Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jesus Never Laughed?

The latest Bible Study Magazine from Logos features a nice little piece called Jesus Never Laughed? by Samuel Lamerson. One of the passages Lamerson mentions is one I have always found funny, Matt. 7.3-5 // Luke 6.41-42, the Log and Speck:
The gas that really fuels the fire of Greek comedy is exaggeration: Take a simple gag and blow it out of all proportion. Re-read some of Jesus’ sayings with this in mind and you might find a chuckle or two yourself: Your neighbor may have a speck in his eye, but you’ve got a log.
The difficulty, of course, with reading humour in the Gospels is that, like any ancient text, it is impossible to know what the audience reaction might be. Unfortunately, the narrator never chips in with a little "And the crowd were amused by his teaching, for he taught them with humour, not like their comedians." If only.

It is worth asking, though, how lines like the above have been depicted in our own time. I have been interested to see a shift in Jesus films in this respect. Up until recently, the "Log and Speck" logion was never told as a funny story in the films. But The Miracle Maker (1999) turns it into a comic parable, and Matthew (Visual Bible, 1996) has Jesus narrating it as a funny story, with a staff raised to his eye, and the crowd laughing:

Incidentally, the Thomas version (Logion 26) loses much of the comic absurdity in its omission of the middle of the Synoptic version, where the man tries to remove the speck from his brother's eye while he still has the plank in his own (see in Synopsis here). This is one of those occasions where Thomas is less memorable and works less well orally than do the Synoptics.


Frank McCoy said...

Dear Mark:
Perhaps Mt 7:3-5 is funny because Matthew added Mt 7:4 to what he found in Th 26.
In Mt 7:1-11, there are six triads grouped into three pairs of triads. Each of the first two pairs of triads conforms to this schema: Triad 1--three related statements and Triad 2--two related questions and a statement related to them. The first pair of triads is 7:1-5: Triad 1: 7:1, 7:2a, 7:2b, Triad 2: 7:3, 7:4, 7:5. Second is 7:8-11: Triad 1: 7:8a, 7:8b, 7:8c, Triad 2: 7:9, 7:10, 7:11.
With the third pair of triads, each of the two triads conforms to this schema: The first unit has a parallel in the first half of a passage from Th, the second unit has no parallel in Th and the third unit has a parallel in the second half of the passage from Th.
This third pair of triads is found in Mt 7:3-7. Triad 1: 7:3//Th 26.1, 7:4, 7:5//Th 26.2 and Triad 2: Mt 7:6//Th 93, Mt 7:7a (ask and it will be given you), 7:7b//Th 94/
As the creation of triads appears to be characteristic of Matthew’s writing style, it appears that the three pairs of triads in Mt 7:1-11 are Matthean creations.
In the case of the third pair of triads in Mt 7:3-7, since the two triads appear to be Matthean creations, yet depend upon the existence of Th 26 and Th 93-94 for their own existence, it appears that Mt 7:3-5 is based on Th 26 and that Mt 7:6-7 is based on Th 93-94.

mike said...

Rowan Atkinson thinks that the narrator inserted such comments:


Mark Goodacre said...

Fabulous. I'd forgotten how good that was. Tempted to use as a clip in a future NT Pod.

Frank McCoy said...

As a follow-up, it is unlikely that Mt 7:3-7 has a pair of triads apparently dependent on several Thomasine passages for their existence due to coincidence because there appears to be at least one other Matthean pair of triads also apparently dependent on several Thomasine passages for their existence.
In Goulder and the Gospels (p. 70, footnote 105), you note 16 Matthean passages having a form of ho pater mou. Of these 16, 6 (7:21, 10:32, 10:33, 12:50, 18:10, 18:19) have six words (tou patros mou tou en ouranois) in common word order. These 6 passages fall into two triads with this common pattern: (1) the first passage will share a theme with Th 99 and (2) immediately following the next two passages will be a Matthean passage with a parallel in Th. So, 7:21 shares a common theme with Th 99.3 that only those who do the will of the Father of Jesus will enter the Kingdom, while immediately following 10:32, 10:33 is 10:34-36—which has a parallel in Th 16. So, 12:50 shares a common theme with Th 99.2 that it is those who do the will of the Father of Jesus who constitute his true family, while immediately following 18:10, 18:19 is 18:20 (For where there are two or three having been gathered in my name I am in the midst of them)—which has a parallel in Th 30.2 (Where there are two or one, I am with him).
Further, Luke appears to have been aware of what Matthew was up to. Note that, just as Mt 10:32,33 are immediately followed by a passage with a parallel in Th, so Luke’s parallels to Mt 10:32, 33 in Lk 12:8,9 are immediately followed in Lk 12:10 by a passage with a parallel in Th 44.2-3.
All this suggests that, besides using Mk as a source, Matthew used Th as a source and Luke used both Th and Mt as sources.

crystal said...

I remember reading an old article at the Tablet - Did Christ laugh?. The movie Jesus with Jeremy Sisto has him telling a few jokes :)

driver8 said...

I recall John Muddiman saying that the image of the camel splashing around unnoticed in a cup (Matt 23. 24) may be intended to be humorous.

Mark Goodacre said...

Excellent, yes. That is hilarious.