58 pages 1 hour read

Christopher Moore

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2002

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Summary and Study Guide


Published in 2002, Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal is an adult historical fiction novel and a work of absurdist humor. The satirical story presents the lost years of Jesus’s childhood and adulthood from the perspective of his sarcastic but loyal best friend. The novel received the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults award in 2003 and explores themes of friendship, religion, and Resistance to Injustice.

This study guide refers to the eBook edition released by HarperCollins in 2002.

Content Warning: The novel contains mentions of violence, miscarriage, homicide, and suicide.

Plot Summary

The angel Raziel resurrects Christ’s childhood best friend, Levi (who is called Biff), and instructs him to write a Gospel based on his earthly experiences. The narrative moves back in time 2,000 years. Biff and Joshua grow up in Nazareth together, and Biff witnesses Joshua perform many miracles, such as befriending deadly serpents and briefly awakening a dead woman. The boys befriend Mary of Magdala, who goes by Maggie. Both Biff and Joshua fall in love with her, but she has feelings for Joshua. The three children witness a Jewish revolutionary murdering a Roman soldier. Joshua brings the soldier back to life long enough to identify his killer, ensuring that no one else is punished.

When the boys are 13, Raziel appears to Joshua and tells him that it is time for him to seek his destiny. That year, the boys accompany their families to Jerusalem for Passover. Distressed by the sight of the animals gathered for slaughter at the Temple, Biff tries to rescue a lamb, but Joshua assures him that the sacrifice is God’s will. A wise old rabbi advises Joshua to seek out the three Magi, and Mary tells him to begin his search in Antioch. Maggie is betrothed to Jakan, the odious son of a Pharisee. She wants to spend the night before her wedding with Joshua, but he sends Biff in his stead. Maggie and Biff make love, and he professes his long-held feelings for her. The next morning, Joshua and Biff begin their quest for the Magi.

Joshua and Biff sail to Antioch on a Roman cargo ship. In the city’s marketplace, Joshua practices healing passersby despite his friend’s urging that he shouldn’t draw attention to himself. A trader who knows Balthasar overhears the boys asking about the magus and invites them to accompany his caravan to Balthasar’s home. During the two-month journey, the caravan’s guards rout a group of bandits. Overwhelmed with sorrow and rage at the killing, Joshua takes away one of the guards’ sense of sight. The trader leads the boys to Balthasar’s mysterious residence in the canyons outside Kabul.

Biff and Joshua spend five years with Balthasar and his eight concubines. The Ethiopian magician teaches Joshua about Taoism, which emphasizes the virtue of compassion, and Biff learns how to craft poisons and explosives. Long ago, Balthasar formed a contract with a demon to gain immortality. He hopes that Joshua can grant him eternal life and help him banish the demon. Biff and a concubine named Joy unwittingly release the demon, and it kills the other seven concubines before Joshua sends it to hell. With the contract sundered, Balthasar rapidly ages and dies, but not before telling the boys where to find the second wise man, Gaspar.

Now 18, the boys journey to a monastery in China, where they spend six years studying Buddhism and martial arts under Gaspar. The wise man founded the monastery to care for the last living yeti, who dwells in the nearby mountains. Joshua develops a deep friendship with the yeti because they are both one of a kind and overflowing with compassion. The young Messiah is devastated when the yeti dies. He pours out his emotions in prayer with such force that God finally responds to him, albeit only to say that humanity is evil and that this is now Joshua’s problem.

At age 24, Joshua and Biff travel to India. They rescue a group of Untouchable children from a ritual sacrifice, prompting Joshua to resolve to put an end to Jewish blood sacrifices. The last of the three wise men, Melchior, instructs Joshua in Hindu scriptures and yoga with the goal of teaching the Messiah how to find the Divine Spark that exists in all things. After the young men spend two years with Melchior, an image of Mary appears on a wall as a sign that it is time for them to return home.

Before beginning his ministry at age 30, Joshua spends a year refining his teachings and learning the art of public speaking from his cousin, John the Baptist. After governor Herod has John arrested, Joshua gathers an eclectic group of disciples and travels throughout Israel preaching and healing the sick. Although Joshua gains many believers, he also makes powerful enemies, including Jakan, who is now a Pharisee. Biff rescues Maggie from her loveless marriage to Jakan by helping her to pretend that she is possessed by demons, and she joins Biff and Joshua on their travels. Maggie still adores Joshua, but she gradually comes to love Biff as well.

Joshua resolves to sacrifice himself to prove to God that change is necessary. In particular, he wants to eliminate blood sacrifices and ensure that all people, including gentiles, are welcome in the kingdom of heaven. Joshua deliberately provokes the anger of the Sanhedrin and the Temple priests, who have him crucified for blasphemy. Biff concocts a desperate plot to save his friend, but the plan fails when a Roman soldier kills Joshua with a spear. In despair, Biff hangs Judas before taking his own life.

After Biff completes his account, the angel Raziel takes him to see Maggie, who has also written a Gospel based on her experiences. With the Son of God’s blessing, Maggie and Biff leave the hotel to begin a new life together in the modern world.