What is the Christian fundamentalist version of Fatwa? If I were Christopher Moore, I'd be checking that out. This irreverent version of Christ's life in the years between his birth and the Sermon on the Mount is sure to set some blood to boiling, just as surely as it will provoke audible belly laughs in others.
Count me among the laughing-out-loud. Two thousand years after Christ, the angel Raziel gets "dirt-duty" again --- this time to raise up our narrator Levi, also known as Biff, to write his own Gospel. They hole up in a hotel room where Raziel gets hooked on television soaps and Biff tells the story of his lifelong devotion to his friend Joshua (Jesus, he tells us, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Yeshua).
The two boys share common childhood delights. They enact Bible stories. "'THAT'S NOT HOW IT GOES!' Joshua shouted. 'You're supposed to try to break the door down, then I will smite you blind.'" And no matter how many times a lizard is smashed with a rock, Joshua has only to put it in his mouth to make it whole again --- how cool is that? One day they meet a scrappy new girl in town named Maggie and promptly lose their hearts to her. Already at age 10 they're expected to apprentice for a trade, and they choose to learn building from Biff's father.
"Did you know that --- about not being able to build on sand?" Joshua asked.
"Of course, my father's been talking about it for a long time. You can build on sand, but what you build will fall down."
Joshua nodded thoughtfully. "What about soil? Dirt? Is it okay to build on that?"
"Rock is best, but I suppose hard dirt is good."
"I need to remember that."
Despite Joshua's ability to heal, he has doubts about his destiny as the Son of God. Biff and Joshua conceive a plan to visit the three Wise Men who attended Joshua's birth, thinking maybe they can point Joshua in the right direction. Maggie's engagement to a rich lout named Jakan hastens their departure. The boys travel from the desert caves of Afghanistan to India and the Himalayas. They manage to find all three Wise Men, staying years with each, learning the precepts of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and some really boffo ancient Chinese magic. Joshua has gotten the impression that he is not to know women, so the two young men trade knowledge --- Joshua from the Upanishads, and Biff from the Kama Sutra:
The Kama Sutra sayeth:
When a man applies wax from the carnuba bean to a woman's yoni and buffs it with a lint-free cloth or a papyrus towel until a mirror shine is achieved, then it is called "Readying the Mongoose for Trade-in."
But I don't want to give the impression that this book is without reverence for Joshua and his teachings. Biff gives a succinct outline of what the adult Joshua taught. It begins with "Be nice to everyone, even creeps." After they return to Jerusalem and Joshua's fate becomes apparent to him and his followers, Biff's practical, protective love for his friend becomes increasingly touching.
I'm impressed by the author's humor, inventiveness, and bravery in taking on this story. His dialog sparkles with sarcasm and wit. In the book's Afterword, he cites the research he did and reminds us that the book is, after all, a made-up story. It's clear to me that Mr. Moore is working from a deep respect for Christ, despite all the wisecracking.
I think truly evolved people can laugh at what they love. Just don't include me in the Fatwa.
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol(firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 22, 2011
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal