Friday, August 16, 2019

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal Epilogue

Epilogue The angel took the book from him, then went out the door and across the hall, where he knocked on the door. â€Å"He's finished,† the angel said to someone in the room. â€Å"What, you're leaving? I can just go?† asked Levi who was called Biff. The door across the hall opened, and there stood another angel, this one seeming to have more a female aspect than Raziel. She too held a book. She stepped into the hall to reveal a woman standing behind her, wearing jeans and a green cotton blouse. Her hair was long and straight, dark with reddish highlights, and her eyes were crystal blue and seemed to glow in contrast to her dark skin. â€Å"Maggie,† said Levi. â€Å"Hi, Biff.† â€Å"Maggie finished her Gospel weeks ago,† said Raziel. â€Å"Really?† The Magdalene smiled. â€Å"Well, I didn't have as much to write as you did. I didn't see you guys for sixteen years.† â€Å"Oh, right.† â€Å"It is the will of the Son that you two go out together into this new world,† said the female angel. Levi went across the hall and took her in his arms. They kissed for a long time until the angels began to clear their throats and murmur â€Å"Get a room† under their breaths. They held each other at arm's length. Levi said, â€Å"Maggie, is this going to be like it always was? You know, you're with me, and you love me and everything, but it's only because you can't have Josh?† â€Å"Of course.† â€Å"That's so pathetic.† â€Å"You don't want to be together?† â€Å"No, I want to, it's just pathetic.† â€Å"I have money,† she said. â€Å"They gave me money.† â€Å"That's good.† â€Å"Go,† said Raziel, losing his patience. â€Å"Go, go, go. Go away.† He pointed down the hallway. They started walking down the hallway, arm in arm, tentatively, looking back at the angels every few steps, until at last they looked back and the angels were gone. â€Å"You should have stuck around,† the Magdalene said. â€Å"I couldn't. It hurt too much.† â€Å"He came back.† â€Å"I know, I read about it.† â€Å"He was sad because of what you had done.† â€Å"Yeah, so was I.† â€Å"The others were angry with you. They said that you had the greatest reason to believe.† â€Å"That why they edited me out of their Gospels?† â€Å"Good guess,† she said. They stepped into the elevator and the Magdalene pushed the button for the lobby. â€Å"By the way, it was Hallowed,† she said. â€Å"What was Hallowed?† â€Å"The H. His middle name. It was Hallowed. It's a family name, remember, ‘Our father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.'† â€Å"Damn, I would have guessed Harvey,† Biff said. Afterword Teaching Yoga to an Elephant And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen. JOHN 21:25 Can you really teach yoga to an elephant? Well no, you can't, but we're talking about Jesus here. Nobody knows what he could do. The book you've just read is a story. I made it up. It is not designed to change anyone's beliefs or worldview, unless after reading it you've decided to be kinder to your fellow humans (which is okay), or you decide you really would like to try to teach yoga to an elephant, in which case, please get videotape. I researched Lamb, I really did, but there is no doubt I could have spent decades researching and still managed to be inaccurate. (It's a talent, what can I say?) While I've made some attempt to paint an accurate picture of the world in which Christ lived, I changed things for my own convenience, and sometimes, obviously, there was no way of knowing what conditions really existed in the years 1 through 33. The available written history about the peasant class, society, and the practice of Judaism in the first century in Galilee degenerates quickly into theory. The role of the Pharisees in peasant society, the Hellenistic influence, the influence of an international city like Joppa nearby: who knows how these things would have affected Christ as a boy? Some historians postulate that Yeshua of Nazareth would have been little more than an ignorant hillbilly, while others say that because of the proximity of Sepphoris and Joppa, he could have been exposed to Greek and Roman culture from an early age. I chose the latter because it makes for a more interesting story. The historical life of Jesus, beyond a couple of references by Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, and the odd mention by Roman historians, is again mostly speculation. What we can know today of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is included in the four slim Gospels found in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. For those readers who know the Gospels (bear with me), you know that Matthew and Luke are the only two to mention Christ's birth, while Mark and John cover only the ministry part of Jesus' life. The wise men are mentioned only in one short passage in Matthew, and the shepherds are mentioned only in Luke. The slaughter of the innocents and the fleeing into Egypt are mentioned only in Matthew. In short, Jesus' infancy is a jumble, but the chronicle of his childhood is worse. Of the time from Jesus' birth to when he began his ministry in his thirties, the Bible gives us only one scene: Luke tells us of Jesus teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem at age twel ve. Other than that, we have a thirty-year hole in the life of the most influential human being to ever walk the face of the earth. With Lamb, in my own goofy way, I attempted to fill that hole in history, but again, I am not trying to present history as it might really have been, I'm simply telling stories. Some of the historical elements of Lamb are uncomfortable to work the modern mind around. The precocious sexuality comes to mind. That Maggie would have been betrothed by twelve and married by thirteen is almost certain from what we know of Jewish society in the first century, as are the facts that a Jewish boy of the time would have been learning his trade by age ten, would be betrothed at thirteen, and would be married by fourteen. Trying to create empathy for the adult roles of those whom we, today, would consider children, was of no small concern to me when I was writing that section of the book, but it may be the one section where the sexuality of the characters is not historically out of place. The average peasant in Galilee would have been lucky to live to the age of forty, so perhaps the children, by necessity, reached sexual maturity earlier than they would under less harsh conditions. Although there are, I'm sure, many historical inaccuracies and improbabilities in this book, the most blatant that I have knowingly indulged is in the section where Biff and Joshua visit Gaspar in the mountains of China. While Gautama Buddha did indeed live and teach some five hundred years before the birth of Christ, and while his teachings were widespread in India by the time our heroes could have made it to the East, Buddhism didn't make it into China for almost five hundred years after Christ's death. The martial arts would not be developed by Buddhist monks until after that, but to remain historically accurate, I would have had to leave out an important question that I felt needed to be addressed, which is, â€Å"What if Jesus had known kung fu?† The life of Gaspar, as described in Lamb (the nine years in the cave, etc.), is drawn from the legends of the life of the Buddhist patriarch Bodhidharma, the man who is said to have taken Buddhism to China around A.D. 500. Bodhidharma (or Daruma) is credited with the school of Buddhism that we know today as Zen. Buddhist legend does not mention Bodhidharma encountering a yeti, but they do have him cutting his eyelids off to avoid falling asleep and having them sprout into tea plants which later monks would brew to keep awake during meditation (which I left out), so I traded that story in on an abominable snowman and Biff's theory of natural selection. Seemed fair. Bodhidharma is also said to have invented and taught kung fu to the famous Shao Lin monks to condition them for the rigorous regimen of meditation he prescribed. Most of the details of the festival of Kali, including the sacrifices and mutilations, come from Joseph Campbell's Oriental Mythology, from his Masks of God series. Campbell cites eyewitness accounts of the bloody ritual from nineteenth-century British soldiers and states that even today over eight hundred goats are beheaded for the festival of Kali in Calcutta. (Anyone who had trouble with this passage, please write to Campbell in his current incarnation.) The cited verses from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita are actual translations of those revered writings. The verses from the Kama Sutra are completely from my imagination, but you'll find weirder stuff in the actual book. Theologically, I made certain assumptions about who Jesus was, mainly that he was who the Gospels say he was. While I used the Gospels heavily for reference, and there are a couple of references to the Acts of the Apostles (specifically the giving of the gift of tongues, without which Biff could not have told the story in modern American idiom), I tried not to draw on the rest of the New Testament, specifically the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John, as well as Revelations, all written years after the Crucifixion (as were the Gospels). These missives eventually went on to define Christianity, but no matter what you may think of them, you have to agree that Jesus would not have been aware of them, or the events in them, or certainly the consequences of their teaching, so they had no place in this story. Joshua and Biff, as Jewish boys, would, however, have been familiar with the books of the Old Testament, the first five of which made up the base of their faith, the Torah, and th e rest which were referred to by people of the time as Prophets and Writings, so I referred to these when I felt it was appropriate. As I understand it, however, the Talmud and most of the Midrash (illustrative stories explaining the law of God) had not yet been formulated and agreed upon, so they were not used as a reference for Lamb. From the Gnostic Gospels (a set of manuscripts found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, but which actually may have been written earlier than the canonized Gospels) I've drawn only slightly on the Gospel of Thomas, a book of Christ's sayings, because it fit well with the Buddhist point of view (many of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas are also found in Mark). The other Gnostic Gospels were either too fragmentary, or frankly, just plain creepy (the Infancy Gospel of Thomas describes Jesus, at age six, using his supernatural powers to murder a group of children because they tease him. Sort of Carrie Goes to Nazareth. Even I had to pass.) Lamb is peppered throughout with biblical references, both real and made-up (i.e., Biff quotes liberally from nonexistent books of the Bible such as Dalmatians, Excretions, and Amphibians). My editor and I discussed the merit of footnoting these references and decided that footnotes would detract from the flow of the story. The problem arises, however, that if the reader knows the Bible well enough to recognize the real references, there's a good chance that he or she has decided not to read this book. Our final decision – well, my final decision, my editor wasn't really consulted on this because he might have said no – was to advise those who are not familiar with the Bible to find someone who is, sit them down, read them the passages in question, then say, â€Å"That one real? How 'bout that one?† If you don't know someone who is familiar with the Bible, just wait, someone will come to your door eventually. Keep extra copies of Lamb on hand so they can take one with them. Another problem with telling a story that has been told so many times is that people are looking for elements with which they are familiar. Although I've glossed over many events that are chronicled in the Gospels, there are numerous elements which many people think are there, which simply are not. One is that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. She's always portrayed that way in movies, but it doesn't ever say that she is in the Bible. She is mentioned by name eleven times in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Luke, Mark). Most references to her talk about her preparation for the burial of Jesus, and then being the first witness of his resurrection. It also says that Jesus cured her of evil spirits. No whore references, period. There are â€Å"Marys† without surnames all over the Gospels, and some of them, I suspect, may refer to the Magdalene, specifically the Mary who, soon before his death, anoints Jesus' feet with expensive ointment and wipes them with her hair, certainly one of the most tender moments in the Gospels and the primary basis for my rendering of Maggie's character. We know from letters that many of the leaders of the early church were women, but in first-century Israel, a woman who struck out on her own without a husband was not only considered uppity, but was very likely referred to as a harlot (as was a woman who was divorced). That could be where the myth originated. Another Gospel misassumption is that the three wise men were kings, or, in fact, that there were even three of them. We make that assumption because there are three gifts given to the Christ child. Their names are never mentioned. The names Balthasar, Gaspar, and Melchior come to us from Christian tradition written hundreds of years after the time of Christ. We assume that Joseph of Nazareth, Jesus' stepfather, dies before the Crucifixion, yet it is never stated in the Gospels. He just may not have been involved. We make assumptions based on what we have been fed over the years at Christmas pageants and passion plays, but often, although inspired by faith, that material is little more than what you have just read: the product of someone's imagination. The Gospels do not agree on the order of the events that happen during the ministry, from Jesus' baptism by John to the Crucifixion, so I arranged events from all the Gospels in what seemed a logical, chronological order, while adding t hose elements that allow Biff's participation in the story. There are, of course, elements of the Gospels which I left out in the interest of brevity, but you can always find them in the Gospels if you want. My sending Joshua and Biff to the East was motivated purely by story, not by basis in the Gospel or historical evidence. While there are indeed astounding similarities between the teachings of Jesus and those of Buddha (not to mention those of Lao-tzu, Confucius, and the Hindu religion, all which seem to have included some version of the Golden Rule), it's more likely that these stem from what I believe to be logical and moral conclusions that any person in search of what is right would come to, e.g.: that the preferable way to treat one another is with love and kindness; that pursuit of material gain is ultimately empty when measured against eternity; and that somehow, as human beings, we are all connected spiritually. While historians and theologians don't completely rule out the possibility that Christ may have traveled to the East, they seem to agree that he could have formulated the teachings we find in the Gospels with no more influence than the rabbinical teachings in Galilee and Judea. But what fun would that have been? Finally, this story was set in a dire time, a deadly serious time, and the world of the first-century Jew under the rule of the Romans would not have been one that easily inspired mirth. It's more than a small anachronism that I portray Joshua having and making fun, yet somehow, I like to think that while he carried out his sacred mission, Jesus of Nazareth might have enjoyed a sense of irony and the company of a wisecracking buddy. This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone's faith; however, if one's faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do. My thanks to the many people who helped in the research and writing of this book, especially those who were generous enough to share their beliefs without judgment or condemnation. Many thanks to Neil Levy, Mark Joseph, Professor William â€Å"Sundog† Bersley, Ray Sanders, and John â€Å"The Heretic† Campbell for their advice on religion, philosophy, and history. To Charlee Rodgers for putting up with the fits, starts, whining, and hubris of the process, as well as to Dee Dee Leichtfuss for readings and comments. Special thanks to Orly Elbaz, who was my tour guide through Israel and who showed infinite patience in answering my nitpicky historical questions. Also to my agent, Nick Ellison, and my editor, Tom Dupree, for their patience, tolerance, and advice. Christopher Moore BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA NOVEMBER 2000

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