As suggested by its title, the main character and Sympathetic POV is a fellow named "Levi bar Alphaeus who is called Biff." The reason he doesn't show up in the actual Bible is that he was kind of a jerk and the other apostles conspired to keep him out of it (or so he figures). In the modern day, Biff is resurrected by an angel to give his accounts of what it was like to have known Joshua bar Joseph since both of you were six years old, and you stumbled upon him having his kid brother smash a lizard with a rock, sticking the dead lizard in his mouth, and taking it back out alive again.
Biff: I wanna do that.
In between epistolary moments where he marvels about modern life, Biff pens his gospel, filling in a lot of the blanks. Ever notice how The Bible goes straight from Jesus as a kid (about 12 years old) to the beginning of his ministry when he was 30? Biff explains that the two of them went east so that Josh could learn, from the Three Wise Men, how to become the Messiah. Along the way, they absorbed many Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu attitudes which informed Joshua's later preaching. Biff looks out for his best friend, tempering Joshua's innocent stupidity with his own brand of ruthless, practical Magnificent Bastardry. The only thing that gets him off-balance is the presence of his childhood crush, Mary the Magdalene ("Maggie"), who is depicted as having a thing for Josh. And, because it's a humor novel, all sorts of silly things happen, be it the names of Balthazar's concubines, the explanation of how the martial art "judo" came about, or the start of the Jewish tradition of having Chinese food on Joshua's birthday.
- Adorkable: Josh comes off as a bit of this. He literally cannot help himself from poking anyone who calls himself an Untouchable, and finds it hilarious every single time.
- Anything That Moves: Sort of a running gag throughout the book. There were some perverted people back then...
- Attractive Bent Gender: Biff has to disguise himself as a Hindu widower's daughter at one point. The widower hits on him.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: According to Raziel, the angel Gabriel once decided to hang around on Earth for sixty years under the guise of Miles Davis.
- Bible Times
- Big Brother Instinct: A big part of Biff's heart of gold is his constant and never wavering desire to protect Josh, not just follow him. The one time he leaves Josh, he's at a complete loss at what to do until he goes back. Even the monks noticed it.
"If I was basking in the light of his holiness all of the time, how would I take care of him? Who would do all of his lying and cheating for him?"
Biff: And this golden stuff around you, this light, what is this?
- Bishonen: Raziel, the angel who resurrects Biff. Supposedly Even the Guys Want Him is a standard feature on angels.
- Brainless Beauty: Raziel is...dense. This leads Biff to theorize that Raziel might have been the Ur Example Dumb Blonde.
- But You Screw One Goat!: Played with, a lot.
" A sea turtle? Really?! That's got to be an abomination."
- Came Back Wrong: Lazarus, who has, err, somewhat fragmented in the meanwhile. (This is a Shout-Out to The Bible: Maggie protests that they should not open the tomb because Lazarus has been dead for four days and the stench will be dreadful.)
- Celibate Hero: Josh is commanded by an angel (Raziel) not to "know women." What exactly does that mean? They mean to ask Raziel the next time he appears...but, as a Running Gag, they never get around to it.
- Biff finds a loophole: he goes to know some women and then tells Josh about it.
- Chick Magnet: Josh. Biff had a pretty interesting way of utilizing this for apostle recruits, as he demonstrates with Matthew:
Biff: Sad. You're probably heartbroken. That's sad. You see those women? There's women like that all the time around Joshua. And here's the best part, he's celibate. He doesn't want any of them. He's just interested in saving mankind and bringing the kingdom of God to earth - which we all are, of course. But the women, well, I think you can see...
- Continuity Nod:
- Catch is the main villain in Christopher Moore's first book, Practical Demon Keeping, in which a man summons the demon and then can't figure out how to get rid of him. There's even a mention that the demon said he'd been to Earth before, but refused to say how he'd been banished.
- Raziel is later an important character in The Stupidest Angel
- Cute Shotaro Boy: Jesus himself. The scary thing is, in context, it actually makes a lot of sense.
- Deconstructor Fleet on The Bible (played more for laughs than anything else)
- Deadpan Snarker / First-Person Smartass: Biff, who invents the concept of sarcasm.
- Demonic Possession: Played straight first, then subverted when Maggie fakes this to make her horrible husband want to leave her.
- The Ditz: Raziel
- Dragon Lady: Biff claims that Joy, who uses dragons in her symbology after striking out on her own, is the Ur Example.
- Dumb Blonde: Again, Raziel. Biff at one point says the angel is the reason humanity has "dumb blonde" jokes.
- Epigraph: Each chapter is headed by one
- Exotic Equipment: Hinted at: Raziel confirms that yes, some angels are male and some female, and yes, they have sex, but apparently the necessary parts have to be attached first...
- Happily Ever After: Biff, after finding out that Maggie has also been resurrected to add her Gospel to canon.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Yes, John, you have. No, John, you're not.
- It Will Never Catch On:
- Joshua's opinion of this "sarcasm" thing Biff invented (at least at first, before Josh starts using it in ways Biff never intended, i.e., against him). Other noteworthy ones include matches and gravity.
- Likewise, Biff's name for a big barrier used to keep some barbarians out: The Ostentatious and Unpleasant Wall Of China.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Biff and Josh
- Hot Mom: This is how Biff sees Mary, whom he plans to marry in case something should happen to her current husband Joseph.
- Hurricane of Puns: A lot of them, but one stand-out is the Martial Pacifist example below.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Biff.
- Jerkass Gods: While Josh is cool, his dad's reaction to his pleading for humanity is "Fuck 'em".
- Jesus Was Crazy: A corner case. Jesus isn't crazy (and in fact is portrayed as closer to Crazy Awesome) but he's distracted enough by the whole Son of God thing that he comes off as a bit loopy.
- Jesus Was Way Cool: Basically the whole point of the book, along with...
- Kung Fu Jesus / Martial Pacifist: Biff and Josh are taught kung fu during their travels, but Joshua refuses to learn the bits which involve weapons, and indeed any direct violence at all. Instead he pioneers a totally reactive martial art which would forever be known as "the way of the Jew," or "Jew do".
- Love Triangle: Biff ---> Maggie ---> Josh
- The Messiah: Well, yeah.
- Name's the Same:
Biff: You would have liked pizza. The servant who brings it is named Jesus, and he's not even a Jew. You always liked irony.
- Noodle Implements: This novel provides one of the page quotes.
- Odd Name Out: All of Balthasar's concubines have long and elaborate names, often regarding their occupation (for instance, "Tiny Feet of the Divine Dance of Joyous Orgasm," who for obvious reasons just goes by "Joy")... Except for the last one: "Sue (short for Susanna)".A subversion, too, since Joy, not Susannah, lives through the following disaster.
- Oh, and X Dies: When Biff finally gets the key to open the big scary door... he has an adorable exchange with one of Balthasar's concubines...and mentions that was the last time he ever saw her in one piece.
- Offstage Waiting Room: Most of the novel takes place during the "lost years" of Ieshua of Nazareth; his actual ministry only takes up the last third or quarter of the book.
- Pals with Jesus
- Refuge in Audacity: Basically the whole vibe of the novel, along with...
- Rule of Cool and Rule of Funny. The author even invokes it - history will just have to suffer a bit to answer the age-old question of "What if Jesus knew Kung Fu?"
- Shangri La: One of the three Wise Men lives here, complete with a Yeti, who is the Last of His Kind...which in itself is deconstructed when Josh, Friend to All Living Things that he is, befriends said yeti...
- Also subverted as the monastery is described as incredibly cold, and generally not a nice place to live.
- Shaming the Mob: "Let he who is without sin..." (Josh himself is played completely straight in this scene, and in fact in most of the book; it's Biff who provides most of the silliness...mostly. Josh gets some good ones in as well.)
- Shown Their Work: Moore's depiction of life in Palestine is reasonably historically accurate, except that he threw out anything that wouldn't fit the Rule of Funny.
- Stupid Sexy Flanders:
- Biff, tackling Raziel, shouting, "I have not been laid in two thousand years!!!"
- There's also that time that Biff asked to see Raziel's, err, equipment...
- The Legions of Hell:
- Legion himselves show up, to be banished into some pigs and drowned...which causes some unpleasantness.
- The demon Catch.
- Two Guys and a Girl: Joshua, Biff and Maggie play up some parts of this trope.
- Uncanny Family Resemblance/Famous Ancestor: There's a slight implication that the Emperor of San Francisco from Bloodsucking Fiends and A Dirty Job might be Bartholomew's descendant, considering both are huge, bearded homeless men accompanied by dogs and completely happy with the way they live, not to mention, well... they seem crazy (or do they?). Or maybe Bart is just an Expy...
- Values Dissonance: Invoked - Josh's "drive the demon Legion into the pigs and drown them" miracle doesn't go over so well when the onlookers are a) Gentiles and b) the owners of said pigs. As it was, Torches and Pitchforks were involved.
Joshua: What? If they were Jews, it would have gone over great. I'm new at Gentiles.
- Walking on Water:
- Another good example of how Moore both pokes fun at The Bible and plays it straight. Peter takes one step and goes straight in. Josh teases him for being dumb as a rock, but also praises him for the strength of his faith, claiming, "On this rock..."
- Also played with earlier in the book when Biff would ride on his elephant's head while it swam fully underwater. He claimed to be walking on water.
- You're Not My Father: Used by Josh against Joseph in an early scene, with Meaningful Echo in reverse later.