Illuminating Humor of the Bible

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Finding humor in the Bible requires a broad eclectic definition of humor and some awareness of literary types of humor such as satire, farce, parody, irony and so on. Therefore, the vast majority of Bible interpreters over the last 1, years have not only not detected humor in the Bible, they have often discounted or even disdained the possibility of humor in the Bible.

Professor Yehuda T. Radday notes that some scholars have flat out denied that humor in the Bible exists. He references a conference in Israel on the subject of Jewish humor , where no attention was given to humor in the Bible. Scholars like Steven C. Walker, a professor of literature, and Howard R. Macy, a professor of religion, claim humor is prevalent in the Bible. Macy says that "if we think that humor in the Bible mostly looks like stand-up comedy or telling jokes, we won't see much of that.

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Illuminating Texts - BYU Magazine

Perotta, priest and professor at Fuller Seminary , [3] argues that:. But this is a minor point, maybe even trivial and pedantic. The ancient Hebrews loved and married—and joked—no doubt, in a different idiom than "we" do, but they still engaged in such activities and we can speak about those activities without being anachronistic or solipsistic [4] : Professor of Jewish theology and Near Eastern studies Leonard Greenspoon says, "In sum, biblical humor is certainly not stand-up comedy nor is it especially cerebral either. Rather, it is participatory and fully in keeping with the overall themes and emphases of the Hebrew Bible.

Peters states that he finds over a thousand "humorous lines and stories" in the Bible. There is general agreement the kind of humor that can be found in the Bible becomes apparent when the Bible is viewed as literature. Marion Daniel Shutter asserts we would find genuine wit if, in literature other than the Bible, we came across sentences such as that found in Proverbs Interfering in someone else's argument is as foolish as yanking a dog's ears.

He says, "When Isaiah characterizes certain ones as 'mighty to drink wine and men of strength to mingle strong drink,' does he not use essentially the same reproach Prince Hal fastened upon Falstaff , 'Wherin is he good but to taste sack and drink it? It sneaks up on you.

When discussing biblical humor scholars generally agree humor is often in the situation itself. Macy gives the examples of Sarah having Isaac at the age of ninety, and the Messiah turning up in a barn. Macy says "The Bible gives us tale after tale of comic reversals and narrow escapes. William Whedbee [9] says the biblical authors use "humorous juxtaposition" where things seem funny because they're together: for example, short and tall, fat and thin, irony and paradox.

Those scholars who do find humor in the Bible agree the odd, awkward, or absurd such as mismatches in character and actions, are examples of how the Bible uses humor. Macy, Walker, M.


  • Karl Möller - Book Reviews.
  • On the Origin of Language;
  • Laughter in the Hebrew Bible;
  • Laughter in the Bible? Absolutely! - Biblical Archaeology Society?
  • Illuminating Humor of the Bible by Steven Walker | Waterstones;
  • Additional information;

Shutter, and other scholars contend Genesis has several stories that offer humor through absurdity, trickery, surprises and reversals. Macy says that in speaking of humor in the Bible he usually begins with asking how it might feel to personally get the message Abraham and Sarah received , putting them into the absurd situation of a ninety year old having a baby. Humor in Genesis, Macy says, includes "Both Abraham and Isaac trying to pass off their wives as their sisters, [however] translations of Genesis range from [Isaac and his 'sister'] "laughing together" to "caressing" or "fondling" to "making love" giving evidence of Isaac's 'savvy' in pulling off the lie.

Jacob and Laban make deals with each other that make a reader cringe. In Genesis 18, the topic is serious but bargaining with God looks a lot like buying a used car. He adds, "Bible characters learn a lot about their own 'dark sides' by those contrasts.

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He references 12 incidents in Genesis of younger sons getting the better of their elder brothers. Greenspoon offers Genesis 4 as an example of Biblical humor using ironic wordplay with names. After murdering his brother and attempting to shift the blame, Cain is condemned to wander ceaselessly, but after complaining God agrees to let him settle in the land of Nod.

Greenspoon says, "The root of the Hebrew verb 'to wander' is n-w-d and "the proper name 'Nod' derives from the same root as the verb 'to wander' What sort of settling is Cain likely to experience in a land whose very name connotes constant wandering? Greenspoon says Aaron 's response to getting caught after making the golden calf is humorous.

Not exactly. He does attempt to shift blame—"You know this people is bent on evil". He also admits to asking the people for their gold, at the same time notably truncating the scope of his original request Even though the biblical text had earlier narrated in some detail the active role he took Petrotta and others find plenty of humor in the story of Balaam and his talking donkey in the Book of Numbers.

Balaam is repeatedly asked by king Balak to curse the Israelites, but Balaam can only bless them, making the king increasingly angry. Shutter finds humor in the Fable of the Trees Judges 9. Abimelech maneuvered to have himself proclaimed king in Shechem, but Jotham believed he was unfit to rule and the people foolish to accept him.

Jotham contrives a satire. They said to the olive tree, 'reign over us. The thornbush said to the trees, 'If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon! Shutter also asserts that Samson is a humorous character, very similar to Ajax in Sophocles ' play Ajax. Quoting Rev. L'Estrange in his History of English humor We can only smile at his folly. Greenspoon finds humor in the word play of the names and characteristics of two protagonists found in the account of the murder of the King of Moab in the second half of Judges 3.

One of these characters is Ehud , a "left-handed man" from the tribe of Benjamin Judg Ancient Israelites oriented themselves with the Mediterranean Sea behind them and East was straight ahead; so, the south was to their right. Thus, it would not escape the notice of the reader that here was a "son of the south" or "the right hand" who was left-handed Second, because Ehud was left-handed, he strapped his sword to his right thigh It is especially the name of the Moabite king, Eglon , that would have immediately attracted the attention of an ancient reader Eglon comes from the same Hebrew root as the word for a fatted calf, often one prepared for sacrifice.

And, of course, sacrifice is exactly what Eglon becomes at the hand of Ehud The servants of Nabal say, "He is such a son of Belial [a devil] that a man cannot speak to him! In this same story Greenspoon finds humor in names and wordplay. The root of Nabal's name—"n-b-l"— and the word "fool" appears as two nouns one of which appears in the expression for "wine skin"; Nabal is a drunk. With the vocalization that is, vowels I am thinking of, the word means carcass or corpse.

Surely, Nabal was a 'dead man' when he crossed David as he did. The same consonants also make up a noun meaning 'foolishness', the very noun that Abigail used to describe her husband in her plea to David. Reading back then, we can sense a double play on words, as it were, by the narrator of this account". Walker says, "The Bible reads like a rogue's gallery of unlikely heroes Gideon the coward, Samson the bully, David the trickster".

Macy says this entire scene with David is humorous, but King Achish's response is the epitome of Biblical sarcasm: "Am I so short on insane people in my own kingdom you bring me more from other places? Walker says this demonstrates "David's trickster aspect is an equal-employment jester, 'laughable for how it succeeds in duping others and how it recoils to dupe the mischiefmaker".

Religion Professor and Presbyterian minister Conrad Hyers finds humor in Elijah's ridicule of "the priests of Baal who wailed and slashed themselves in the hope that Baal would send fire from Heaven. Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling; or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened! All scholars who find humor in the Bible agree it can be found in the book of Proverbs. Shutter gives numerous example such as: "A man of great anger will bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again. In other words, a man of violent temper is always getting into difficulties; you have no sooner helped him out of one than he has plunged madly into another.

Like the irascible person in the old nursery rhyme, who "jumped into a bramble bush and scratched out both his eyes", he is no sooner extricated than "with all his might and main, he jumps into another bush and puts them out again. Shutter also says humor is often used to communicate morality claiming "Can a man take fire in his bosom And his clothes not be burned? Shutter includes "Wealth makes many "friends"; poverty drives them all away" and "Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts" as social satire.

He pursues them with words, but they are gone. His Aunt, a member of the great and always established Church of the Pharisees, sent him her blessing--and a tract! Shutter says biting Biblical humor often gives insight into human nature: "All people spend their lives scratching for food, but they never seem to have enough. Ridicule and political commentary have gone hand in hand for many centuries.

According to Shutter, when Jeremiah describes the disaster that fell on Egypt's allies, the comments that follow to the King of Egypt drip with scorn: "Pharaoh, King of Egypt, is but a noise. He hath let the appointed time pass by. Walker explains that "A crucial function of humor in the Bible is to persuade the self-righteous to laugh at themselves--a process that proves especially enlightening when the self-righteous turn out to be us.

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