Religion & Beliefs

Biblical Bellylaughs

”Humor in the Tanakh”, Daniel Saunders promises us on Jewcy. And what a relief to find some lighthearted biblical exegesis amidst the posts like Jamie Sneider’s account of interfaith sex with her not yet ex-husband, Mia Rut’s three-way date with … Read More

By / January 28, 2009

”Humor in the Tanakh”, Daniel Saunders promises us on Jewcy. And what a relief to find some lighthearted biblical exegesis amidst the posts like Jamie Sneider’s account of interfaith sex with her not yet ex-husband, Mia Rut’s three-way date with a Jewish guy and a Russian cat (sorry I keep picking on you, Miz Rut), and Lilit Marcus’s account of her multicultural conquests (why do my old flames never blog about me? Was I that boring?). Although, come to think of it, all that stuff can be found in the Bible, too, except the cat. Saunders disappoints, however. The passages he adduces are not exactly rib-tickling. In fact, they are about as funny as the Gospel according to John, which is probably the most unfunny religious text ever written. I mean, Jeremiah’s pun about the almond tree? Generations of scriptural commentators haven’t even figured out what the hell he meant by it. I guess you had to be there. Good humor is subversive. And, fortunately for us, our holy book is auto-subversive in a way undreamed of by the average portentous sacred text. So with apologies, Daniel, for stealing your idea, here’s my own selection. Let’s start with the same book you start with, Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s an annoying guy. He spends his entire book berating his fellow-Judeans for their sins and warning them of the punishment that God will mete out to them through the agency of the king of Babylonia. You’re so far gone that even if you stop worshiping foreign gods, you can’t avert disaster. Jeremiah’s deal is: don’t repent, get conquered, slaughtered and exiled. Repent, just get conquered and slaughtered. Not much of an incentive, you might think, but some Judeans took him up on it. And what happens? They get conquered, slaughtered, and the few survivors, righteous Jeremiah among them, end up in exile in Egypt. You’d think this exasperating prophet would let up now that everything he said has come true. But no, he keeps berating his fellow Jews. And finally, Chapter 44, verse 16, the people get fed up. “This stuff you are telling us in God’s name—we’re not going to listen any more!” There we were, loyally observing the customs handed down to us from our fathers and our fathers’ fathers, burning incense to the Queen of Heaven, and no Babylonians bothered us, and life was pretty good. Then you came along and told us to stop—and we did. And look what happened. I mean, QED, Jeremy. Look at the facts. Empirically, you’re wrong. Now that’s funny. In a black, ironic way, true, but it’s funny. My second choice comes from I Kings, chapter 22. Yehoshafat, the king of Judea, makes an alliance with the king of Israel to conquer the Gilad Heights from Aram. The two kings meet, muster their armies together, but before setting out for battle, Yehoshafat thinks it might be a good idea to consult some prophets. So he asks his Israeli colleague whether there are any prophets around. The northern king calls 400 prophets together and asks them if he should go conquer Gilead. “Go up! For the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king!” the prophets shout in unison. Yehoshafat, being of the Davidic line, knows that getting 400 prophets to agree on anything is pretty nigh impossible, so he asks if there might not be some other prophet around. The king of Israel grumbles and equivocates and finally admits: “There is one other man, Mikhayahu the son of Yimla.… but I hate him, for he does not prophesy good of me.” Is this starting to sound eerily contemporary? So they haul in Mikhayahu and ask him what he thinks of the proposed war. The poor guy comes in, sees both kings in their official royal robes, sitting on thrones, and 400 prophets are there cheering them on. Verse 13: “And the messenger that was gone to call Mikhayahu spoke to him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good to the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like one of them, and speak that which is good.” But poor Mikhayahu. He’s a real prophet and can only speak the truth. I won’t give away the punch line. You can go read it for yourself. But it’s pretty funny, in a sad, subversive sort of way. Or maybe you’ve had too much irony, and you’d rather read about interfaith, intercultural, inter-species dating. Come to think of it, maybe I would, too. Read more by Haim at South Jerusalem