Chronicles is not a laugh a minute. No really!

Lee, S. 'As Clown'. Pungent, Inept..

I did not get much help last time I appealed to you all. It was most disappointing, I thought I had an intelligent and widely read audience here… Maybe it’s just that you are a serious and somber bunch, or maybe the opposite, you are all so busy cracking wise that you don’t spot the humour in the Bible…

But either way I’m stuck again for my podcast series on Humour in the Bible Book by Book. You see, as I read them the books of Chronicles are so full of serious information, like who begat whom, and how many stones could dance on the head of a temple complex, or so full of nasty political propaganda whitewashing David and Solomon, that they have no time for humour.

But I accepted David K’s challenge, and I’m trying to show that there is humour in every book of the (Hebrew) Bible, and I am stuck on Chronicles. I managed to uncover humour in Leviticus without your help, but I really need you now…

Please, someone, point me to something humorous in these books!

Pretty please…

On the importance of reading with care

Ursus Arctos Syriacus photo by מתניה

I’m marking at present, therefore in a stroppy mood.

So, when in a students comments on Amos 5:19:

Like someone escaping from a lion,
who meets a bear;
and entering the house,
leans a hand on the wall,
and a snake bites him. (Amos 5:19, TempEV)

Hubbard’s commentary is cited saying:

The lion and bear are signifiers of God; the snake of evil and craftiness.1

I was about ready to consign Hubbard’s commentary to the waste bin. What a load of cobblers’! Isn’t it obvious that for Amos here the animals are simply natural threats? Why spiritualise them? Such over-spiritualising is typical of the worst of old-fashioned Evangelical biblical studies!

But, of course, I should have known, Hubbard is a much better reader than that. The over-spiritualising was my student’s – students are even more prone to such a penchant than old-fashioned Evangelical scholars ;) What Hubbard actually did was to rehearse both the historico-zoological facts of the dangers of these animals, and their possible metaphorical or symbolic significance,2 before concluding:

We view, therefore, Amos’ three figures as well-understood symbols of danger rather than as images with any deeper spiritual meaning.

Oh, that students actually read the works they cite! My blood pressure would be lowered, and their education raised ;)

  1. Alan Hubbard, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Joel & Amos (Leicester: IVP, 1989), 180. []
  2. Noting on the way that few species of poisonous snake are often found in Palestine. []

Pesky Passwords and the Wisdom of Clouds

I was all ready to write a somewhat scathing post about cloud-based password remembering services. I had tried LastPass which remembers your passwords for online services and supplies them IF you are logged in to the service using a master password. It sounded like a really useful service in a world with way too many passwords. However, my (bad) habit of using a disposable password for that 99% of occasions where the password really does not matter to me, but is required for some reason by the supplier of website somewhat frustrated its usefulness to me. If I was organised and careful things might have been different.

So, in the light of the recent security scare, I decided to delete my LastPass account. It hardly seems sensible to have even my disposable passwords stored in the cloud when i was not using the service.

Enter the lemming effect. Each time I tried to respond to the confirmation email I got an error message. Frustrating and annoying. So I wrote a stroppy email and planned a stroppier post here… Only to get a nice friendly reply, and an assurance my account was deleted. The company cares enough to either employ extra staff or to work harder to overcome the problems the danger of a security breach have caused.

Conclusion: If I ever do get organised to use a password manager properly, I will seriously consider LastPass again. Their failure is public and they care about customers.  Well-done. (A bit like biblical narrative really, it too makes failure public, and cares about people. ;)

Next-generation digital book?

TED often has inspiring and intriguing short talks. Though, as a long-time visitor to the site I’m less easily wowed than I used to be. One from the latest crop is a commercial demo. It’s what Push Pop Press (or possibly TED) think is “the next-generation digital book”. Take a look, it is impressive:

I suspect the technologically clever windmill that turns when you blow will lose its wow in a few weeks, but the possibilities of the visuals is stunning. Though in the demo the data “visualizations” were on the whole less than impressive. Not a patch on for example the more static data visuals TED demonstrated a while back.

And that’s my frustration with Push Pop Press’ Al Gore book, it looks good, it may be fun, but it is static. Umberto Eco classified literature on a scale from closed to open texts. Closed texts tell you what to think, open texts encourage exploration and readers to form their own understandings. (Although his distinction was intended to describe a significant feature of fiction, I think it applies at least as powerfully to educational and “factual” books.) Looked at with Eco’s eyes, Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth is a closed text, it fails to encourage exploration or imagination, but tells us what to think. Despite its title Our Choice is not about us learning and growing, it’s about us watching and enjoying a masterful performance by the programmers and designers.

This iBook is a digital equivalent of the bread and circuses TV or the mega-Church “worship” that are the opium of the people in the wealthy and comfortable bubble that is Western Culture. It is indeed a next-generation digital book as the corporates would like it to be, saleable and static, a disposable commodity. A true next-generation digital book would by contrast be open, it would encourage exploration and conversation far from being disposable it would open new possibilities and thoughts on return readings.

The technology for such a book does not need teams of expensive programmers. With minimal coding skills we could do it with a combination of HTML and WordPress. The linkages and connections made possible by <a href=http://… together with the ongoing conversation and community that blogging tools allow are all that is needed for a true Next-generation Digital Book. I love to see us produce a FOSOTT (free, open source Old Testament textbook) that as well as a paper edition offered an e-book version that included such interactivity.

Distinguishing humour: signs that a text is intended to be funny

Photo by kevingessner

At 5 Minute Bible I have begun podcasting examples of humour from every book of the (Hebrew at least)1 Bible.

But five books in, I accepted that David Ker’s other challenge. Scripture comes to us from long, long ago and from far, far away, cross cultural humour is always difficult. What is riotously funny to a Japanese may not tickle a Kiwi funny bone. Even among cultures that speak the same language (more or less) senses of humour may be significantly different. Just think of American and British TV comedies…

Spotting humour is easier in speech than writing, in speech there are often signals in the tone, timing and other features of the speech that signal humour. Scripture comes to us as plain vanilla written text.

However, there’s a whole academic discipline studying humour and biblical scholarship has used these studies.

One of the best summaries of this is the chapter F. Scott Spencer “Those Riotous – Yet Righteous – Foremothers of Jesus: Exploring Matthew’s Comic Genealogy.” In Are we amused?: humour about women in the biblical worlds, edited by Athalya Brenner, 7-30. Continuum, 2003. After discussing some earlier attempts to speak about genre signs of humour, starting with Ovid and ending in the 20th century, Spenser lists clues that humour is present. He begins with Greenstein’s list from the ABD2 says incongruity, lighthearted mood and surprise are hallmarks of humour.

Spenser adds to that list, and splits Greenstein’s “surprise” into “spontaneity” and “imperceptibility or hiddenness” (I prefer “surprise”), and I have also modified his list by adding the revelation of human pretension. Giving the following signs a text is intended to be humorous:

  • incongruity
  • lighthearted mood
  • surprise
  • ingenuity (cleverness is often a mark of humour think of puns)
  • inferiority
  • disguise or something or someone pretending to be something else
  • “inelasticity” (following Bergson)
  • human pretension revealed in all its lack of glory!

David Ker, in comments over there, adds hyperbole. This is quite right, exaggeration, things being bigger, brighter and more cartoon-like is often a sign of humour (just think of the story of Jonah). So the list of characteristics likely to be found in humorous texts (remember these rarely all present, but the presence of many of them together provides a strong suggestion):

  • incongruity
  • lighthearted mood
  • surprise
  • ingenuity (cleverness is often a mark of humour think of puns)
  • hyperbole
  • inferiority
  • disguise or something or someone pretending to be something else
  • “inelasticity” (following Bergson)
  • human pretension revealed in all its lack of glory!

What do you think? Are there other common signs of humour, do these signs work? I am especially interested in anyone with cross-cultural experience who can comment on how these work in different contexts. FWIW they do not seem to contradict my experience…

  1. Someone else can do the NT if they like, though I am less sure there is humour in every book there, apart from Jesus they seem a rather serious bunch ;) []
  2. Greenstein. “Humour and Wit: Old Testament.” In The Anchor Bible dictionary, edited by David Freedman, III:330-333. New York: Doubleday, 1992. []

My favourite is fig and licorice, what’s yours?

Randal Rauser has yet another excellent post: “Why conservatism is often riskier than you might think (and other observations on losing faith)” in which among other sensible stuff (that you really should read, if you don’t already subscribe to his blog) he says:

A Christianity (liberal or conservative) which doesn’t present its adherents with a sufficiently rich range of belief to work out their own faith in fear and trembling is a faith impoverished. 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins (an ice cream shop for those who don’t know) is a good thing. So it is in a range of areas in Christian doctrine like atonement theory and theories of biblical inspiration. So I lament that so many Christians are given only vanilla or chocolate and then walk away thinking they hate ice cream when they really would have loved licorice had they only been given a lick.

My favourite ice-cream, at least at present, is fig and licorice (an improved variant of February’s Fig Ice-cream, and I suspect my faith is just as strange and tasty ;)


Humour in every book in the (Hebrew) Bible

An ironically blond European Moses discovered (Paul Delaroche 1797–1859 Moïse exposé sur le Nil)

I have completed the first (of the three) sections of my response to David’s Funny Stuff in the Bible challenge:

I must confess I was hoping for more help with Leviticus, I am saddened by my listeners’ lack of appreciation of humour, you must be a sombre bunch. Indeed, for Deuteronomy my help camed from a Rabbi, much better at recognising and appreciating humour than most Evangelicals, sadly.

I was fully expecting to fail on Leviticus, however, that hurdle overcome, I am sure the rest will come tumbling out – I’m relying on Miriam to suggest some lighthearted laughs from Lamentations ;)

Help needed with humour

Thomas Nelson that flagship of American religion and commerce (they are not quite the same thing are they?) publishes this pink sequin Bible a "fun sparkly and shiny Bible for little girls embellished with sequins…Cute to carry and easy to read!"

David Ker is back po-faced in Why the Bible is just not (so) funny claiming that the Bible is not funny. Back in 2007 he issued a challenge claiming readers of his blog could not give examples of humour from every book in the Bible: Funny Stuff in the Bible.

Then I ignored (I think) his silly claim, but this time it’s serious, he plans to publish his rubbish, and another generation will grow up unable to laugh or even smile as they read Scripture (or more likely simply don’t read Scripture). So I plan a series of podcasts, book by Bible book, showing that (at least almost) all the Bible is full of humour. I’ve done Genesis, Exodus is easy, but Leviticus (not to mention Lamentations) may be harder. If any of you, kind and humorous readers, would like to help me out, please post a comment suggesting possible funny bits in the more sombre books!

Why proprietary file-formats are bad for institutions

By Paul Downey

A growing institution that despite growth is somewhat strapped for cash has most of its staff on OfficeProduct 2006, it less than the latest thing, but does everything the staff need. New staff are employed (it is a growing institution) new laptops are bought, they come with OfficeProduct X an easily “upgradeable trial version”. So, of course, to keep things simple they run OfficeProduct X.

Now disaster strikes, OfficeProduct 2006 cannot read OfficeProduct X files and the whole institution must be upgraded to OfficeProduct X. Strangely the same institution runs OpenOffice (a standards compliant open source Office package) on the public access terminals in the library. They do not need to upgrade, for OpenOffice CAN read the OfficeProduct X files…

As a further bonus advantage OfficeProduct X uses strikingly different menu structures from its predecessors, that means staff will need training, or possibly will just suffer the frustration of wasting hours learning the new “improved” product by trial and error, and then more hours helping their colleagues who are slower at learning such arcane 21st century skills.

A further disaster, but one that in the past could not have been avoided, many staff still have files from OtherOffice 2.0, those files are now unreadable by almost every modern Office suite. Lost data :( Now in the past such disasters were unavoidable, now however, suppose the files were saved in Open Document Format (an open standard that non-proprietary office suites use). Guess what in 10 or 15 years if ODF 2.0 has come out there will be plugins available to read the old files.

Now remind me, just how does paying for Microsoft Office make economic sense?

Bumper crop!

King Hezekiah on a 17th century painting by unknown artist in the choir of Sankta Maria kyrka in Åhus, Sweden.

Jim West posts more rubbish every day (often in his attempts to prove two obvious truths: humans are depraved and [probably a particular case of the former one] governments act stupidly) than most bloggers manage in a month of Sundays, but today he has not one but two posts that are well worth reading:

The Hezekiah Syndrome

Oh No, Not More Fundamentalist Baptist Craziness… Make it Stop…

Those of you who have removed his feed because of the volume of junk should look at these two ;)