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Surprising Grace

I just finished Christopher Moore's 2002 novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal and I'm writing here to recommend it to you.

The layout of the book cover, and the content of many of its reviews, led me to expect a gonzo, irreverent, and perhaps crude, tale of frat-boy-like antics set against (and exploiting) the outlines of the biblical Gospels. This expectation kept me from actually opening the book for several months after a friend loaned it to me. What finally, and fortunately, overcame my reluctance in the end is my good opinion of that friend: she's an observant Christian, after all, and a children's librarian; surely she wouldn't lead me astray, right?

Right. This is an unashamedly down-to-earth story of a childhood friendship between Levi, who is called Biff, and Joshua, the Son of God. It takes us from their first meeting, at the age of six, with Joshua calmly (and repeatedly) reviving dead lizards, through many years of their growing up and traveling together on a quest for the wisdom Joshua needs in order to fulfill his obvious destiny as the Messiah his people are waiting for, and into the events familiar to us from the New Testament.

Throughout, though, the point of view is that of Biff, not of Joshua. Biff is not the Son of God, nor particularly wise, nor clever, nor saintly. What he is, is a funny, earthy, stubbornly loyal friend to a boy, and then man, who desperately needs that kind of a tie to the real world of the people he's been sent to save.

You see, it's never in any doubt, in Lamb, whether or not Joshua is the Messiah. What is uncertain is how he'll deal with this destiny. Moore has written a witty yet sensitive story whose ending you know already, but whose characters you haven't seen in this light before.

I'm sure that, if I were to look at the reviews of this book on Amazon, I'd find some one-stars from outraged and offended Christians. From this atheist's point of view, though, Lamb is a well-written, funny, and ultimately reverent story of a truly unique coming of age.


I read Lamb a while back, and can't add much to this excellent review.

The book is hilarious.

It will offend some people; these people arguably need to take their senses of humor in for the 90,000 mile service.

As good humor should, it brings up serious questions about the nature of messiahhood. What if all you really want to do is (say) go fishing and bag it all? Damn, you can't, you're on a rail and you can't make choices (Frank Herbert explored this in Dune, too). What does it mean to have friends? How can you possibly have decent relationships with people when you've got this big, goddamned finger pointing down at you from the heavens all the time?

Moore has a bunch of other books (I've only read Practical Demon Keeping, and it's okay, but not great), and he's got a blog at http://www.chrismoore.com/.