JESUS LAUGHED: The Redemptive Power of Humor
If "Robert Darden" isn't a household name at your address, you're missing out on one of the true delights of the evangelical world and beyond: The Wittenburg Door, "The world's pretty much only religious satire magazine." (For you purists, yes, it should be "Wittenberg," but a mistake made in 1971 took on a life of its own, and the spelling, or misspelling, stuck.) Though it recently suspended print publication, the magazine continues to exist online. And for that, many of us are thankful.
Darden is the senior editor of The Door, as it's commonly known, and has been at the helm as the editorial staff and contributors skewered religious leaders and practices over the years. The Door crossed many a line many a time, but its articles were for the most part witty and intelligent and downright hilarious.
It's fitting, then, that Darden should write a book titled JESUS LAUGHED. Darden knows humor --- especially irreverent humor --- inside and out, and he shares his vast knowledge of the intentional humor in the Bible that readers --- especially sober readers --- too often miss. I mean "sober" in the serious sense, of course, not in the uninebriated sense, though I wouldn't dismiss that possibility.
Early on, Darden points out specific uses of humor-related words in the Bible, such as "mirth," in an almost concordance-like format but soon picks up the pace --- which is already breathless --- by showing evidence of tried-and-true comedic principles in the New Testament. One example: Matthew 14:24-33, the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter's failed attempts to do the same, evidence of the humorous power of the element of surprise. "The humor comes first from Peter's puppy-dog enthusiasm, followed by his unceremonious dunking…I wouldn't be surprised to discover someday that he was the butt of plenty of ribbing by the other guys in the days that followed."
Much of the biblical humor, of course, is subtle, so subtle as to be barely noticeable. Darden's strength lies in his ability to increase his readers' awareness of those subtleties so they can discover biblical humor on their own. He also traces the loss of humor in the church over time. Jesus' early followers, as well as Jews throughout history, certainly understood the humor found in biblical incidents and stories. But over the millennia, ecclesiastical leaders and scholars stripped those incidents and stories of their lighthearted nature, overlaying them with a heaviness that obscured the humor. Darden believes it's time --- actually, well past time --- that we begin reading the Bible in the context of the paradox, incongruity and absurdity that many of its stories convey.
If you've read other "holy humor" books, you know that the quality varies immensely. As a humor-writing instructor, I've read many that miss the mark entirely. JESUS LAUGHED is among the better ones, especially if you read it in tandem with a genuine classic in the genre, Elton Trueblood's THE HUMOR OF CHRIST, from which Darden quotes several times. With those two books in hand, you'll read the Bible like never before, and you just may find yourself laughing out loud in the process.
--- Reviewed by Marcia Ford (email@example.com)
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