I read Lamb for the first time in high school, as I was preparing to play Jesus in Godspell. I loved it then – it was hilarious, irreverent, and yet full of fun. The book went on my shelf and I would grin at the spine as I passed by… but it passed from my consciousness. Val stole it from me one time and thoroughly beat it up and thus the book did leave my shelves for good. I realized a moment to get it back, however – my mother never gave me a show book for Godspell! She’d given me the score instead… but it didn’t fit on my shelf the same way. So, for my birthday, along came this pretty leatherbound, gold-edged paged edition!
I’m happy to report that the book hasn’t lost any of the charm, the fun, the irreverence. I found some of the bits funnier, actually, because now I’m older and a bit wiser (or at least more experienced) and so some of the jokes and events made more sense to me. Or they made sense on a different (read: better) level.
The book lays out the ‘claim’ to tell the story of what Jesus was doing between his birth and when he pops up in the Bible. Of course, it’s all for fun – as Moore points out in the afterword, the Buddhist events are wildly anachronistic… but he’s only trying to tell a fun story, not create some sort of religious hubbub. In fact, I like the idea of seeing Jesus (or Joshua, as he was called in Hebrew) as a regular human being. One who had a best friend (as all tragic heroes should) who made sure that he remembered to be human. Biff saves Josh from so much by reminding him what it is to be human. There are few places in the world other than in friendship – family and romance being the two others I can think of – where you truly remember what it is to be human. To fight for another person, to laugh and cry and fight and connive and all of that… to become as close to ‘one’ with another person as you can. That’s what being a best friend is all about. So this book is a book about best friends – one of them just happens to be the Messiah.
There’s some intertextuality to the book – Catch, the demon from some of Moore’s other novels, shows up briefly at one point. I enjoyed that reference even more this time, having now read the Moore novels featuring Catch. The scenes where the apostles are introduced also held a lot more humor as (having taken some courses at good ol’ BC that caused me to be a bit more in touch with that religious stuff) I now sort of know more about who they “were” and seeing how they were presented here was hilarious.
I do have some issues with the way Moore decides to end the novel. Yes, it’s a happy ending… but it feels cheap and unnecessary. Most of the ‘present day’ scenes between Biff and the angel felt a bit forced. Yes, it was necessary in order to set up the whole “Biff was cut out of the Bible” thing and also set up the “don’t believe what you read, because it clearly wasn’t how it all happened – some other guys wrote it down later, I guess” subtext that runs under this whole book and that is, perhaps, the most subversive aspect to the book. Because nothing in the Bible about Jesus actually comes from the time of Jesus. So maybe he did have a wise-cracking best friend named Biff, maybe they did go out and study in the East for a decade or more, maybe he did love Mary Magdalene…. and maybe none of those things are true. But the book, while being laugh-out-loud funny, does make you think. It’s nice when you find something that strikes such a balance.
Rating: 5 out of 5. This is a great book – funny, smart, and good to read around Christmas time. It isn’t anything special or spectacular – but it is just a really good book. The existence of such books is, more often than not, something to be counted as a miracle, wouldn’t you say?