HUMOR IN ANCIENT BIBLICAL TIMES
AND TODAY


A Sometime Interview Between

Danny, The “Straight Man”
and
Tung-in-Cheek, Famous Old Chinese Biblical Scholar

(Tung tells all for the first time in the history of the world.)

Section I


Danny: Thank you for giving us this time for an interview. You are such a famous old Chinese Biblical scholar, I feel I should address you as “Your Immenseness.”
Tung: For you, I am Tung.

Danny: Tung, you appear to be quite old.
Tung: Although I continue to look good, I am very old.

Danny: How old are you?
Tung: Old enough to be a retired, ancient Biblical scholar of considerable renowned.

Danny: Where did you do your graduate work?
Tung: At the University of Antiquities.

Danny: I understand that you have made a serious study of humor in Biblical times.
Tung: If you were taking a test, you would now have one right. Humor is an extremely serious subject.

Some of my discoveries are actually being released right here for the first time in the history of the world. Most everyone will be truly astonished at these astonishing astonishment's. My research now being revealed for the first time is in six categories:

1) An “early writer of the Bible.”
2) Proverbs as ancient humor.
3) Babylonians as some of the funniest people in the world.
4) Why the Babylonians and Israelites ripped it with each other.
5) Jesus’ outstanding contributions to humor.
6) How you can make the best use of this timely research “just for
fun”.

SECTION II


Danny: Tell us about the person you refer to as an “early writer of the Bible.”
Tung: The name of this early writer of the Bible cannot be spoken. He started writing the Bible when he was very young, in the year 599 B. C. You should feel a close kinship with him because he was in the 6th Century B. C. right where you are in relation to the 21st Century A. D.—just about ready to bust wide open a totally new millennium. I wish I could say his name, but I don’t dare speak it. If I did, you and I would die, and we don’t particularly want that to happen, do we?

Danny: Has your ancient Biblical research been hard for you?
Tung: It has been hard and tough! Of course, there are reasons for that. You may have noticed that the ancient Hebrews numbered things backwards. The fifth century came before the fourth century, which came before the third century, which came before the second century.

It would take no less a person than Jesus to get the numbering straightened out, so it ran from first to second, to third, and so fourth.

But even Jesus couldn’t correct the Hebrew practice of writing everything backwards—from right to left instead of from left to right, like the rest of us write.

I wish you could have known the ancient Hebrews. They something else. I’ve never told this before, but I discovered that they did five other things backwards. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to give a full report of the five things right now.

Danny: I know that you speak several languages. What is your secret to learning so many languages?
Tung: The secret is the same for learning any language: You learn to speak a language by writing it down first.

SECTION III


Danny: Tell us what you discovered about Proverbs being ancient Biblical humor.
Tung: There was an unnamed person who had the job of actually writing the Bible. I can’t tell you how he got that job, but I can tell you why he got it—he was a famous humorist. They chose him because they wanted Proverbs to be a book of ancient humor.

Originally, before he got hold of it, the book of Proverbs started out as only wise sayings. This unnamed person added the humor that is there in Proverbs today. You can look at Proverbs and you will see that he was good at writing humor.

Here are three examples: “When a wicked man dies, his expectations will perish.” (11: 7a) Note: I am quietly laughing my head off, inside. “It is better to dwell in the corner of a house top than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” (21: 9) Note: I say, “Selah!” “He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears.” (26: 17) Note: I have to hold myself to keep from hurting.

Danny: You’ve probably gone deeper into Proverbs than anyone else, haven’t you?
Tung: I’m deep, all right. But here is something for you. I discovered that originally, the word “Proverbs” was spelled with an “A”. That is still how it is pronounced—Praverbs—but that is not how it is spelled. Here is the way that change came about: This unnamed person was busy writing the Bible one afternoon when he took a migraine headache. His head hurt so bad he had to knock off at 3:30, right in the middle of writing the word, Praverbs. This time, he used an “o” instead of an ”a” and never noticed his mistake. He was out for several days, and you can’t believe what happened next. They called in a Temple substitute scribe. And that is where the idea of a “temp” being used as a substitute originated—right there in the Temple. The name stuck and we still call in a “temp” when we have a vacancy. I was fascinated when I made that discovery.

Danny: What happened next?
Tung: When he returned to work after his vacation, he immediately caught the error which the temp had not noticed, and he liked the change in spelling. He decided to permanently change the spelling to Proverbs, but there was one thing he didn’t count on: people are slow to change. He assumed that by changing the “a” to an “o” would start saying Proverbs. But to this day, people insist on saying Praverbs to mean the word that is spelled with the new spelling, Pro- verbs. My research indicates that saying Praverbs is now a done- deal. That is where the matter will rest for all time to come.

SECTION IV


Danny: Why do you contend that the Babylonians were some of the funniest people in the world?
Tung: Because they were. You heard right, the Babylonians were some of the funniest people in the ancient world. They were great joke-tellers.

One of the funniest jokes that continued to make the rounds for several centuries was this knee-slapper: “It is better to always walk beside your camel!” This was funn-ny to the ancient Babylonians and they loved to hear it over and over and over. I found that the ancient Babylonians were actually specialists in camel-humor. Here is another Babylonian favorite: “It is easier for a talkative Israelite salesman to make a fast buck than for a camel to lie down and roll over in the mud after a big rain.”

I think you will agree, as a funny joke, that is a keeper!

The ancient Babylonians were quite versatile in their humor. For example, here is a joke that is not about camels at all, because they were also very big on donkey-humor. Here is an all-time favorite of many upper level Babylonian comedians in and around the Nile basin, where it cuts across the Tigris and Euphrates: “You can lead a donkey to water, but you can’t make the donkey drink water if it isnot thirsty.”

Do you get it?

I guess you would have had to be there.

I could go on and on and on with ancient Babylonian humor, but it would only be suggestive.

SECTION V


Danny: Why did the Babylonians and the Israelites rip it with other?
Tung: There is no more important question in the entire Bible than this one. My research tells all. This is the gospel-truth about the Babylonians and the Israelites. The raw truth is that the Israelites owned all of the vacation cruise ships up and down the Nile. They have been ship owners ever since Moses set out in the world’s first baby boat. I guess you can see the conflict that was bound to develop. Here were the ancient Babylonians with their penchant for rousing humor. The fact is, the Babylonian comics were absolutely the best comics in ancient Biblical times. They not only did stand-up—they did squat-down, they did fall-out; they even did roll-over! The Babylonians were good. They knew it, and everyone else knew it. They were so popular and there were so many of them, the truly funny Babylonians over-populated the land. Because there were so many of them, it was hard to find work as comedians.

Remember now, the Israelites owned all of the party boats on the Nile—in fact, they owned a total of 666 boats in all. Get ready now for a hard fact: the ancient Israelite boat owners would not give a single booking to a Babylonian comic. No way! Try as they did, the Babylonians could not break the ranks of the Israelite boat owners. And now you know.

For centuries, the Babylonian comics have been trying to get bookings to play the Israelite ships—and the Israelites have not budged on a single ship.

The ancient Israelites have a point when they contend that Babylonians humor is no laughing matter.

And the ancient Babylonians have a right to counter with one funny joke after another. That is pretty much where it stands. As an ancient Chinese student of the Bible, I can say that I can see each point of view, and I feel sorry for both of them.

SECTION VI


Danny: What did you discover about Jesus’ contribution to humor?
Tung: You may think that Jesus was not the funniest person who ever lived. But do not rush to judgment without being prepared for it. If you are not careful, Jesus will slip up on your blind side as he sometimes did.

I am not saying that Jesus was a comedian, or even that he was as funny as those hilarious Babylonians.

But except at the very end, those closest to Jesus frequently saw a curl in his lips. Remember that John said in 11:35 that “Jesus wept.” John mentioned this unusual occurrence because it stood out as a variance from the norm.

Jesus said some humorous things:
—At Pentecost the people were not drunk because it was only 9:00—they hadn’t had time to get drunk.
—He gave a new twist to that old Babylonian joke about the camel: “. . .camel through the eye of a needle, etc.”
(Clever, and real funny when you think about it.)

Jesus also saw some humorous things:
—Zacchaeus perched on the limb of a tree.
—What he said about the new wine.
—The look on the man’s face as he was let down through the roof top.
—The glee on Peter’s face when he walked on the water— and the shock on his face as he was going under.
—The vivid contrast between Martha and Mary.
—Mary’s concern that after three days Lazarus had begun to stink.

Jesus also savored humor within:
—I can almost hear him quietly chuckle as the sea settled down.
—As the officer’s child got up and went out to play.
—As Peter’s mother asked for something to eat.
—Their response after telling any number of parables could have made him chuckle inside.

These times, and others, make me think of the “laughing Jesus”.

Danny: How can we make use of this timely research “just for fun”?
Tung: “Just for fun” is the key. Lighten up a bit. If you don’t take life so seriously, you will have a better chance of getting out of it alive!

Take the Bible seriously but don’t be so serious when you take the Bible. It is a Living Word. Treat it that way. It has all of everything you need and some of everything you want—including humor. Especially humor.

But sometimes, we have overlooked the lighter side by thinking that life and religion are supposed to be heavy and burdensome. God forbid—which is exactly what God has done.

As God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light; God is also saying, “Let there be humor!”—which is somewhat akin to light.

Danny: Thank you, Dr. Cheek, for this much of your ancient time. After hearing you, how could anyone ever read the Bible as they did before?

By
Danny E. Morris,
Professor Emeritus,
University of Antiquities.

1998 Danny Morris. All Rights Reserved.


Bibliography on the Ancient World

The Art of Ancient Egypt, Revised by Robins, 272 Pages, Pub. 2008
 

Return to Ancient Humor

Ancient Customs

Background Bible Study

Biblical Archaeology

Bible History Online

 

Lost Laughs

Bible History Online


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