“You think you know how this story is going to end, but you don’t.”
The best thing about this book is that it makes light of something the world has always taken so damn seriously – the life and death of Jesus Christ. Take a look at most renditions of the story of the Galilean, (a little literary allusion there for those of you who read the last book, to see if you were really paying attention) as they are all so serious, so somber, so…boring. Moore actually has the temerity to freshen up, and in the process, humanize the story. When I was finished reading Lamb, I wanted to believe in this guy. After reading the New Testament, the only response I’ve ever had, even as a young child, was What the Fuck? Have you seen The Passion of the Christ? Now there’s one ponderous movie that takes the story of Jesus far too seriously. I know that, and I’ve only watched the trailer. But I digress.
This is a story that should be made fun of. First of all, we haven’t the foggiest idea whether the man even existed. He never wrote anything himself. His life and ministry comes entirely from third parties. All four gospels were written well after his death, from thirty to one hundred years later, and they clearly cannibalize previous stories, or each other. We have no idea how they ever got ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We have no idea whether those four individuals even existed, and we have no idea if it’s even fair to say they wrote the Gospels. They could have been, and in fact probably were, written by some nameless Middle Eastern Tom, Dick, Harry and Benjamin.
The story should be made fun of because it has so little historical basis, yet is believed as true by so many people. I suspect, though I don’t know, that the author, Christopher Moore, may have had this as his motive in writing the book. The story is so implausible, so rigid, that he did it a great service by attempting to breath some life into it, and as a consequence expose it for what it is – fiction. Let’s look at some of the historical truth behind the story.
At the time Christ allegedly lived and died there were numerous trusted historians taking note of the important matters of the day. One of the most well known was a man by the name of Flavius Josephus, who wrote volumes of history about the Jews, most notably the History of the Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. Despite the fact that, according to the gospels, Jesus made quite a name for himself throughout Israel, and had quite a following, Josephus has nothing to say about him, except in two specific sections of his work. The most well known is called the Testimonium Flavium, which reads:
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and as a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared
Most scholars find this passage highly suspect, for numerous reasons, believing it is a later Christian insertion. There being no printing presses or means of mass production, all books of the time were reproduced by hand, through scribes. It is well known that the reproduction of books was not accorded strict standards of veracity, and were subject to the personal whims and prejudices of the individual scribe. Many books were changed by the scriveners if they thought it was necessary, if what they were changing fit with their beliefs, or if what they were deleting was against their beliefs. 1 So it is believed that this passage was a later invention of a pro-Christian scribe (Christian theology was in a turbulent state of flux for the first few centuries. The final canon of the New Testament was not established until the fourth or fifth century). It describe Jesus in glowing terms, as if the writer was a Christian, yet Josephus was a Jew, writing about another Jew executed for something Jews would find abhorrent – blasphemy. It is doubtful Josephus would have written it that way. There are other reasons to doubt its provenance, among them the failure to cite the Testimonium among authors who one would have expected to do so, if it existed, and had they been aware of it.
This passage is cited by Christians as the best evidence for a historical Jesus, and it is probably a forgery, or at best a mixture of authentic writing and Christian modification. In addition, other historians of the time (Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, etc) either completely failed to even note the presence of Jesus in their times, or did so in a passing way, without any solid, unambiguous sense that they were commenting on his existence. 2The point is that for a man who has apparently had so much to say to not only his times, but to the entire world for the past two millennia, he made little or no mark on the the history of the time, as noted by his near contemporaries.
Another reason for irreverence is the sheer non-believability of the story, coupled with the above mentioned lack of corroborating evidence. Somehow we are asked to believe in the virgin birth of a man who has no biography of himself for thirty years, who appears out of the desert and lives in an around an obscure outpost of the Roman Empire, who performs miracles that no one takes any notice of, including the raising of the dead, and that he lived there for three more years until one of his devout followers betrays him so that he could be killed (temporarily) by the local authorities in order to allow everyone who lives thereafter to go to heaven. The reason for his trip to earth also makes no sense. Why God felt the need to torture and kill his son in order to sacrifice him to himself to atone for something that he was responsible for in the first place is circular. This just stretches one’s credulity, and sense of disbelief.
Whether he existed or not, the likelihood that he was a god’s son, sent to earth to perform miracles and eventually atone for something that Adam and Eve (two clearly ahistorical figures) did with a snake, is about the same as the likelihood that the Titanic is still avoiding icebergs in the North Atlantic – i.e. zilch.
So, to bring this back to our book, Moore does a service to humanity by writing a book that makes fun of the orthodox story of Jesus, adds a human element to the plot, and fills in that information that readers have been desperately wondering about for 2000 years. It does so in a clearly fictitious way, underscoring the obvious fiction of the original story. I imagine that most fundamentalist Christians would find it blasphemous, but that’s the point, isn’t it? A little blasphemy is good for the
From an actual one star Amazon review:
This is a rediculous (sic) book so far from the truth of what Christ’s childhood could have been like that it is sad. I thought this would be a humorous book that I could laugh through, unfortunately it was so off base that I found it offensive. If you actually know who Jesus Christ is, this book it not something you want to read.
That’s good enough for me.
(Incidentally, over the weekend, I saw at Borders that the book has been re-released in a format that I find appropriate to the tenor of the book. A picture of it is at the top of this post, but it has the black leatherette soft-cover, with the gold gilt edged pages, along with the bound in cloth string page marker, designed to mimic the look and feel of a prayer book, or (god forbid) a Bible! How’s that for reinforcing the satiric intent of the book? If you don’t own it, and are thinking about buying it, this is the edition for all good atheists.)