Lamb, by Christopher Moore, is a popular book - at least at the Ottawa Public Library. Its subtitle is The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. As you probably know, it is a comic look at the 'lost years' between Jesus' nativity and the beginning of his ministry in Galillee.
The edition from which I shall be citing passages was published in 2007 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book was originally published in 2002. The edition I got a hold of was a special edition with that faux-leather cover that you find on Bibles, a red ribbon to mark your page, and gold (or gold-coloured) edging. Its appearance was droll.
I found it hard to find a common theme to focus on in this marginal commentary. Indeed, from my perspective, what was most consistent about Lamb was its theological 'offness' (on coining or using such a term, may I say faute de mieux). This 'offness' is odd, particularly considering, as Moore writes in his afterword (written for the new edition of the book), that he 'made certain assumptions about who Jesus was, mainly that he was who the Gospels say he was'. But I don't intend to write a dissertation about Moore's 'Christology' (so to speak). Rather, better to focus on the kind of 'important question[s]' Moore 'felt needed to be addressed,' such as '"What if Jesus had known kung fu?"' [p. 405]
For the most part Moore's take on Jesus' 'missing years' is witty, with a dose of charm, some juvenile hijinks, a bit of 'buddy movie' and a little Pratchett. It ends, as all good stories about Jesus outside the Gospels do, with tragedy, of course. (There is, I find, something about the Resurrection which is impossible to communicate effectively in accounts of Jesus' life other than the Gospels.)
So let's look at some of Moore's good stuff, and maybe take in an oddity or two.
My favourite passage from Lamb reminds me of similar conversations which have occurred from time to time in the works of Terry Pratchett:
On our first day of work, Joshua and I were up before dawn. We met near the well and filled the waterskins our fathers had given us, then ate our breakfasts, flatbread and cheese, as we walked together to Sepphoris. The road, although packed dirt most of the way, was smooth and easy to walk. (If Rome saw to anything in its territories, it was the lifelines of its army.) As we walked we watched the rock-strewn hills turn pink under the rising sun, and I saw Joshua shudder as if a chill wind had danced up his spine.The idea of Jesus not being particularly self-assured in his identity as the Messiah, even if he is only a pre-pubescent boy in this particular episode, doesn't quite sit with Moore's assumption about Jesus' identity ('that he was who the gospels say he was'), since if anything is clear about what the Gospels say about Jesus, it is that he was, and is, the Messiah. This 'offness' permeates the whole work, even when Biff is accompanying his childhood friend in his public ministry. Setting this aside for now, let's turn to another comic moment.
"The glory of God is in everything we see," he said. "We must never forget that."
"I just stepped in camel dung. Tomorrow let's leave after it's light out."
"I just realized it, that is why the old woman wouldn't live again. I brought her back for the wrong reason, out of arrogance, so she died a second time."
"It squished over the side of my sandal. Well, that's going to smell all day."
"But perhaps it was because I did not touch her. When I've brought other creatures back to life, I've always touched them."
"Is there something in the Law about taking your camel off the road to do his business? There should be. If not the Law of Moses, then the Romans should have one. I mean, they won't hesitate to crucify a Jew who rebels, there should be some punishment for messing up their roads. Don't you think? I'm not saying crucifixion, but a good smiting in the mouth or something."
"But how could I have touched the corpse when it is forbidden by the Law? The mourners would have stopped me."
"Can we stop for a second so I can scrape off my sandal? Help me find a stick. That pile was as big as my head."
"You're not listening to me, Biff."
"I am listening. Look, Joshua, I don't think the Law applies to you. I mean, you're the Messiah, God is supposed to tell you what he wants, isn't he?"
"I ask, but I receive no answer."
"Look, you're doing fine. Maybe that woman didn't live again because she was stubborn. Old people are that way. You have to throw water on my grandfather to get him up from his nap. Try a young dead person next time."
"What if I am not really the Messiah?"
"You mean you're not sure? The angel didn't give it away? You think that God might be playing a joke on you? I don't think so. I don't know the Torah as well as you, Joshua, but I don't remember God having a sense of humor."
Finally, a grin. "He gave me you as a best friend, didn't he?"
"Help me find a stick."
"Do you think I'll make a good stonemason?"
"Just don't be better at it than I am. That's all I ask."
"What have I been saying?"
"You really think Maggie likes me?"
"Are you going to be like this every morning? Because if you are, you can walk to work alone." [pp. 41-2] A few notes: Joshua is the name Biff, the protagonist, uses for Jesus; it is correct, as it is the English version of the name Yeshua. I will use the names interchangeably. 'Maggie' is the name Biff and Joshua use of Mary Magdalene. One of Moore's conceits is that Mary Magdalene's family moved to Nazareth when she was about Jesus' age. Anyway, this is not the only conversation Joshua and Biff have where they seem to be talking about two different things. (Biff characteristically focusses on things like the camel dung in which he has stepped, or, as in earlier in the book, what kind of snake it is Jesus has entranced; it seems to be his way of coping with things that are beyond his ability to fully grasp.) That Jesus appears to be attracted to Mary Magdalene (and she to him) is typical of contemporary fiction about him (as is shown by Adele Reinhartz's book Jesus of Hollywood). Biff has to settle with being second in 'Maggie's' affections, but it works out for him pretty well. Incidentally, Biff's actual name is Levi, but the name 'Biff' is an onomatopeia, representing the sound made when his mother boxes his ears, something which happens frequently. Anyway, Biff and Joshua have a conversation along different wavelengths, but Biff shows his homely wisdom by reassuring Joshua that he really is the Messiah. Joshua doesn't really accept this himself until much later in the book; by means of this exchange, Biff's presence, we are led to understand, is proven to be vital to Jesus' growth in the 'lost years' before his public ministry. Biff should be calling for crucifixion as the punishment for letting your camel poop on the road, because, after all, we all know that crucixifixion is a doddle anyway.
Just as Pratchett can make even dangerous chases hilarious, as he does in, for example, Feet of Clay, so Moore puts Biff's life in danger for comic effect, twice. The second time is when Biff devises a plan to rescue Untouchable children from a mass sacrifice being offered to the goddess Kali.
At this point I should probably mention that Biff and Joshua go on a search for the magi who came and brought gifts at Jesus' birth (and, like so many modern and post-modern seekers of spiritual enlightenment, betake themselves to India and the Far East); Moore goes with the traditional three 'kings' and uses the names given them by tradition: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar; but departs from the tradition forthwith. By the time Biff and Joshua go on their rescue mission, they are searching for the final wise man, Melchior, who lives in the region of Nicobar; in the meantime they have found themselves not far from the city of Kali, Calcutta, in whose hinterland the great sacrifice to Kali is taking place.
In addition to being a moment out of an Indiana Jones film, this scene displays Biff's bravery and resourcefulness:
As I approached the rear of the altar I pulled the special torch I'd made from under my girdle of human hands. (Actually, my girdle of human hands was made of dried goat's udders stuffed with straw, but the Untouchable women had done a pretty good job as long as no one bothered to count fingers.) Through Kali's stone legs [there is a giant statue of the goddess] I could see the priests tying each of the children on the trunk of a wooden elephant. As soon as the bonds were tight, each priest drew a bronze blade and held it aloft, ready to strike off a finger as soon as the high priest gave the signal.The other episode in which Moore cleverly weaves together danger and humour is earlier in the book. The first of the three magi whom Joshua and Biff meet is Balthasar, who dwells in a remote fastness near Kabul. Balthasar, it turns out, is a magician in the worst sense, although he is a sympathetic character and learned in ancient Chinese philosophy. He and his Chinese concubines teach Joshua and Biff all kinds of things, from the arcane to the tricky.
I struck the tip of my torch on the edge of the altar, screamed for all I was worth, then threw my sari off and ran up the steps as the torch burst into dazzling blue flame that trailed sparks behind me as I ran. I hopped across the array of goat heads and stood between the legs of the statue of Kali, my torch held aloft in one hand, one of my severed heads [actually a bomb] swinging by the hair in the other.
"I am Kali," I screamed. "Fear me!" It came out sort of mumbled through my fake teeth.
Some of the drums stopped and the high priest turned around and looked at me, more because of the bright light of the torch than my fierce proclamation.
"I am Kali," I shouted again. "Goddess of destruction and all this disgusting crap you have here!" They weren't getting it. The priest signaled for the other priests to come around me from the sides. Some of the female acolytes were already trying to make their way across the dance floor of decapitations toward me.
"I mean it! Bow down to me!" The priests charged on. I did have the crowd's attention, though unfortunately they weren't cowering in fear at my angry goddessness. I could see Joshua moving around the wooden elephants, the guarding priests having left their posts to come after me. "Really! I mean it!" Maybe it was the teeth. I spit them out toward the nearest of my attackers.
Running across a sea of slick, bloody heads is evidently a pretty difficult task. Not if you've spent the last six years of your life [as Biff has] hopping from the top of one post to another, even in ice and snow, but for the run-of-the-mill homicidal priest, it's a tough row to hoe. The priests and acolytes were slipping and sliding among the goat and human heads, falling over each other, smacking into the feet of the statue, one even impaling himself on a goat's horn where he fell.
One of the priests was only a few feet away from me now, trying not to fall on his own blade as he crawled over the mess. "I will bring destruction ... oh, fuck it," I said. I lit the fuse on the severed head I held in my hand, then swung it between my legs and tossed it in a steep arch over my head. It trailed sparks on its way into the black goddess's open maw, then disappeared.
I kicked the approaching priest in the jaw, then danced across the goat heads, leapt over the head of the high priest, and was halfway to Joshua at the first wooden elephant when Kali, with a deafening report, breathed fire out over the crowd and the top of her head blew off. [pp. 252-3] Whereas another author might have made Biff's and Joshua's gambit of having 'Kali' appear to her worshippers succeed, there is a certain charm to how events proceed. It seems to me to be rather typical of, say, American authors to have the cleverness of their heroes fail and require them to resort to force (although Biff never needs do more than either hurl bombs where they will do no direct harm or wave them threateningly at people), but this is not always a failing, as in this case, where I think Moore does a good job at displaying Biff's resourcefulness and capacity to make the most of unexpected turns for the worst (which lends itself well when Moore deals with Jesus' crucifixion; Biff tries his utmost to stop it from happening and to save Jesus' life, and it is to Moore's credit that he is able to build dramatic tension in recounting an event the conclusion of which is known without a doubt). Here, Biff's (and to a lesser extent Joshua's) resourcefulness is displayed in a funny manner. His reaction to the failed ploy and the oncoming priests reminds me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indy, confronted by an expert swordsman, simply shoots him.
The magus has a secret, however, and that is that he has made a pact with a demon to gain everlasting life. He keeps the demon locked in a specially-sealed chamber in his fortress, but (under the file of 'curiosity killed the cat') Biff, with the aid of Balthasar's concubines, opens the chamber, unwittingly allowing the demon to escape. It kills and eats all of the concubines but one, and then starts chasing Biff and the remaining concubine, whose nickname is Joy, around the fortress (at this point Balthasar and Joshua have left for a ruined temple, but begin hightailing it back to Balthasar's fortress once he realises that the demon is loose).
I took [Joy's] sleeve and dragged her down the passage toward the girls' quarters, snatching up two heavy lances that were supporting a tapestry as we passed and handing one to her. As we rounded the curves I could see an orange light ahead and soon I could see that it was fire blazing on the stone walls from broken oil lamps. ... As we approached the beaded doorway into the concubines' chamber the screaming stopped and a severed human head rolled in front of us. The creature stepped through the curtain, oblivious to the flames that licked the walls around it, its massive body filling the passageway, the reptilian skin on its shoulders and its tall pointed ears grating against the walls and ceiling. In its talonlike hand it held the bloody torse of one of the girls.The one other part which comes to mind for me as a point at which Moore departs from his typical style (albeit briefly) is when Joshua and Biff say farewell to the last of the magi, Melchior, from whom Joshua has been learning tenets of dharmic Hinduism.
"Hey kid," it said, its voice like a sword point dragged across stone, a yellow light coming from behind its dinner-plate-sized eyes, "it took you long enough." ...
I don't know where she found the strength, but the diminutive Joy came from behind me and hurled the heavy lance with as much power as any soldier. (I felt my own knees starting to buckle in the face of the demon.) The bronze tip of the lance seemed to find its way between two of the monster's armored chest scales and drove itself a span deep under the weight of the heavy shaft. The demon gasped, and roared, opening his massive maw to show rows of saw-edged teeth. He grabbed the shaft of the lance and attempted to pull it out, his huge biceps quivering with the strain. He looked sadly down at the spear, then at Joy, and said, "Oh, foul woe upon you, you have kilt me most dead," then he fell back and the floor shook with the impact of his huge body.
"What'd he say, what'd he say?" Joy asked, digging her nails into my shoulder. The demon had spoken in Hebrew.
"He said that you killed him."
"Well, duh," said the concubine. (Strangely enough, "duh" sounds exactly the same in all languages.)
I had started to inch forward to see if anyone was still alive in the girls' quarters when the demon sat up. "Just kidding," he said. "I'm not kilt." And he plucked the spear from his chest with less effort than it might take to brush away a fly.
I threw my own lance, but didn't wait to see where it hit. I grabbed Joy and ran.
"Where?" she said.
"Far," I said.
"No," she said, grabbeding my tunic and jerking me around a corner... . "To the cliff passage." We were in total darkness now, neither one of us having thought to grab a lamp, and I was trusting my life to Joy's memory of these stone halls.
As we ran we could hear the demon's scales scraping the walls and the occasional curse in Hebrew as he found a low ceiling. Perhaps he could see in the dark somewhat, but not a lot better than we could.
"Duck," Joy said, pushing my head down as we entered the narrow passage that led to the cliff above. I crouched in this passage the way the monster had to crouch to move in the normal-sized halls and I suddenly realized the brilliance of Joy's choice in taking this route. We were just seeing the moonlight breaking in through the opening in the cliff's face when I heard the monster hit the bottleneck of the passage.
"Fuck! Ouch! You weasels! I'm going to crunch your little heads between my teeth like candied dates!"
"What'd he say?" asked Joy.
"He says that you are a sweet of uncommon delicacy."
"He did not say that."
"Believe me, my translation is as close as you want to the truth."
I heard a horrible scraping noise from inside the passage as we climbed out on the ledge and up the rope ladder to the top of the plateau. Joy helped me up, then pulled the ladder up behind us. ...
"Let's go!" she shouted to me. She took off down the path toward the hidden road. ... We had almost made the first leg of the road when we heard a hideous wailing and something heavy landed in the dust in front of us. When I could get my breath again I stepped up to find the bloodied carcass of a goat.
"There," Joy said, pointing down the mountainside to something moving among the rocks. Then it looked up at us and there was no mistaking the glowing yellow eyes.
"Back," Joy said, pulling me back from the road. ...
We made our way back to the rope ladder, tossed it over the side, and started down. As Joy made it to the ledge and ducked into the cave something heavy hit me on the right shoulder. My arm went numb from the impact and I let go of the ladder. Mercifully, my feet had tangled in the rungs as I fell, and I found myself hanging upside down looking into the cave entrance where Joy stood. I could hear the terrified goat that had hit me screaming as it fell into the abyss, then there was a distant thump and the screaming stopped.
"Hey, kid, you're a Jew, aren't you?" said the monster from above.
"None of your business," I said. Joy grabbed the ladder and pulled me inside the cave, ladder and all, just as another goat came screaming past. ...
"It's been a long time since I've eaten a Jew. A good Jew sticks to your ribs. That's the problem with Chinese, you eat six or seven of them and in a half hour you're hungry again. No offense, miss."
"What'd he say?" Joy asked.
"He says he likes kosher food. Will that ladder hold him?"
"I made it myself."
"Swell," I said. We heard the ropes creak with the strain as the monster climbed onto the ladder. [pp. 167, 169-71] The demon's pursuit of Joy and Biff takes another chapter, and includes some more of Biff's translating the demon's remarks, but this is enough to work with. The whole scene, of a (then) relatively inept protagonist trying to escape a foe beyond his means and having to risk life and limb to do it reminds me of a similar scene in Terry Pratchett's novel Feet of Clay. The incongruity of the demon's dialect (it sounds remarkably modern, even more than the style Moore uses to represent Biff's written account of Jesus' 'lost years', what with its ironic usage of 'old-timey' language) and Biff's witty translations of its curses and threats with its terrifying appearance and the bloody horror by which it was introduced and its inexorable and frightening pursuit of its helpless victims (who despite their best efforts, especially Joy's, can do it no harm) create a surprisingly tense but funny episode. Indeed, the altercation with the demon is one of the better passages in the work. At the same time, one of Moore's weaknesses, I find, is the overall lack of stylistic variety. His style, which may be described as a species of 'ironic American vernacular' is not as good on its own terms as, say, that of an author like Rowling's or Pullman's, or Fforde's is, and so tends to be a bit wearying as the book goes on. However, in this scene, when he combines it with real horror to produce clashing incongruity, it proves to be an effective technique. Even just by looking at the titles of some of Moore's other works, it seems that this is a stylistic technique which he has been able to perfect.
It was on my way home [to where Biff is staying with Joshua and Melchior]... that I saw, outlined on the wall of a temple of Vishnu, a dirty water stain, caused by condensation, mold, and wind-blown dust, which described the face of my best friend's mother, Mary.Now let's return to earlier in the book for a brief, but very interesting, scene.
"Yeah, she does that," said Joshua, when I swung over the edge of his nook and announced the news. He and Melchior had been meditating and the old man, as usual, appeared to be dead. "She used to do it all the time when we were kids. She sent James and me running all over the place washing down walls before people saw. Sometimes her face would appear in a pattern of water drops in the dust, or the peelings from grapes would fall just so in a pattern after being taken out of the wine press. Usually it was walls."
"You never told me that."
"I couldn't tell you. The way you idolized her, you'd have been turning the pictures into shrines."
"So they were naked pictures?" [Biff has a bit of a thing for Mary.]
Melchior cleared his throat and we both looked at him. "Joshua, either your mother or God has sent you a message. It doesn't matter who sent it, the message is the same. It is time for you to go home."
The next morning... we gathered on the beach to say good-bye. Melchior stood before us in his loincloth, the wind whipping the tails of his white beard and hair around his face like fierce clouds. There was no sadness in his face, but then, he had endeavored his entire life to detach from the material world, which we were part of. He'd already done this a long time ago.
Joshua made as if to embrace the old man, then instead just poked him in the shoulder. Once and only once, I saw Melchior smile. "But you haven't taught me everything I need to know," Josh said.
"You're right, I have taught you nothing. I could teach you nothing. Everything that you needed to know was already there. You simply needed the word for it. Some need Kali and Shiva to destroy the world so they may see past the illusion to the divinity in them, others need Krishna to drive them to the place where they may perceive what is eternal in them. Others may perceive the Divine Spark in themselves only by realizing through enlightenment that the spark resides in all things, and in that they find kinship. But because the Divine Spark resides in all, does not mean that all will discover it. Your dharma is not to learn, Joshua, but to teach."
"How will I teach my people about the Divine Spark? Before you answer, remember we're talking about Biff too."
"You must only find the right word. The Divine Spark is infinite, the path to find it is not. The beginning of the path is the word."
"Is that why you and Balthasar and Gaspar followed the star? To find the path to the Divine Spark in all men? The same reason that I came to find you?"
"We were seekers. You are that which is sought, Joshua. You are the source. The end is divinity, in the beginning is the word. You are the word." [pp. 271-2] That Joshua pokes Melchior instead of embracing him goes back to when they first met (in India, not in Joshua's infancy, that is), but you shall have to read the book for yourselves to get the full effect. Moore leavens the sadness of Joshua's departure from the last of the magi with (among other things) humour at Biff's expense. You can picture Biff drooling at the idea that Mary is unclothed in the pictures being formed by natural phenomena (he does seem to have a thing for the women in Jesus' life), and Joshua's reminder to Melchior that 'we're talking about Biff too' means he has to get through even Biff's thick skull (this despite Biff having been with Joshua throughout his travels; in the event Biff proves to be one of the most resourceful and intelligent of Joshua's disciples). The passage as a whole is a grand vision of Joshua's mission, and even, at the end, sounds like something out of the Gospel of John: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. [Jn. 1.1-2]' But, you might say, here is the source and soul of the theological 'offness' of Lamb. I am reminded of a book I once saw (though haven't yet read) by biblical scholar Marcus Borg, Jesus and Buddha, in which the sayings of Jesus and Buddha are presented in parallel. Apparently (although I know nothing about it), some see the similarity of Jesus' teachings to those of Buddha as evidence of some kind of connection; Moore himself says on the subject that 'it's more likely that these [similarities] stem from what I believe to be the logical and moral conclusions that any person in search of what is right would come to [p. 407]'. This statement coinheres surprisingly (or 'astoundingly', as Moore wrote of the similarities between the teachings of Jesus and those of Buddha and other eastern sages) well with the conception put forward by C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man, where he says that all systems of thought have come to similar general conclusions about human moral life. Yet here is the source of the 'offness': the similarity of Jesus' teachings to those of (say) Buddha are striking only when we consider them in isolation from Jesus' world-view and the circumstances of his life. The preoccupation with whether Jesus was the Messiah or not; his selecting twelve from among his many disciples to be his closest followers; his choosing to ride into Jerusalem on an ass; his debates with the Pharisees and others about the role of the Law; all these (and more) set Jesus' teaching and ministry firmly in the ambit of Jewish thought of his day. Even the Resurrection has Jewish antecedents (e.g., in Jn. 11, Lazarus' sister Martha tells Jesus that she knows her brother 'will rise again in the resurrection on the last day'; the biggest difference between the expected resurrection of all God's faithful people and of Jesus is that his occurred so soon). Simply put, I don't think that when we look at Jesus' life as part of the world in which he lived (rather than pull his teachings out of context and set them next to someone else's), we can fairly come to the conclusion that he was importing some kind of Judaised Buddhism. Of course, as we saw, Moore is only making such a suggestion because it is part of the internal logic of his book. In any case, you might say that there's nothing wrong with observing and even taking a close look at the ways in which Jesus' teachings parallel those of Buddha, but to conclude from such an observation that Jesus was a crypto-Buddhist is to put the emPHAsis on the wrong syllAble. In any case, this scene is a touching departure and, from the point of view of Lamb, the right foot on which to begin Joshua's public ministry, containing, as it does, a crucial revelation about Joshua's character.
During the weeks leading up to the [Passover], Joseph sat outside of his house in the shade of an awning he had made, worrying the gnarled olive wood with adze and chisel, while Joshua and I played at his feet. ...Another gem is a piece of philosophising on Biff's part, as he thinks back to his boyhood.
"Perhaps this year I should give the Temple my first son, eh, Joshua? Wouldn't you like to clean the altar after the sacrifices?" He grinned to himself without looking up from his work. "I owe them a first son, you know. We were in Egypt at the Firsts Feast when you were born."
The idea of coming in contact with blood clearly terrified Joshua, as it would any Jewish boy. "Give them James, Abba, he is your first son."
Joseph shot a glance my way, to see if I had reacted. I had, but it was because I was considering my own status as a first son, hoping that my father wasn't thinking along the same lines. "James is a second son. The priests don't want second sons. It will have to be you."
Joshua looked at me before he answered, then back at his father. Then he smiled. "But Abba, if you should die, who will take care of Mother if I am at the Temple?"
"Someone will look after her," I said. "I'm sure of it."
"I will not die for a long time." Joseph tugged at his gray beard. "My beard goes white, but there's a lot of life in me yet."
"Don't be so sure, Abba," Joshua said.
Joseph dropped the bowl he was working on and stared into his hands. "Run along and play, you two," he said, his voice little more than a whisper.
Joshua stood and walked away. I wanted to throw my arms around the old man, for I had never seen a grown man afraid before and it frightened me too. "Can I help?" I said, pointing to the half-finished bowl that lay in Joseph's lap.
"You go with Joshua. He needs a friend to teach him to be human. Then I can teach him to be a man." [pp. 15-6] This is one of the (admittedly few) passages where Moore does an excellent job of piercing the veil, as it were, between what separates the realm of the human and the realm of the divine. What in the mouth of any other boy would be a smart-ass remark to his dad takes on the character of divine prophecy in the mouth of Joshua. (Notice, also, Biff's early love for Mary with his indirect contribution to Joshua's and Joseph's discussion.) Joseph's reaction gives the scene an eerie, haunted feel, especially given the effect it has on Biff. Indeed, children do react badly when grown-ups react fearfully or angrily to something that happens; we are supposed to be 'in control', so children think. While Lamb on the whole was good, this moment, in my view, was one of the peaks.
I don't know if now, having lived and died the life of a man, I can write about little-boy love, but remembering it now, it seems the cleanest pain I've known. Love without desire, or conditions, or limits—a pure and radiant glow in the heart that could make me giddy and sad and glorious all at once. Where does it go? Why, in all their experiments, did the Magi never try to capture that purity in a bottle? Perhaps they couldn't. Perhaps it is lost to us when we become sexual creatures, and no magic can bring it back. Perhaps I only remember it because I spent so long trying to understand the love that Joshua felt for everyone.I'm not sure what else I have to say about Lamb. As much as I think it gets a lot about what Jesus was about not quite right, I think it has more of what is true about it than many other contemporary depictions of Jesus (The Da Vinci Code comes to mind). It came across to me as part Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar, part 'bromantic comedy', part buddy movie, and part Christ the Lord (Anne Rice's presumably abortive series based on the life of Jesus). It's particular excellence seems to me to lie in such moments as I have described above: brief episodes in which something beyond the scope of the work flashes into view for a moment and then vanishes; horror and laughter combined to enhance both; conversations in which characters talk about two different things yet still find a way to address each others' concerns (there is more than one such conversation in Lamb, as you might expect).
In the East they taught us that all suffering comes from desire, and that rough beast would stalk me through my life, but on that afternoon, and for a time after, I touched grace. At night I would lie awake... and in my mind's eye I could see her eyes like blue fire in the dark. Exquisite torture. I wonder now if Joshua didn't make her whole life like that. Maggie, she was the strongest of us all. [pp. 24-5] In some respects, I'm not sure that it's all bad that we lose the capacity for 'little-boy love' as we grow older, with its supposed lack of 'desire, conditions, or limits'; as my study of The Denial of Death has shown, the desire to have anything without limits is infantile, in the worst sense. Indeed, many of the evils we face (especially in our own society where adult infantilisation is a commonplace) stem from trying to recapture that 'all or nothing' world in which we lived when we were children. Nevertheless, I think we all yearn from time to time with Biff (or perhaps Moore himself, here) for that lost world of feeling which we carried within us when we were children. It may be that we can still get in touch with such feelings, careful though we must be in how we make the attempt. While I am not sure that 'little-boy love' (or 'childhood love') really is without desire - for it seems to me that desire is a necessary condition for love, at least in human terms - I could feel the force of Biff's plaintive recollection. This short passage is, in my view, another 'peak' of the work.
So much, then, for my marginal commentary on Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. It was an enjoyable read.