Lamb, by Christopher Moore

“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 soul mind.

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.)

1 For a very good explanation of how books, passed on to us through the generations, can be altered in the scrivening process, read Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. Ehrman was a fundamentalist Christian, who, in the process of becoming a leading authority on Scripture, lost his faith because of his research. There is also a nice lecture by Professor Ehrman here.
2 For a better, more in depth discussion, see e.g. Historicity of Jesus

23 thoughts on “Lamb, by Christopher Moore

  1. You’ve written a great article about the historicity of Jesus, which seems to be a better job at writing than this book going by other reviews.

    I have to say reading the NT and any critical analysis of it, especially Ehrman’s work, makes the whole thing plenty ridiculous enough for me.

  2. SI:

    Moore does a service to humanity? You’re not too fond of overstatement are you? Shall we give the guy the Nobel Peace Prize next time around? Maybe we should retitle his book first, and call it A Convenient Untruth.

  3. hehe

    It is humanity that has been laboring under the impression that the original story is somehow historical, when all this time it’s just another proto-novel. Anyone who points that out, including a few bloggers I know, IMHO, does a service to humanity.

  4. “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. ”

    Exactly. I should stop reading your post right now. But please continue…

    “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? ”

    er… yes. To answer the Exterminator, it is a service to humanity, but one that is largely overlooked. No Nobel Prizes required, expected or deserved, but a service nonetheless. Exterminator will probably giggle when he hears me say that I think No More Hornets is a service to humanity, but I do think it is. Then again, I’m not immune to an occasional overstatement!

  5. The physics prof at Berkeley Richard A Muller also has a fictional book about the life and times of Jesus. I think I may have posted a bit in one of your blogs about it. “The Sins of Jesus” . It can be found here;

  6. I hope you didn’t take offense at my review. Preconceived notions about how I want a book to go often get me in trouble. Even Julian, as much as I enjoyed it, gave me fits near the end. How could he have been so stupid?!

    But as I was thinking about the book today I remembered a point I’d been wanting to mention in my post, which is about the characterization of the Indian people and culture. I think Moore may have been a little unfair. Whatever their beliefs they’re human and I’m sure none of them wanted to lose their children. It seemed like he might have gone a little overboard in his characterization, maybe because they were so alien and so heathen. Or maybe I’m going overboard in my analysis and taking it all too seriously.

    What do you guys think?

  7. DaV

    I remember that, and I read it, and enjoyed what you posted. He had in interesting spin on it, IIRC.

    Ordinary Girl

    I don’t take offense at anyone’s opinion. Your thoughts on the book were yours, and good ones. We all take from it what we can. Some like it some won’t. That’s what makes us human. I liked it for its irreverence, Ex didn’t like the humor. C’est la vie

    As for the Indian characterization, I honestly don’t remember anything about that part of the book. I read it about a year and a half ago, hence my more general ruminations on the book, rather than a critique.

  8. While I think these kinds of books serve as a great source of amusement to those of us who do not believe in god, I think they do a lot to undermine our credibility and does little to change anyone’s mind.

    In fact, many believers will just dig in their heels and resort to making similar caricatures of the very ideas we hope they would eventually embrace. By that I mean ideas like evolution and empiricism. I worry that this very thing has already lead to the coarsening of public discourse in the U.S.

    This kind of thing does little but amuse the atheist faithful and stiffen the “onward Christian soldiers” resolve that ultimately cements minds shut.

    I hate to be a downer, and like I good laugh as much as the next guy, but I do think we need to be a little mindful of this.


  9. @ A

    There’s no need to apologize. I’m usually among the more moderate when it comes to issues of not attacking theists, but rather having a more friendly discussion of ideas (while also gently poking fun at them… hey, their ideas are silly).

    That said, you have folks like the Exterminator who don’t find this an “attack” at all – rather, just a different expression of belief. I see it differently, but if it’s an “attack” then I guess ANYTHING can be an attack and we can’t try to tread so lightly as to never offend. Moore isn’t a representative (as far as I can tell – and Exterminator would certainly agree) of the atheist community at all. So how do you control someone who is NOT an atheist, who wants to write something funny, that MAY BE offensive, from doing it?

    There are many forms of debate about belief. Some, I agree, are more effective than others. But you will still have the others and if they offend, so be it. Theists may dig their heels in at times like that, but they will also be forced to confront less abrasive and logical representations of a contrasting view. Some will come around to reason – some never will, no matter what type of reasoning you use on them.

  10. A:
    I think there are some atheists who worry far too much about “offending” theists. I don’t, because I’m offended every fucking day by the permeation of god throughout our society.

    On the other hand, I don’t spend any time worrying about my credibility with religionists. I mean, they believe in a superpowerful cartoon character, f’cryinoutloud. They are nothing if not credulous. If we atheists don’t have credibility with them it’s not because of any perceived rudeness on our part. You can be as sweet as pie, and you’re not gonna convince most of them to even try to imagine a godless world. Which is why I think it’s mostly a waste of time to bother.

    I’ve said this zillions of times, but it’s worth saying again: They can believe any nonsense they want to as long as they don’t foist it on anyone else. That means they should keep their mythology completely out of the public sphere and, particularly, out of the government . Whatever ignorance they choose to believe in the shelter of their own homes, their private schools, and their churches is none of my damned business. Only when they start trying to pass legislation — or storing weapons, or making bombs — does it become my business.

  11. Just to be clear, I don’t give a hoot if a theist feels offended by my disbelief or any criticism of religious belief. But I prefer to tread a little more carefully when it comes to mocking people.

    Someone may label Russell’s teapot argument as an “attack,” because that’s how they feel, but they are wrong. It’s a perfectly legitmate argument against religious belief, and characterizing it as an unfair, personal attack against believers motivated by feelings of superiority or animosity is unfair. If the teapot argument offends you, too bad.

    I think this book (which i admittedly have not read) is something different. While I appreciate the value or satire, I think it can sometimes backfire. Again, it comes down to argument vs. mockery. I don’t blame someone for being offended by the latter.

  12. I’ve been contemplating doing a post on civility, and I may still do one.

    I agree with both Ex and A, to certain points. I don’t think personal mockery is an acceptable form of criticism, though i do think mockery of beliefs is. Sometimes it’s not all that clear, though I’ll have to say that most Christians whose beliefs are mocked seem to take it personally. Probably because beliefs are so personal (though they’ll never admit that, believing their beliefs to be so universal).

    I tend to cringe, however, when I see self-professed rationalists calling theists stupid, idiotic, cretinist assholes, or something similar. I understand the frustration when you literally spend hours writing up these well thought out, logical explanations for our thought processes, only to be countered by one line quotes of scripture, but it doesn’t excuse the writing out of our emotional responses. I recently went through that over at Atheist Perspective, and finally backed out of the discussion, (the theist claimed he had proof for the supernatural, but kept quoting the Bible).

    My point is that when we attack them personally, it gives them a legitimate reason to stop thinking about what we say, and hunker down to defend their beliefs, come hell or high water. In most cases they will do that anyway, but you guarantee that they will when your attacks get personal.

    As for Lamb, I don’t see that as offensive in any way. Moore has never said explicitly that he is attacking religion. I choose to see it that way, but that’s my personal interpretation. That’s the beauty of creative fiction – we all get to interpret it any way we choose. If theists are offended by it, well, those theists wouldn’t read it anyway. No room on their bookshelves for any fiction other than the Bible and the Left Behind series. But people on the fence may give their beliefs a little more thought by reading a book that takes the obviously fictional stories in the Bible, places them in a professed novel, and takes them to their illogical conclusions.

  13. SI:
    You said I don’t think personal mockery is an acceptable form of criticism, though i do think mockery of beliefs is….I tend to cringe, however, when I see self-professed rationalists calling theists stupid, idiotic, cretinist assholes, or something similar.

    For the most part, I agree with you. Ad hominem attacks are never productive. However, I’d go a step further. Criticisms of belief systems are rarely productive, either. Since I, personally, find it impossible to discourse with theists about religion without criticizing their beliefs, I tend to avoid debates as tedious and tremendous wastes of time.

    In the Atheosphere, though, where we’re mostly talking to one another, I don’t see anything wrong with calling an idiot an idiot. If a believer stumbles onto my blog and feels offended, that’s tough shit (as it is written in the book of Excrements). Unlike some others in our relatively small community of skeptics, I’m not interested in having endless “debates” that go nowhere and annoy everyone. Because I believe that blogs are public communication venues, I never delete a comment, no matter how offensive. But I have, from time to time, urged my readers not to respond to one left by a religionist trying to hijack my thread.

    I don’t necessarily recommend this tactic to all. There are plenty of atheists who delude themselves into thinking that reason will, somehow, triumph. I’m not one of them, though. Most humans, in my opinion, are not reasonable. I don’t our species has evolved to that point yet.

    You can’t really have a reasoned opinion about a book you haven’t read. Perhaps you should join our little group of Nonbelieving Literati, read the selected books, and then weigh in. We’d love to have you.

  14. I’ve been toying with the idea that evolution plays a much bigger part in intelligence that we give it credit for. At some point we should acknowledge the telescoping nature of evolution. I remember in the movie Waking Life one of the professors gave a little speech about it. I can’t remember his name but what he says is very interesting. I see it a little different than he does though; I see it as the personal evolution of individuals. Here it is in full.

    If we’re looking at the highlights of human development,
    you have to look at the evolution of the organism…
    and then at the development of its interaction with the environment.
    Evolution of the organism will begin with the evolution of life…
    perceived through the hominid…
    coming to the evolution of mankind.
    Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon man.
    Now, interestingly, what you’re looking at here are three strings:
    biological, anthropological–
    development of the cities, cultures–
    and cultural, which is human expression.
    Now, what you’ve seen here is the evolution of populations,
    not so much the evolution of individuals.
    And in addition, if you look at the time scales that’s involved here–
    two billion years for life,
    six million years for the hominid,
    years for mankind as we know it–
    you’re beginning to see the telescoping nature of the evolutionary paradigm.
    And then when you get to agricultural,
    when you get to scientific revolution and industrial revolution,
    you’re looking at years, years, years.
    You’re seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time.
    What that means is that as we go through the new evolution,
    it’s gonna telescope to the point we should be able to see it manifest itself within our lifetime, within this generation.
    The new evolution stems from information,
    and it stems from two types of information: digital and analog.
    The digital is artificial intelligence.
    The analog results from molecular biology, the cloning of the organism.
    And you knit the two together with neurobiology.
    Before on the old evolutionary paradigm,
    one would die and the other would grow and dominate.
    But under the new paradigm, they would exist…
    as a mutually supportive, noncompetitive grouping.
    Okay, independent from the external.
    And what is interesting here is that evolution now becomes an individually centered process,
    emanating from the needs and the desires of the individual,
    and not an external process, a passive process…
    where the individual is just at the whim of the collective.
    So, you produce a neo-human with a new individuality and a new consciousness.
    But that’s only the beginning of the evolutionary cycle…
    because as the next cycle proceeds,
    the input is now this new intelligence.
    As intelligence piles on intelligence,
    as ability piles on ability, the speed changes.
    Until what? Until you reach a crescendo in a way…
    could be imagined as an enormous instantaneous fulfillment of human,
    human and neo-human potential.
    It could be something totally different.
    It could be the amplification of the individual,
    the multiplication of individual existences.
    Parallel existences now with the individual no longer restricted by time and space.
    And the manifestations of this neo-human-type evolution,
    manifestations could be dramatically counter-intuitive.
    That’s the interesting part. The old evolution is cold.
    It’s sterile. It’s efficient, okay?
    And its manifestations are those social adaptations.
    You’re talking about parasitism, dominance, morality, okay?
    Uh, war, predation, these would be subject to de-emphasis.
    These would be subject to de-evolution.
    The new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty,
    of justice, of freedom.
    These will be the manifestations of the new evolution.
    That is what we would hope to see from this. That would be nice.

    Sorry about the crappy formatting, but I lost my good copy of the movie.

  15. Sounds like Ray Kurzweil or one of his followers. Some of the things he is interested in are valid and worth keeping an eye on. Some of his interpretation of how evolution has proceeded and will proceed has been pretty well undermined by the science. It is true that we are in the middle of a run-away positive feedback loop for enhanced information. It’s hard to see it here on the ground floor (though it is moving so fast that it gets easier and easier to see). But when you rise above it and look at the grand history of life and then telescope it down to 5 centuries ago, a century ago and then a generation ago, you can really appreciate the acceleration.

  16. It may have been more accurate to say that I CAN have a reasoned opinion on a book I haven’t read, it just isn’t worth a bucket of spit. Either way, point taken.

    I wrote a post on civility about a month ago entitled “Tit for Tat”, and I agree with SI that most of it comes down to personal frustration over an inability to get anywhere with arguments proving or disproving god’s existence. Theists miss the point that they cannot quote the very sources we contest in an argument about god.

    Which leads to another question, what is the value of arguments that prove or disprove god’s existence? Personally, I don’t think these arguments convince anybody one way or the other, and most of us arrive at our positions through a slow paradigm shift. The “proofs” do little more than help us articulate why we now believe what we believe.

    Anyway, in a nod of my head, I’ll pick up a copy of Lamb’s book and give it a gander.

  17. You know what’s funny? Back when I still believed, I pretty much took that same position– that I couldn’t justify my faith by reference to anything other than my own belief. I just believed out of a kind of intuition. Ironically, that entailed admitting I had no basis for my belief, thus marking the beginning of the end of my faith. It’s kind of scary when I look now at how I thought back then.

  18. A said: “It’s kind of scary when I look now at how I thought back then.”

    Kind of makes you want to ridicule that kind of thinking… doesn’t it?

  19. Moore explicitly states that “theologically, I made certain assumptions about who Jesus was, mainly that he was who the Gospels say he was.” I don’t think this was meant to be an attack on Jesus – just a swipe at the Church. I enjoyed the book, though it’s not my favorite Moore.

  20. ps – @ ordinary girl: I think Lamb was an attack on the religion of the Indians that turned human beings into Untouchables. In many ways, they do think their kids are better off dying with a ‘promotion’ in their next life, not because they don’t love them but because they do. A doctrine which teaches that the suffering you’re undergoing is *deserved* is bad – one that adds that anyone who helps you out of it is doing you a disservice because you’ll just have to do it over again is worse.

  21. I have gone through the blog it has given very good information on the book “Lamb” definitely i will go through the book and I am interesting to know the end of the story. Thanks for this information.

  22. Ehrmans books are great,but,he does NOT claim to have lost his faith because of his research.I think his new book may be more pertinent on that score.

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