A Humorous Jesus? Orality, Structure and Characterisation in Luke 14:15-24, and Beyond

A Humorous Jesus? Orality, Structure and Characterisation in Luke 14:15-24, and Beyond

By Bruce W. Longenecker

Biblical Interpretation, Vol. 16 (2008)

Abstract: If humour is uncharacteristic of the texts of the early Christian movement, sensitivity to rhetorical patterning in oral/aural contexts permits the recognition of innocuous sexual humour in one of the parables attributed to Jesus. Whether or not the humour originates with Jesus, it is suggestive of the way that Jesus was remembered by some of his earliest followers, and lays down a guidepost as to how he might profitably be rendered in modern portraiture or characterised in modern narrative. To that end, this study closes with an assessment of four Jesus novels of the past decade in relation to their depiction of Jesus and humour.

Introduction: Anthologies of classic humour unanimously by-pass Jesus of Nazareth and his first followers, and with good reason; humour is not usually associated with the texts about them, which claim to deal with serious matters of life and death. So Reinhold Niebuhr’s assertion that the Bible is virtually devoid of humour might coincide with the commonsense view.

Of course, some evidence might cause us to question whether the character of the historical Jesus is best captured by the solemn texts of the New Testament Gospels. The newly discovered Gospel of Judas, for instance, depicts a laughing Jesus. When that apocryphal gospel was recently (re)published, some argued that laughter makes the Jesus of the Gospel of Judas much more approachable than the hard-nosed Jesus of the canonical Gospels. So Herbert Krosney claimed that the Jesus of the Gospel of Judas ‘is not a tormented figure who will die in agony on the cross. Instead, he is a friendly and benevolent teacher with a sense of humour.’

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