The ability to laugh at oneself is a sign of a healthy self-esteem. And for religion it is an important sign of healthy faith.
Consider for instance the book of Jonah. It is a marvelously crafted religious parody. No, I am not speaking about that tall story about a bloke surviving three days in the stomach of a big fish. That had been a focal point for millennia and is a minor issue. In myths and legends something like that can happen every day. With Jonah, the entire book is written like a joyful and irrelevant inversion and parody of a self-obsessed, pretentious, buffoonish religiosity.
You don’t need to take my word for it. It is an understanding of current biblical scholarship. The main disputes are now whether it is a satire or irony, a comical folk story or intellectual parody.
One thing is for certain. Humour permeates the vocabulary, grammar, and style even its penchant for quoting and inverting older texts, concepts, and expectations. The entire story is written in the sensational style of yellow journalism. Take for instance the word “great” (גָדוֹל in Hebrew) - no other biblical book has a similar density of this word. (And biblical Hebrew is rather frugal with adjectives). I would argue that it should be translated as "HUGE", because everything in Jonah is larger than life.
Similarly, many sacred religious concepts and words are mercilessly inverted and satirized. This book pokes holes in self-assured religiosity at every turn in order to liberate us from self-obsessed religion and deliver important messages.
Among them are cosmopolitan sentiments and interreligious understandings while at the same time undermining egotistic religion and religious chauvinism. And all of it is achieved with great humour. Indeed, the book of Jonah is one entire humourous book with very important and serious messages. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.
Now, for the month of July, each Sunday we will take one chapter of this unique book to enlighten us with its humour and its wit. But don’t despair, there will be not only a pontificating pastor boringly explaining biblical jokes and their significance. Each Sunday on the bulletin cover we will have one original cartoon drawn for us by a friend of our church and New Yorker cartoonist, Barbara Smaller. So come to church this Sunday to get the hard copy of this cartoon made just for our church.
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