One of my favorite living authors is Christopher Moore. Moore’s an American humor writer that often uses the supernatural and the weird for his jokes. I’ve enjoyed most of his novels, with an exception here and there. His vampire trilogy would have worked out fine as just one book, since the sequels had an obnoxious Goth girl narrating large chunks of the book, and The Stupidest Angel seems like something he threw together rather quickly as an excuse to let a bunch of characters he had from other books to meet up and hang out for Christmas.
But his best book may very well be his most controversial: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.
Moore’s book works on the premise that in modern times, a very stupid angel named Raziel resurrects the long dead Levi bar Alphaeus, known in life to his friends as Biff. Biff grew up in Nazareth and befriended a young Jesus. Biff explains that “Jesus” is really the Greek version of “Joshua,” so he always refers to his lifelong buddy as simply Josh.
While trying to explain to Raziel in the present that the stuff that happens on TV isn’t real (Raziel really wants to meet Spider-Man), Biff writes his own Gospel, recounting his life with Josh, their relationship with neighboring Mary Magdalene (“Maggie”), their travels to the East to meet each of the three wise men, and finally Josh’s ministry and crucifixion.
Moore clearly did his homework here, while adding a human touch to the Gospels. I read the Bible once, and one thing the Gospels aren’t are biographies. Jesus’ birth may be mentioned, but most of the various Gospels cover various teachings and miracles until the Crucifixion and Resurrection. The purpose of those books is clearly to convert people and are more philosophical than biographical. Moore’s Biff is writing a biography, and while he does depict the shaping of Josh’s message over the course of the book, the objectives are different.
Plus, the book is flat out funny. Moore’s sense of humor may not be for everyone (I’d be wary recommending this one to certain very devout people), and Josh is rarely the butt of jokes, but the ways Moore manages to tweak things into modern American English is quite good. One thing he does well here (and there are many things he does well here) is give the 12 Apostles distinctive quirks to help the reader keep track of them, as well as providing insight into why some were chosen. The first fellow Josh and Biff recruit was the local Greek philosopher Bartholomew, who initially only preaches to the pack of stray dogs that follow him everywhere. Biff insists on Peter, James, John, and Andrew because, as fishermen, they had jobs and could pay for stuff unlike the other guys. And so forth.
Part of the book also deals with what it means to be the Messiah. Josh knows he’s the chosen one, but is unsure what exactly it means. Biff offers to help him find his way, and the two bond in foreign lands learning about Buddhism and Hinduism.
Not all of Moore’s jokes will land. During their time with the Buddhists, the pair are offered the chance to learn martial arts. Josh doesn’t want to actually hurt anybody, so the monks invent a method for using an attacker’s momentum against them. Since Josh was a Jew, they call it jew-do. Yes, that joke is terrible, and it is in the book.
I wouldn’t hold that against the rest of the novel.
Interestingly enough, my father and I, who have very different tastes in books, discovered Moore’s work independently of each other with the same novel (Island of the Sequined Love Nun) at about the same time. While my dad does not read at the same rate I do, the fact that we found that much in common always suggested to me we were more alike than he sometimes thinks.
Now if only he liked the Dread movie when I showed it to him…