes even more invested in Josh’s safety.
I do wish that Mary Magdalene (nicknamed Maggie) had more of her own story as well. In this book, she’s a childhood friend of Josh and Biff’s, but then she’s forced to marry a jackass Pharisee who hates Josh, and she stays with him for several years, finally leaving him once Josh comes back and tours all over Judea with him as he spreads the word of God. Josh forms an intrinsic part of both Biff and Maggie’s lives, but Biff gets to have adventures and learn kung fu. Maggie has none of that, and it’s even more infuriating because the author wrote Maggie as a multifaceted character who was enjoyable to read about, but she was severely underutilized in my opinion.
What surprises me most after finishing this book is how much my estimation of Christianity has risen (no pun intended). It’s hard not to be cynical while observing how the Religious Right in the U.S. is working hard to dismantle every safety net the government has in place. I know this is a big “duh” moment, but the core message of Christianity is a really good one. A religion based on love and loving everyone is nothing to laugh at, and that makes it even more rage-inducing that so much of Christianity, both historically and in present-day, has been subverted by so-called Christians who have decided to dispense with the “love thy neighbor” part and focus on the “fuck everyone who isn’t like me” sentiment, which, correct me if I am wrong, is not part of the New Testament in any way. In all seriousness, this book helped to remind me that there are many aspects of Christianity that are worthy of praise and Christianity, as practiced by many people, does act a positive force in many peoples’ lives.
On the whole, though, this book is meant to be fun, and it definitely is that. I mean, Biff defeats an evil demon. He, Josh, and Maggie have a hysterical encounter with a statue of a Greek god. And Biff and Josh begin the tradition of eating Chinese food on Josh’s birthday, something still done by many American Jews today. It’s silly and ridiculous, but the author writes it with such a straight face that you can’t help but take it at face value. It does help to be familiar with the Old and New Testament to some extent when reading, but it’s not necessary. I had a ton of fun reading this book and I’m only sorry I wasn’t smart enough to listen to my friend Noah when he recommended I read this book ages ago.
Disclosure – borrowed