By Claude Lalumière
I've been an atheist since I was about nine years old. Considering that
this column is reviewing biblical pastiches both new and classic it
seemed like I should be upfront about where I'm coming from. I was raised
Catholic, but it didn't take. (I was raised in French, and that also didn't
take, but that's another story.)
In fact, although I was raised in a "Catholic lite" environment, the
more I learned about the Church, the less I liked it. I read about other
religions. Most of them didn't fare much better, whether for their enforcement
of the ritual genital mutilation of babies, their endemic sexual inequities,
or their attempts to control every minute of your life.
In my mid-teens, I decided to read the whole Bible, from Genesis to
Revelation. Know thine enemy and all that (I read the Koran, too, and the
Bhagavad-Gita, etc.). And then, at some point later, I acquired a taste
for Biblical pastiches. The recent release of Christopher Moore's
and Kyle Baker's King David two new works by two of my favourite
satirists seemed like a good opportunity to survey one of my fetish genres.
Lamb, by Christopher Moore (Morrow, 2002)
While reading Christopher Moore's sixth novel, Lamb, I couldn't
help thinking about Gore Vidal's classic historical epic, Creation.
The two works have striking similarities: each has a sarcastic narrator
from antiquity who is relating an epic cross-cultural voyage of his youth,
where he met and interacted with the great sages of the epoch. Lamb
also covers much of the same ground as Paul Park's The Gospel of Corax
that is, the story of Jesus/Jeshua's travels before returning to Palestine
to preach his message but Lamb provides more details about Jeshua's
childhood and also offers its own version of the events covered in the
four canonic Gospels. Vidal's book, although entertaining, strives for
historical authenticity, while Park's novel is a deeply serious work. Moore's
however, is a laugh-out-loud, roll-on-the-floor dark comedy a form at
which Moore has repeatedly proven himself uncommonly skilled.
Biff, "Christ's Childhood Pal", is the narrator of Moore's Lamb.
The novel kicks off with Biff's resurrection in modern times. After two
millennia of silence, it's been decided that the true story of Christ's
time on Earth can finally be told, and who better to tell the tale than
Levi bar Alphaeus, called Biff? Biff was Jeshua's best friend, and stuck
to him like a second skin from their early childhood to the crucifixion.
What? You've never heard of Biff? Well, there's a reason for that.... Not
everyone liked Biff, and he was written out of the story. But now his time
Most of Lamb is devoted to Biff's Gospel. He goes into great
detail about his and Jeshua's childhood, including how they first met Mary
Magdalene and both promptly fell in love with her. Later, Biff accompanies
Jeshua on his quest to understand his mission. For that, Jeshua seeks out
the mages who came to him at his birth. The ensuing journey takes the two
friends through much of Asia, where they do indeed find the mages, and
Jeshua learns more about himself and how he intends to conduct his ministry.
Meanwhile, Biff has lots of sex. They eventually return to their homeland,
and Jeshua slowly recruits his disciples. And then the well-known story
Woven into all this is Lamb's other narrative strand: the story
of Biff in modern times, writing his Gospel while locked in a hotel room
with an angel. It turns out that Biff is more than capable of dealing with
modern life, while the TV-addicted angel has serious problems telling fact
This synopsis, however, doesn't even begin to convey the nearly nonstop
laughs provided by Biff's sarcastic telling of these events from his
unrequited lust for Mary (Jeshua's mom) to his creative enactments of a
rather unusual version of the Kama Sutra. Beyond all this hilarity, though,
what raises the novel above pure farce is Biff's deep and unconditional
friendship with Jeshua a friendship whose intensity suffuses the whole
text. There's also a tender and complex love triangle at the heart of the
story: both boys love Mary Magdalene, who loves both of them back but has
a more intense crush on Jeshua but Jeshua won't let himself have sex,
while Biff can't stop thinking about her.
Like the best of comedies, Lamb is filled with tragedy, love,
loss, beauty, anger, and, above all, an unfailing and intelligent sense
King David, by Kyle Baker (Vertigo/DC Comics, 2002)
Much of the humour in Kyle Baker's King David comes from the
cartoonist's deft skill at creating dialogue that combines stereotypical
biblespeak with contemporary slang, while keeping intact the story as related
in the Bible. The absurdity of the characters' actions is thus amplified
(and sometimes even commented upon by other characters involved in equally
absurd acts) because their behaviour proper for a millennia-old historical
drama with a nationalist agenda simply cannot jibe with contemporary
Western urban culture.
Baker's pacing, both in terms of page layout and of dialogue, is impeccable.
Baker has added a more explicit touch of Chuck Jones's style to his repertoire
for this story, and it works very well in this setting, a departure for
Baker. (Baker's comics usually take place in modern urban settings.)
So I loved the writing, the dialogue, the storytelling, the linework
all that constitutes the basic elements of the work but, sadly, this
book is marred by unfortunate production choices.
For one thing, Baker smudged spectacularly ugly computer colouring over
his beautifully expressive artwork. In addition, his choice of garish colours
distracts from the drawings, often coming close to ruining it. And Baker
fails to hide the computer origins of his colours, which constantly scream,
"Look! Fancy computer colouring!"
Even worse and this is one of my pet peeves the book is printed
on slick, glossy white paper. This is the worst possible choice for comics
and yet a widespread one. Light reflects off the pages, constantly jarring
readers out of the experience while they must re-angle the book. Also, it
makes the colours look like they're lying on top of the art instead of
part of it; they look like they're about to slip off the page. This is
an ugly effect only emphasized by the ugliness of the colours. I ended
up wishing that the colours would, in fact, slip off the page so I could
look at the art comfortably.
King David is a good work conceptually but a clumsily produced
Apocrypha Satirica: The Classics
Behold the Man (1969), by Michael Moorcock
A psychedelic montage of several narrative strands and quotations from
the Bible, Jung, and other sources, Behold the Man tells the story
of Karl Glogauer's time-travelling quest to find Jesus, only to encounter
a drooling hunchbacked idiot. To keep history intact, Glogauer must assume
the mantle of Christ. Or is all this the product of the irrational hallucinations
of a madman Karl Glogauer forever scarred by a wretched childhood and
delusions of grandeur? A whirlwind novel filled with gritty details, philosophical
ramblings, altered states of reality, and intense emotions. An entertaining
and blasphemous exemplar of New Wave SF.
God Knows (1984), by Joseph Heller
God Knows records David's delirious, lusty, and joyfully anachronistic
deathbed digressions, in which he begs his God a god not known for humility
for an apology. The book falls a bit short of what appears to be a greater
ambition, but it is nevertheless a very entertaining romp: David's uninhibited
and chatty bedside manner is both seductive and endearing. Heller succeeds
in making God Knows a page-turner on the strength of its narrator's
voice and chutzpah.
Not Wanted on the Voyage (1984), by Timothy Findley
Using the Noah legend to build a merciless attack on millennia of patriarchy,
Timothy Findley has created one of the great fantasy novels of the twentieth
century. Filled with spectacular scenes of mythic grandeur jostling with
the matter-of-fact grind of quotidian life and brutal drama juxtaposed
with angry satire, Not Wanted on the Voyage is a nonstop succession
of unforgettable moments. It's an awesome reading experience, both epic
and tender, beautiful yet filled with the ugliness that corrupts all our
lives. It pulls no punches and reaches great heights of emotion and fiction.
Boating for Beginners (1985), by Jeanette Winterson
Winterson transposes the plot of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
her debut book, a realist novel that earned her widespread acclaim
onto the Noah legend to much greater effect (albeit to lesser recognition).
for Beginners is a tale of lesbian sexual awakening in the context
of biblical myth. A funny and tender work that infuses Winterson's personal
tale with a satirical edge and a magical resonance that transcend the limitations
imposed by the confessional nature of her first novel.
Ecce Hominid (1991), by Esther Friesner
Originally published as #6 in Pulphouse's Short Story Paperbacks series,
Hominid is, like much of Friesner's work, a light but pleasant comedy.
It reveals just who Adam and Eve encounter after God kicks them out of
Eden or more specifically who their sons mate with. In
creationism fornicates with evolution.
Live from Golgotha (1992), by Gore Vidal
Anyone who has ever read the Bible must make quite the mental leap
to see any connection between the Gospels and the later books attributed
to Paul, or even between the Gospels and Christianity. Christianity as
we know it is the descendant of the teachings of Paul as recorded in the
Bible and the dissonances between those and the words related in the
Gospels are numerous (not to mention the dissonances between the Gospels).
Notorious crank Gore Vidal has raging fun tearing into Paul for his and
Christianity's crimes of intolerance. A lesser book than it should be
considering the subject matter, but the angry edge of this anachronistic
time-travel comedy makes it fun to read anyway.
The Gospel of Corax (1996), by Paul Park
The Gospel of Corax related by an escaped Roman slave named
Corax is the story of a brawny Essene rebel, Jeshua (Jesus), who must
flee Palestine to save his life because of Corax's treachery. The story
speculates on the years of Jesus's travels before he returns to his homeland
to preach. Park's angry and burly Jeshua takes to spirituality with difficulty,
and the story of his slow and subtle transformation is moving and deftly
handled. Jeshua's true nature is left ambiguous, to great effect.
Bible Stories for Adults (1996), by James Morrow
Despite the title of this collection, only four of its stories belong
to the eponymic (and seemingly randomly numbered) series: "Bible Stories
for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge", "No. 20: The Tower", "No. 31: The Covenant",
and "No. 46: The Soap Opera". "The Deluge" a 1989 Nebula Award winner
is a feminist take on the Flood myth. "The Tower" is a modern-day sequel
to the Tower of Babel legend. "The Covenant" tells of a computer YHWH who
reiterates the Ten Commandments. And "The Soap Opera" relates the further
misadventures of Job (in play form). My favourite of these is "The Tower",
mostly because of the devilish charm of the narrator none other than
Being God, I must choose My words carefully. People, I've noticed,
tend to hang on to My every remark. It gets annoying, this servile and
sycophantic streak in Homo sapiens sapiens. There's a difference,
after all, between tasteful adulation and arrant toadyism, but they just
don't get it.