One of my all-time-most-favorite novels is Lamb, by Christopher Moore. The full title is actually Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. Lest there be any confusion, this is not a book that most Christians would call… well… Christian. You certainly will not find it on the shelf at Mardel’s. And don’t hand it to your kids, either. There’s plenty of cussing and sex.
Okay. Now that I’ve done my due diligence with disclaimers, let me tell you why I love it.
The book was recommended to me originally by an old friend who has a master’s in practical theology and an off-the-wall sense of humor. Never having read any of Moore’s work before, I did not know what to expect. In short, I could not put it down. More than once I laughed until I cried. At the end of the book, I just cried. In fact, I regularly re-read it. It’s that good. To this day, if my husband is reading in another room and I hear him laugh to himself, I just assume he’s re-reading Lamb.
The premise of the story is that a more-than-slightly-incompetent angel is sent to earth after 2000 years to raise Levi bar Alphaeus, nicknamed “Biff,” who was the best friend of Jesus when he was a child in Nazareth. Biff’s job is to tell the story of Christ’s childhood.
Biff relates his history with the Messiah – how they met, their childhood shenanigans, and their friendship with Mary of Magdala. Throughout the book, Jesus’s awareness of who he is grows as he does. Biff is always by his side, a loyal friend if also a joyful sinner. The two pals travel together to the far east, discovering cappuccino, kung-fu, and yoga along the way.
The story culminates with the crucifixion. Let’s just say Biff exits the story with Jesus and Judas.
Of course the Bible is silent on most of Christ’s childhood. Moore has simply used his imagination to create a humorous and touching “what if?” story. The beauty of this novel is that Moore treats the character of Christ with humanity and reverence. This is certainly no pale skinned, blue-eyed, other-worldly Messiah with only the most technical of tethers to incarnational existence. This Jesus is a living, breathing, thinking, struggling, feeling boy-become-man. Yet throughout this novel, as in the scriptures, Christ never sins. (Biff does all the sinning, cheerfully of course.)
The power of Lamb is that it allows the believer to see her or himself in Biff, following the truest Friend, not fully understanding, and regularly screwing up. But there is redemption here, and it is made somehow more meaningful through the creative imagining of Jesus as a teenage boy. As Moore himself points out in the epilogue, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” John 21: 25