Doctor Science Knows

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More on the Book of Jonah

Mark Kleinman, subbing for Ta-Nehesis Coates, posted a rather serious analysis of the Book of Jonah, but noted that some people read it as comedy or satire. I commented:

I'm glad that I'm not the only one who reads Jonah as comedy -- I think it's *hilarious*, as funny as a well-done megillah. [I then explained my take on the book]

I always assumed that the Hebrew Bible was basically humorless

Are you joking?!? Not only is there Jonah, but also:

- the Golden Hemorrhoids of I Samuel chapters 5 & 6.

- Rachel steals her father's household gods, then when he comes to look for them she sits on them and says she's having her period and doesn't want to get up, so he goes away. Genesis 31:34-35.

- Balaam and his talking ass, Numbers 22:21-38.

That's just off the top of my head. And I don't even know Hebrew, so I can't cite the puns that I'm sure are all through the texts.

I'm kind of boggled to see that you're Orthodox -- I thought not seeing the humor in the Bible was a province of literalist Christians, frankly. Reconstructionist/Renewal rabbis, at least, always are aware of the funny bits, the ha-ha-only-serious. I first became consciously aware of Jonah's humor during a bibliodrama one Yom Kippur afternoon, because it's impossible to act out Jonah's lines without realizing that he's hilariously absurd.

My 4th grade rebbe (who was hands down the greatest teacher I ever had) approached the material in a way that was, in retrospect, reminiscent of the Bible routines of comics like Bill Cosby or David Steinberg, but it felt like his own interpolations, not something inherent in the text itself.

I think I probably looked at it this way until I ran into the Golden Hemorrhoids. I contend that it is impossible for human beings, regardless of cultural background, not to see that story as humor. It *must* have always been intended as funny -- and if there is one instance of deliberate humor in the TaNaKh, there's bound to be others. Once I let myself see them, there they were -- especially when I realized that the Bible was not meant to be read, but to be read *aloud*, with inflection and "doing the voices" and all the other things you do when you're reading for an audience.

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  • Ah. I see my error. Sorry about that! I clearly had a muddle in my head, of what was the post and what were the comments.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:46 PM  

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