I picked up Even-Shoshan (that’s the Hebrew Old Testament Concordance) and looked up ההה (pronounced ‘hahaha’) … nothing. I tried חחח (with the harsher h, pronounced ‘chachacha’) … nothing … no LOLs in Hebrew :(!! So I tried my luck with Moulton-Geden (the Greek New Testament Concordance) and looked up λολ (lol in Greek) and ΛΟΛ (Greek lol in caps)… even the New Testament is serious :(!
Is there ANY humour in the Bible? Well, one difficulty with finding humour there is that what was seen as funny to those living in those times may not seem funny to us, and vice versa. When Abraham and Sarah were promised a child in their old age, the author of Genesis says she laughed at the hilariousness of the situation (go to Genesis 18,9-15). When David cut off the hem of sleeping King Saul’s skirt (that’s in 1Samuel 24,1-6) … wasn’t that a funny situation ? Doesn’t 2 Samuel 10,2-5 offer a tragicomic snippet from David’s life, just as Judges 3,20-24 does?
Did Jesus offer humorous anecdotes? Well, I find the episode of him calling James and John “Sons of thunder” quite comic (see Mark 3,17), when it was the same two who had asked Jesus whether he wants them to call down fire from heaven to burn the Samaritans for refusing him entry into their villages (according to Luke 9,54). In Acts 12,7-9, also in the New Testament, – the presumptuous Peter in prison has to be nudged from sleep, and instructed to put on his belt and sandals, and then his cloak by the angel!
Of course, one would not expect to find any humour in the letters of the presumably serious Paul! And yet, he asks the Philippians to rejoice and to rejoice again in the Lord (see for yourselves Philippians 4,4).
For someone in first-century Palestine, the premise was probably more amusing than the punch line. “The parables were amusing in their exaggeration or hyperbole,” Amy-Jill Levine, a New Testament scholar at Vanderbilt University, said in an interview. “The idea that a mustard seed would have sprouted into a big bush that birds would build their nests in would be humorous.”
People in Jesus’ day would probably have laughed at many of his intentionally funny illustrations: the idea that someone would have lit a lamp and put it under a basket, or that a person would have built a house on sand.
But contemporary readers may be missing the humour that Jesus intended and that his audience understood. Daniel J. Harrington, Jesuit professor of New Testament at Boston College, states that “Humor is very culture bound … The Gospels have a lot of controversy stories and honour-shame situations. Probably, the early readers found these stories hilarious, whereas we in a very different social setting miss the point entirely.”
Or maybe we just know the stories too well. Too many Gospel stories have become stale: “The words seem to us like old coins,” wrote Elton Trueblood, “in which the edges have been worn smooth and the engravings have become almost indistinguishable”.
Besides, what kind of a person has zero sense of humour? Eileen Russell, a New York based clinical psychologist, would describe the psychological makeup of a person without a sense of humour in this manner: “A person without a sense of humour would lead to that person having significant social problems. He would most likely have difficulty making social connections, because he wouldn’t be able to read signals from other people, and would be missing cues.” The Gospel Jesus was preaching precisely the opposite of this! Yet that’s just the kind of one-sided image that many have of Jesus. It shows up in books, sermons and in artwork. It influences the way that Christians think about Jesus, and therefore influences their lives as Christians.
If part of being human includes having a sense of humour, and if Jesus was “fully human,” as Christians believe, he must have had a fully developed sense of humour. Indeed, his sense of humour may be one unexamined reason for his ability to draw so many disciples around him with ease.
It’s time to set aside the notion that Jesus was a humourless, grim-faced, dour, unsmiling prude. Let’s begin to recover his humour and, in the process, his humanity :)!