Saturday, 16 January 2010

Humour in the Bible (2)

Given our historical and cultural distance from biblical literature, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether the humour we see is original to the writers, or if it arises from our 21st century frames of mind.

With that caveat in mind, I find the passage below to be wonderfully funny. It’s a kind of reverse auction - going, going, gone, - but with descending bids.

The scene is Abraham’s bargaining with the LORD regarding the fate of wicked Sodom/Gomorrah. (Whatever else you understand, be assured that the “grievous sin” is NOT homosexuality.)

The story is so near- eastern. It is a story of the bazaar; the souk; the market place.

Abraham, with characteristic near-eastern “feigned humility”. (I am nothing but dust and ashes”) talks the LORD down from 50 to 10 as the required number of righteous people in Sodom.

He is bold, even audacious, as he challenges the LORD on the LORD’S own terms “25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked”.

This indeed is the humour of boldness and audacity. It is “in your face” humour with a twist – it is a human who is in the LORD’S face!

If the Lector in Church can get to the humorous core of the story, then the congregation will respond to the humour.

Thus it was at St. Stephen’s in Pittsfield, MA one Sunday when Marjorie V-n Dy-ke read this passage.

Her reading was so finely tuned that the congregation began to laugh at the audacity of Abraham. What fun, to have a congregation which could laugh at the reading from sacred scripture!



Genesis 18
20 Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
26 The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
27 Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?"
"If I find forty-five there," he said, "I will not destroy it."
29 Once again he spoke to him, "What if only forty are found there?"
He said, "For the sake of forty, I will not do it."
30 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?"
He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there."
31 Abraham said, "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?"
He said, "For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it."
32 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?"
He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."
33 When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.


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