[t]he subject has been handled with rare precision by Léon Pierre-Quint, who in Le Comte de Lautréamont et Dieu presents humor as a way of affirming, above and beyond “the absolute revolt of adolescence and the internal revolt of adulthood,” a superior revolt of the mind.
Revolt, though it must begin with rejection of something can move towards its replacement with something different. Thus black humour might point up and reject the weakness and failings of religion. Think of the ending of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. Singing “always look on the bright side of life” during a crucifixion is surely black humour by anyone’s standard. But it is possible, for the viewer (whether or not the pythons encouraged this step) to use the recognition of absurdity and the emptiness of some religious ideas to generate a purer faith. If this is so then even a committed religionist can expect to find black humour in Scripture. Especially among the prophets.
I’ve been doing a series of podcasts seeking humour in every book of the Hebrew Bible. Twice I have disagreed with Robert Carroll, a friend and teacher. Who wrote an article on humour in the prophets.4
Brilliant, almost Shakespearian wordcraft; gives the book of Hosea a linguistic quality which is not well served by seeking humour in it. No doubt there are a few smiles to be had from the book but its real power and appeal lie elsewhere.5
This is the irony of the gap between pretensions and reality, and the incongruity may be seen by some readers as not lacking in humour. The biting sarcasm of ‘Ephraim herds the wind’ (12.1) or ‘they kiss calves’ (13.2) can be construed as humorous observations on the folly of social and political practices. Religious sacriﬁces and ceremonies conducted in the presence of skilfully made idols may easily be satirized by the simple description ‘they kiss calves’, and this simple but devastating critique is not without its humorous aspect. But trawling the minor prophets with nets designed to trap humour is a wearisome activity, especially when the poetry of the collections sparkles with other far more obvious features.
- Depending on your credulity or stringency [↩]
- Breton, André, and Mark Polizzotti. Anthology of black humor. City Lights Books, 1997. [↩]
- André Breton, “The Lightning Rod” especially p.xiv. [↩]
- Carroll, Robert P. ‘Is Humour among the Prophets’. Pages 169–189 in On humour and the comic in the Hebrew Bible. Edited by Yehuda T. Radday and Athalya Brenner. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1990. [↩]
- Carroll, “Humour”, 180. [↩]