4 people attended the CFI Science And Religion In Fiction book club discussion of Christopher Moore's book "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal". Only one of them has read other novels by Christopher Moore (6-7 or them, in fact, and he was the one who recommended "Lamb" to the group).
"Lamb" is a humorous account of the life of Jesus Christ, as told by his childhood pal Biff. If we believe this novel (and we have as much reason to believe it as the Bible, as far as I'm concerned :-)) Biff was Jesus' trusty sidekick all throughout his life. The story focuses on Jesus' missing years between ages 14 and 30; it shows Jesus and Biff traveling all over the world in search of the three wise men. Their travels take them to Middle East, China, and India, where they get entangled into many fantastic adventures, each one more bizarre than the previous one.
We all acknowledged that "Lamb" is intended as a funny book rather than serious deconstruction of Christianity. It's a humorous what-if scenario of how doctrines of Christianity came together. "I think Christianity has pulled its ethics from a whole lot of sources, and that's what Moore showed here, that made for a serious message in the book, if there is any," said a reader. Our group liked that aspect of it.
A serious message is not easily found in this book, however. A few readers found the book very lightweight. This is not a book you would learn a lot from. But we all found it hilarious. The humor and the adventures are enough to pull you through the book. One reader said he tried to read a passage from the first 100 pages to his wife, and could not finish, because he fell over laughing. Another person compared the humor in this book to that in "The Simpsons". "A lot of Homer's humor is naivete, taking things seriously," said a reader, pointing out parallels with the "Lamb": "For example, when Gaspar tells Biff the parable of the boat -- when you cross the river, do yo carry the boat with you? And Biff asks, well, how big is the boat, etc.?" The very manner of Biff's speech is modern American. But there were undoubtedly wisecrackers in biblical times, too.
The humor in "Lamb" really shines when it's used to explain the origin of Jesus' famous sayings. From "turn the other cheek" to "you will be the rock I'll build my church upon", they all are shown as having arisen from profane, goofy situations, rather than divine revelation.
The ending was found to be a little too sweet by some people. But it's consistent with the general feel-good tone of this novel that stays funny without hardly ever becoming sarcastic. Indeed, a remarkable feature of "Lamb" is that this tale of young Jesus' escapades manages to be completely non-offensive to Christianity. Some of us noted that it has a surprisingly sympathetic view of Jesus. "I really felt for the guy," said a reader, "he was such a good person. He really was. If the Bible was written more like this, I think a lot more people would end up Christians. At least I might have." Chris Moore mentions in the epilogue that practically no religious person ever came up to him and complained. "Lamb" is full of blasphemy, but it's presented so well that it's almost impossible to feel insulted.
I personally found it funny and sad -- or maybe just sad -- that Biff is considered by everyone to be an idiot, when he is really quite brilliant. He's certainly smarter than Jesus himself. He comes up with theories of round Earth, and of evolution, millenia before anyone else. It seems Chris Moore could not resist the irony of Jesus pal discovering theories that are so viciously opposed by fundamentalist Christians.