I have just read, On Humour and the Comic in the Hebrew Bible, edited by
Yehuda T. Radday and Athalya Brenner, The Almond Press, 1990, and Humour and
Irony in the New Testament by Jacob Jonsson, E.J. Brill, 1985. Both examine
the use of humor in scripture.
I seems to me that there is quite of bit of humor in the book of John, but I
have seen little published on it. Some of the humor is in the ironic
contrasts, other in the situation.
For example there is a mighty contrast between the elderly scholar Nicodemus
approaching Jesus at night and the Samaritan woman at the well. Nicodemus
clearly comes seeking to discuss theology with Jesus and yet can’t catch on
to a simple figure of speech--being born again (or from above). Jesus
doesn’t seem to have much time for him. By contrast, Jesus discusses living
water, the proper nature of worship and reveals himself as divine to a
supposedly unlearned woman who has had many husbands. This dialogue is
interrupted when the disciples coming bungling in, worried about the fact
that Jesus is talking with a woman and that Jesus hasn’t eaten.
The story of the man who was born blind reminds me a situation comedy. Jesus
and the disciples encounter a blind man. The disciples are more concerned
about whose sin was the cause of the man’s blindness rather than having
compassion on the man. Once the man is healed of his blindness no one is
willing to step forward and acknowledge the miracle--not even his parents.
It seems to me that the Pharisees are being satirized here--they are more
concerned about the fact that the healing was done on the Sabbath rather than
the fact that the man can now see. There seems to me to be a great deal of
humor/irony in the Pharisees questioning Jesus, “What? Are we blind too?”
Certainly there is a spiritual message here. The man born blind comes to see
and believe that Jesus is the Son of Man and worship him. It appears that
humor is being used to punctuate the serious message of the text.
Do others recognize humor in other parts of the fourth gospel? Can someone
point me to a more recent bibliography?
Charles Starkey, MDIV
Canoga Park, CA