Humor and Joy

“Humor is the story joy tells.” – Earl Palmer, The Humor of Jesus, 120.

I’m deep in my thesis writing.  I am writing about Humor as a Prophetic Device, how does humor reveal truth to its audience.  Pretty fun topic.  The chapter that I am working on right now is trying to provide a defense for finding humor in the Bible.

I was not intiailly planning on writing this chapter.  I decided to include it because I came across a guy name John Morreall, who arugues that the Hebrew Bible does not have a strong presence of humor, and that ultimately it’s a tragic story.  I disagree with Morreall’s conclusions strongly.

Morreall is an expert on humor, and his basic defense for the presence of humor is whether or not it makes one laugh.  He does not find that the Hebrew Bible allows for laughter, so there is no humor.  Another individual Hershey Friedman (whom Morreall is debating) believes that the biggest obstacle between modern readers and understanding the humor in the Hebrew Bible is language.  This is true, when reading an english translation of a Biblical Hebrew text we will miss puns, and onamonapia and other subtle wordplay devices.  We loose sight of the rhythm of the original text, we also lose sight of cultural context.  These are all crucial.

But I think Palmer is on to something in his simple text.  Expectations are a key part to understanding humor.  If we expect to read the Hebrew Bible and find an angry vengeful deity then we will find it.  But if we read the Bible expecting to see the story of a God who has chosen a people, who desires these people to stay in relationship with him, who desires to give these people joy and peace and happiness, then we will find that as well.

In the latter reading we will find joy and humor more readily accessible in the text.  Morreall has clearly made his decision to read the Hebrew Bible as a source devoid of all joy, and as such he has missed the point entirely.

I would encourage you, to read the Bible and look for how it surprises you.  Look for the irnoy, the sarcasm, the playful.  Yes there is anger, there is frsutration, but God, even in his moments of anger, always promises that he will not destroy his people forever.  And the discipline that God administers is not because he’s just mean.  Discipline comes with disobedience, and the discipline is designed for transformation not destruction.

One of the great promises of the Bible is that we can be transformed.  That is a comic (joyful) reading of the text.   If you read the Bible and see just destruction, that is a tragic reading of the text.  And I have a strong belief that the Bible follows a comedic U shaped plot line.  And so can our lives.  But I’ve already talked about that here: http://blip.tv/file/4587916

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