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Source: (consider it) Thread: Hoist with my own giggle box
Zappa
Ship's Wake
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On some other site which shall remain nameless I mentioned the question of biblical humour. It arose in part because some of my dour anti-religious associates believe we have a dreadfully dull and legalistic set of scriptural readings decked out with all the humour of a very humourless thing™.

By contrast, the incomparable OT scholar John Goldingay writes of Esther,
quote:
one of our problems is that we lack a sense of humor. The story [of Mordecai's come-uppance] assumes that people who want to survive had better learn to laugh at other people and themselves.Its larger-than-life tale has invited us to laugh from the beginning, with its outrageously extravagant and stupid king, his six-month-long party, its year-long beauty treatments, the men's desperate concern for their headship, Haman's seventy-five-feet-tall gallows ... [1]
When we read this po-faced we miss the point, trap ourselves in the misery of a miserable punitive God ... then there's Jonah, Babel ... stoopid bloody Samson ... what else, who else ... ? Did Jesus slip a few funnies into the miserable stuff about - oh wait ... there isn't any miserable stuff. Did Paul really want a knife to slip? Is Revelation or Daniel a bit of a giggle?

[1] Goldingay, Israel's Gospel, 786.

[ 24. November 2016, 06:42: Message edited by: Zappa ]

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Kwesi
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I can see why certain incidents in the bible may have been amusing at the time of writing, like Elijah joking at the expense of the prophets of Baal or the animals wearing sackcloth and ashes in Nineveh, but to be honest I don't find these events or the observations Esther above raising a chortle in me. The bible may have the answer to lots of things but it doesn't satisfy the need for a belly laugh.
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Alan Cresswell

Mad Scientist 先生
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Humour is something that is very cultural. There are few forms of humour that actually translate across cultures, even more so when that humour is language dependent (puns being an obvious example). It is therefore highly unlikely that we will find any Biblical jokes producing a belly laugh today, and indeed most of them will be practically invisible to us without trying to get into the minds of people from different cultures.

Though, I often get a hint of Jesus' parables being more like jokes than we might assume.

"Did you hear the one about the man trying to get his camel to walk through the eye of a needle?"

"There was a priest, a levite and a Samaritan on the road to Jericho ...."

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Baptist Trainfan
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Yes; I have said in sermons that Jesus would have made a good stand-up comedian.

Of course the sourpusses will remind us that "Jesus wept" but never laughed.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Alan Cresswell:

Though, I often get a hint of Jesus' parables being more like jokes than we might assume.

"Did you hear the one about the man trying to get his camel to walk through the eye of a needle?"

"There was a priest, a levite and a Samaritan on the road to Jericho ...."

I think this is more likely to be due to the influence of the bible stories on the pattern of contemporary English and the way that has influenced the language and world view (and, presumably, jokes) rather than that they're supposed to be funny.

I often think that we're missing a whole lot of subtext when reading old texts, and that there is humour just in the absurdity of the construction. For example I was reading something about 150 years old which struck me as being hilariously funny due to the crusty views it expressed. I don't think it was supposed to be funny.

How much more divorced are we from something 2000 years old?

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Trudy Scrumptious

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If you've ever tried to teach Shakespeare to modern high school students you'll have a good grasp of how humour is perhaps the most difficult thing to translate across culture, time, and language changes. Every Grade Nine student gets how Romeo and Juliet can fall in love from one glance at a party and be so in love they're willing to die for it three days later -- but NONE of them get the humour in the Nurse's speech about Juliet falling on her back until you break it down and explain it to them.

So it is with the Bible. The big themes are timeless but the humour (and probably other things) get lost in translation.

There's definitely a lot of irony in the Esther story -- not quite the same as big belly laughs, but a great appreciation for the ironic reversal that is the staple of so much humour. Haman walks into the king's bedchamber at the exact moment the king is trying to decide how to honour Mordecai; Haman describes the exact victory parade he'd like to have for himself, assuming he's the intended honoree; he's then forced to carry out that celebration personally for the man he's building a giant gallows to hang. It's not slapstick but it's definitely funny. Jewish tradition gets this in the way Purim is celebrated: it's not a solemn feast like Passover (very few ha-has in the Exodus story) but a big party, complete with costumes, at which the participants are instructed to get so drunk they can't tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai.

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Kwesi
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I agree with all the remarks regarding humour and culture. ISTM that Slapstick is the one most able to communicate across cultures, but it does pall after short time, doesn't it?
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Moo

Ship's tough old bird
# 107

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I think Jesus's followers would have found his remarks about people who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel very funny.

The swallowing of a camel is hyperbole, which is widespread in Jewish writings.

Imagine, though, someone fussily picking a gnat out of his drink and then attempting to swallow a great hulking hairy beast.

Moo

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Trudy Scrumptious

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Likewise with the speck in your neighbour's eye and the log in your own.

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Kelly Alves

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There's that fish story, where an exasperated Jesus sends Peter out to catch a fish to get the taxes. I can imagine Jesus sending him off with a bro- ish boot to the keister when he does it. Yes, it is the oh so serious subject of paying tribute to the oppressor, but there's no way you can tell me the author did not intend the story to be humorous. Miraculous sarcasm.

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churchgeek

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Some have said Job may have started out a comedy, a farce, then the theologians added to it. It does have the U-shaped plot of a classic comedy, even if it's not a ha-ha funny kind of story.

Wordplay is a major feature in the Bible. I'm told the birth narrative of Samuel has all kinds of puns in it IF instead of Samuel, the name Saul is inserted. That implies it was written for Saul, then he fell out of favor, and the name got changed.

I've occasionally been in a service (usually a small, intimate one) where, while the Scriptures were being proclaimed, the congregation laughed at something in it. Which is wonderful when it happens. That's part of the benefit of listening to a story being read rather than reading it yourself from the page, with all the trappings of devotion.

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Hedgehog

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I know some feel that the all the Bible should be read with great solemnity, but nobody will ever convince me that the story of Balaam and Balak was not meant to be funny.

As for Jesus, I also think he was allowing himself a bit of a giggle at Cana. Surely he was capable of turning the water into the same sort of wine that had been served so that nobody would have noticed a difference. Instead, he changes the water into the best wine, so that the host (who has no idea what is going on) has to try to explain why he saved the best wine for last. I always imagine Jesus chuckling quietly to himself as he lips the cup to his lips.

There is a more serious point to be made in this discussion. I think some resist finding humor in the Bible because it seems somehow disrespectful. But that is missing the point: humor can be used to educate and elucidate. As was mentioned, Jesus' use of exaggeration and hyperbole may have been met with a smile from his audience, but it also drove home his point clearly. There is nothing inconsistent with Jesus teaching a serious point, but using humor to do so.

[ 24. November 2016, 17:39: Message edited by: Hedgehog ]

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Moo

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Numbers 11:10-15 is very funny when read aloud in a whiny voice.

Moo

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Eutychus
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The older I get the more humour I see in the Bible.

In our seemingly endless study of Genesis our church has been looking at Joseph, and how once reconciled to his brothers, he gives Benjamin more fine coats than anyone else and, as they set off back home to get Jacob, bids them farewell saying "now don't argue on the way..."

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Teekeey Misha
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
The bible may have the answer to lots of things but it doesn't satisfy the need for a belly laugh.

I figure that the only reason the jokes in the Bible don't give me "belly laughs" is because I know them all already!

There are, though, still plenty of bits that amuse me or make me smile - and Balaam's ass still makes me laugh out loud every time.*

*ETA and no - not because it sounds rude!

[ 25. November 2016, 00:59: Message edited by: Teekeey Misha ]

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Eutychus
From the edge
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Other examples:

Rhoda leaving Peter locked outside as she rushes to tell the prayer meeting for his release - and they don't believe her (slapstick)

At least one commentator has suggested that the endless repetitions in Daniel of the lists of satraps, prefects, et al is intended as humour to ridicule their puffed-up importance.

I like this quote from Malcolm Muggeridge:

quote:
Love laughter, which sounds loudly as heaven's gates swing open, and dies away as they shut


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Karl: Liberal Backslider
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# 76

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Not exactly Blackadder though is it?

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Trudy Scrumptious

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quote:
Originally posted by Karl: Liberal Backslider:
Not exactly Blackadder though is it?

No, but I bet Blackadder won't be Blackadder in 2000 years either.

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Karl: Liberal Backslider
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quote:
Originally posted by Trudy Scrumptious:
quote:
Originally posted by Karl: Liberal Backslider:
Not exactly Blackadder though is it?

No, but I bet Blackadder won't be Blackadder in 2000 years either.
Undoubtedly true. But my point is that the humour that might be contained in there is pretty much a lost cause to us. We can, as an exercise, find it and explain it, but it's not going to actually strike us as humour, in the main.

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Eutychus
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AIUI, Blackadder was written as humour (albeit with a serious point lurking beneath that gradually came more to the fore until its culminating closing and depressing scene).

The Bible obviously wasn't written as humour, but I do increasingly think that it echoes in many parts with the sound of laughter; and the end is a lot less depressing.

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St. Gwladys
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I can't remember where it was, but some years ago when I was doing my daily readings, I was astonished to realise Christ was making a joke! I've often thought that he must have been fun to be around 'cos children flocked to him. I saw a lovely picture once of Jesus laughing - pen and ink drawings of a young man having fun playing games with children of different ages. Just one person's representation, but I think there had to be some truth in it.

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Teekeey Misha
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quote:
Originally posted by Karl: Liberal Backslider:
But my point is that the humour that might be contained in there is pretty much a lost cause to us. We can, as an exercise, find it and explain it, but it's not going to actually strike us as humour, in the main.

[Confused] My last post stated pretty clearly that there are parts that do strike me as humour.

How do you equate "Balaam's ass still makes me laugh out loud every time" with "the humour that might be contained in there is pretty much a lost cause to us"?

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Callan
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quote:
Originally posted by Karl: Liberal Backslider:
Not exactly Blackadder though is it?

Yeah, but Blackadder is a sitcom. It is written exclusively with the intention of making us laugh - with the exception of the final scene of the final series. But there are plenty of TV programmes with many amusing lines which are, nonetheless, comparatively serious and not primarily intended to amuse. For example, at the end of Season 2 of 'Blake's 7', the Andromedan force is about to attack the Galaxy, and only the Liberator stands against them. Vila, turns to Avon and says: "Avon, this is stupid". To which Avon replies "When did that ever stop us...FIRE". It's not Blackadder because the series itself is not a sitcom but there are genuinely funny lines. The funny lines aren't rendered unfunny because there is also a serious subtext about resistance and totalitarianism and about trust and friendship and also a great deal of less serious technobabble, ST between Servalan and various members of the crew and Ben Steed's inimitable contribution to the debate about feminism. Something similar could be said about the amusing bits of the Bible. If you want a good laugh you go to Morecambe and Wise, or the Two Ronnies or Blackadder or Mitchell and Webb but it seems unreasonable to say that a narrative which is not attempting to compete on these terms has nothing funny to say to anyone. If you don't find it funny yourself, so be it. To quote the Emperor Cartagia humour is a terribly subjective subject. There are bits of the Bible that are obviously jokes or humorous. But if what you want is simply a good laugh about the subject you'll read something like 'Good Omens' rather than the Book of Jonah. 'Good Omens' is funnier than Jonah. But both contain jokes.

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Karl: Liberal Backslider
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quote:
Originally posted by Teekeey Misha:
quote:
Originally posted by Karl: Liberal Backslider:
But my point is that the humour that might be contained in there is pretty much a lost cause to us. We can, as an exercise, find it and explain it, but it's not going to actually strike us as humour, in the main.

[Confused] My last post stated pretty clearly that there are parts that do strike me as humour.

How do you equate "Balaam's ass still makes me laugh out loud every time" with "the humour that might be contained in there is pretty much a lost cause to us"?

Don't know. Just don't find it very funny. Not laugh out loud funny. Not even quiet snigger funny. I did say 'in the main'. YMMV, as they say. I gather many people found Friends funny. But I daresay many people would be unmoved by stuff that has me in tucks.

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Nick Tamen

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# 15164

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quote:
Originally posted by St. Gwladys:
I've often thought that he must have been fun to be around 'cos children flocked to him.

My grandmother used to say that Jesus never would have gotten all the dinner invitations he seems to have received unless he had a good sense of humor and was fun to be around.

Meanwhile, I'm reminded of the quote attributed to Karl Barth: Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.

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balaam

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quote:
Originally posted by Teekeey Misha:and Balaam's ass still makes me laugh out loud every time.*

*ETA and no - not because it sounds rude! [/QB]

No problem [Big Grin]

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Kelly Alves

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And there you are. [Big Grin]

I am just gonna say it, I think there is a gender dynamic at work in the Baalam story that might make it more funny to the milennia of women who might have heard it making the rounds. Simply put, I don't think it's a mistake the ass is a she.

Her life is given in service to this bumbling prophet. She quietly does what she is told, as she was created to do. She sees danger in front of the road, and like a good vassal to her master, she acts to spare him. She gets a swat as a thank you. Regardless of the thanklessness of her duty, she sticks to it and gets more beatings. When God finally gives her a voice, the first words out of her mouth are ( paraphrased) "Why the HELL are you beating me, dickhead? I'm on your side!"

She's the hero of the story, really.

But the whole "it wasn't written as intentional farce" argument ignores the fact that life itself is ridiculous, incongruous, and funny. An authentic storyteller - I'm not arguing literal truth here, I'm talking about writing/ telling with an authentic voice-- can merely point out something in a thought provoking way and illicit a laugh-- the laugh is provoked by the hearer's recognition of the rightness of the observation.

My own life is weird enough that I can't count how many times I was giving what I thought was a dry recitation of events only to find my friends guffawing, and then thought, "Yeah, I guess that is funny..."

[ 26. November 2016, 18:27: Message edited by: Kelly Alves ]

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I cannot expect people to believe “
Jesus loves me, this I know” of they don’t believe “Kelly loves me, this I know.”
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Ricardus
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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
Numbers 11:10-15 is very funny when read aloud in a whiny voice.

Moo

Not to mention verse 20, 'you will eat quail until it comes out of your nostrils'.

Also the bit where Rachel is hiding the household gods ( [Paranoid] ) by sitting on them, and tells her father 'I can't get up, I'm having my period.'

(The twelve-year-old part of me thinks 'hahaha, period', and the slightly more mature part thinks Rachel is playing off men's inability to cope with anything even slightly related to menstruation.)

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Then the dog ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail. -- Tobit 11:9 (Douai-Rheims)

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Zappa
Ship's Wake
# 8433

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Certainly as some have said humour is socially and psychologically conditioned. I haven't seen a sitcom that made me so much as smile, and most western comedy since M*A*S*H and Yes, Prime Minister, has had me reaching for a can of paint for drying-watching drills, or nail clippers to cut the growing grass.

Yet there is much that I have seen cited in this thread already that I find deeply funny. Bits of Genesis are brilliant - the blame game by Adam and Eve, a stoopid bloody tower, perhaps even Abel's blood crying from the ground which we tend to treat earnestly and metaphorically (it can be both). Samson? What a dipstick. New Testament? Not so much, but sorry Eutychus, c'mon! And yeah, Jesus dropped a few gigglers (crooked God-boss images, importunate widows), to the extent that even his more earnest biographers biblical couldn't entirely repress the smiles.

The YMMV thing is very true. I guess what worries me is back where I started ... we have turned biblical texts into such po-faced earnest misery that it's no wonder most of our (non US liberal ) global north contemporaries see the Bible as a boring old book.

And yes, Balaam's ass was definitely the hero (though I think a few commentators have beaten you to that observation, Kelly).

When I can get out of the house without waking the dogs I'll find the citations of (very few) books on the subject which triggered my thoughts on this line.

As an aside I find it no coincidence that figures like Castro (RIP) and Tutu have often exhibited great touches of humour.

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Kelly Alves

Bunny with an axe
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Wow, a (formally) theologically uneducated, mere humble preschool teacher like me said something that hifalutin theological types postulated before me? Lordy, I'm smarter than I done think I was! [Big Grin]

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I cannot expect people to believe “
Jesus loves me, this I know” of they don’t believe “Kelly loves me, this I know.”
Kelly Alves, somewhere around 2003.

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