The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 13 February 2004


The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

by Christopher Moore

If you're easily offended by religious satire, then you should avoid this book. If, instead, your vision of a perfect God includes a God with a sense of humor, irony and maybe a tinge of sarcasm, then you might enjoy this book. Christopher Moore sets out to imagine the life of Jesus Christ in the thirty years or so before events set out in the canonical gospels of the New Testament. He gives Jesus, here called Joshua, a childhood pal, Levi who is called Biff. Biff is a funny guy, and he attaches himself to Joshua at the age of six after witnessing some small miracles and Joshua's gentle and sweet good nature. And that is a large part of the nature of this book. Joshua is, after all, a human with great spiritual gifts. Joshua is also a young man, struggling with what these gifts mean when he is given so little guidance by God the Father. He and Biff finally set out to find the three wise men who attended at Joshua's birth in Bethlehem. On this journey, they encounter the wild and outrageous adventures of this book. They go to Afghanistan, China and India. They witness great and tragic rituals and spiritual adventures. And they finally return when Jesus has more of a clue as to his role in the history of his people. Throughout, the story is told with great humor. Biff is a bawdy and bold character, claiming to be the inventor of sarcasm. Jesus likes a good laugh and uses that sarcasm against Biff. Mary Magdalene is a sweet character in love with both Joshua and Biff. A lot of the humor in the book is pretty cheap, bawdy puns and such historical jokes as Moore can conjure. There is a lot of cheap sexual humor here as well. But it is all in good fun. Some of it is a bit silly and a bit tedious, but the overall tone of gentleness is welcome. One comes away with great sympathy for Jesus. Finally, the Passion is depicted with greater solemnity. Also, Moore is now more constricted by the stories in the gospels. Joshua seems to have lost his mind a little. His apostles try in vain to save him from himself and his grim fate. For Biff, his heart and the center of his life is wrenched from him at the foot of the cross. Sure, I can see how people could get offended. But Moore hasn't really done anything here to cast doubt on Christ's divinity. It's a fun book. Not great literature, but worth a few laughs.

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