“Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” by Christopher Moore is mental. Totally mental and fantastically funny, but very very irreverent! I’m sure many Christians would be mildly or profoundly offended by this book but at the very least it will prompt you to think of different aspects of Christ’s life.
The basic plot is that Levi bar Alphaeus (or Levi known as Biff, a nickname that comes from the sound of the daily slaps upside his head he required as a child) is brought back to life and held as a virtual prisoner in a hotel room by the angel Raziel in order that he writes a new gospel. He is, let’s say “mildly annoyed” when he discovers the bible in the room and sees that none of the original gospels mention him or the time between Christ’s birth and the start of his ministry.
You see, Biff grew up in Nazareth with Joshua (Jesus real name) and knew about all the struggles he had growing up knowing who he was but not really what to do with it. Biff also fancied Joshua’s mum, Mary but that never really got anywhere because Joseph didn’t die but Biff was prepared to step in if he did.
So Biff and Joshua grow up both become infatuated with a budding Mary Magdalene (“Maggie”), and have mixed luck at bringing dead back to life (OK with lizards but first attempts with humans has mixed luck). Then at around the age of 13, they head off to trace the three wise men who turned up when Christ was born to help him find out what he is supposed to do. So they journey Afghanistan, China, and India, Joshua learns the wisdom of the Eastern religions in preparation for his own ministry.
At one stage when staying with monks who practice martial arts as Joshua doesn’t want to learn how to fight he learns only the defensive techniques which the monks call “the way of the Jew” or Jew-Do.
Since Joshua is forbidden by his Heavenly Father from “knowing” women in the biblical sense, he relies on Biff to apprise him of the experience and Biff does his best to help out in this department as much as possible.
Eventually, Joshua and Biff return home and the followers are gathered (though not as you have previously heard) disciples appointed -Biff and Maggie who are with them decide not to be disciples as they just stick around Jesus when the rest are sent out to do things.
This is a very funny book – if you don’t take offense, which is why I’ve included a few more ‘spoilers’ than I otherwise would have. I have found that I am involuntary laughing at inappropriate parts of church now as I think of the Biff-version of what has just been mentioned, for example when the disciples are surprised to see Joshua / Jesus walking on water he says “I just ate. You can’t go into the water for an hour after you eat. You could get a cramp. What, none of you guys have mothers?”
This book isn’t written by a Christian, it introduces lots of bad theological ideas that everything Jesus taught came from Eastern religions, it is very irreverent and will make you laugh at inapropriate points in a sermon. I can’t recommend this book highly enough :-)