<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>Ancient Biblical Satire</b> <i>Thomas Jemielity</i> <p> <p> <b>Ancient Biblical Laughter</b> <p> He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2: 4, <i>Authorized Version</i>) <p> <p> Asked to name the world's funniest book, few would mention the Bible. Yet, somewhat perversely perhaps, I have for many years thought that one of the funniest scenes I have ever read occurs in the Gospel of John when Jesus has a lengthy conversation with the Samaritan woman at a well where she has come to draw water (John 4: 4–42). The woman is amazed that Jesus should ask her for a drink, since, as John notes, "Jews and Samaritans ... do not use vessels in common" (4: 9). When Jesus asks her to get her husband and return, she says, "I have no husband" (4: 17). Jesus agrees, but adds, with an intense look most likely, "although you have had five husbands, the man with whom you are now living is not your husband" (4: 18). To which the Samaritan woman replies, "Sir ... I can see that you are a prophet" (4: 19). From my high-school days, I have always found that a very funny response, an apparently thorough <i>non sequitur</i> covering an embarrassing moment in a talk that has turned decidedly personal and intimate. <p> At an older period of my life, I know now that the woman's comments were not as off the point as I had once thought. Like many readers of the Bible, I had assumed that a prophet was in the business of prediction, foretelling the future. What could the Samaritan woman have meant by calling Jesus a prophet, a designation frequently applied to him by those who heard his message? What I had not realized was that prophets, at least their Hebrew incarnation – or their contemporary embodiments, like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King – rarely, if ever, predict. The future they envision is the likely consequence of present behavior. Conduct and consequence are causally related. Prophets criticize that conduct: they judge, and, in an almost strictly legal sense, they render sentence, God's sentence, a sentence of built-in, coming disaster for current misbehavior. Prophets disparage their society. They have unflattering things to say about their hearers. So Jesus is indeed speaking as a prophet when he talks with the Samaritan woman. However many husbands the woman might have had, the man she is currently involved with sexually is not her husband. Later illumination notwithstanding, I still think it is a funny exchange, even if the Gospel of John does not intend it that way. <p> Whatever my enjoyment in the remark, the Samaritan woman was not likely amused by the observation. That awareness highlights a needful caution about the laughter that Scripture can induce in us. We easily assume that laughter is always the sign in us of an agreeable emotion, a response that puts us in a most complimentary light. Psychologists, physicians, and therapists, to name but a few, tell us repeatedly of the mental and even physical benefits of laughter. To understand much of the laughter evoked in Scripture, and especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, however, we must admit that laughter does not always reveal our most attractive side. We reveal another face of laughter, a most unsympathetic one, which many of these same psychologists, physicians, and therapists warn about. Enjoy the laughter of comedy, they urge, but beware the laughter of satire. Yes, in the laughter of comedy, we laugh <i>with</i>, we laugh sympathetically and identifiably. We cheerfully recognize others in situations like our own, and we enjoy our common fallibility. But in satire, we laugh <i>at</i>. We laugh with hostility. We imply a superiority in our laughter because our laughing <i>at</i> implies that we do not share in the object of derision. The laughter of comedy is a <i>we</i> laughter. We participate in what amuses us. The laughter of satire is a <i>you</i> laughter, mocking, malicious, finger-pointing, and gloating. <p> Jonathan Swift once disturbingly reminded us in an adaptation of a maxim of Rochefoucauld that he much admired that there is something in the misfortune of our friends that does not displease us. How much more satisfaction must there be in the misfortune of our enemies, in seeing them brought down for behavior we find reprehensible and which, by implication at the very least, we do not discover in ourselves? We stand apart from what we deride. We are not implicated in what we mock. It is important to bear this distinction in mind because the laughter of Scripture, and especially of Hebrew Scripture, is prevailingly satiric and especially so in the text of the fifteen canonical prophets, often in the narratives of other prophets to whom a text has not been assigned, and in the so-called wisdom writings, conduct books of a sort that place a premium on one's social standing and how that status can be maintained or damaged. <p> Two examples. Elijah meets on a mountain top the priests of Baal, a false god, of course (1 Kings 18: 17–40). As the priests, in increasing fury and fever, seek a response from their unresponsive divinity, Elijah offers help – sarcastically. Baal, he suggests, might be "engaged," that is, attending to his bodily needs (18: 27), urinating or defecating and hardly in a position to respond at once. The scene reminds one of the Phantom Poet Contest in Alexander Pope's <i>Dunciad</i> (1743), when the contemptible and thieving publisher Edmund Curll, momentarily at a loss in the exercise, sends up a prayer to a Jove likewise engaged. More helpfully than with the priests of Baal, Jove can assist Curll, signaling his help with a tissue-like note wafting down to Curll and "signed with that Ichor which from gods distills." So for a believing Israelite, contemptuous of the worship of false gods, this passage about Elijah has to have been quite funny indeed. It vindicated, and it amused. Only the priests of Baal and their cronies would have recoiled at the insult. This joke is told at the expense of the non-believer. <p> Or take the famous Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd." A favorite, for example, at the internment of a deceased person, the psalm evokes most pleasant pastoral images, the security of being in the hands of a loving, providing shepherd. The psalm envisions satisfaction and plenty. What could be more innocent, innocent in a root sense: devoid of harm? Yet, as the psalm anticipates the various pleasures of pastoral protection given by the Lord, it revealingly celebrates as one of the divine bounties a table that will be spread before the psalmist in the presence of his enemies. The psalmist's satisfaction also anticipates the dissatisfaction of his enemies witnessing, for themselves, a most galling sight. What biblical readers might be disinclined to realize is the pervasiveness with which the Scriptures speak of a divinely granted satisfaction that comes as the consequence of divinely granted punishment. The bystanders and onlookers denied heaven-sent satisfaction in the Scriptures are very often consumed with jealousy, envy, impotent rage, and humiliation, all of which underscore a key feature in the enjoyment of divine satisfaction. The lesson, sometimes mockingly enforced, is clear: don't fool around with God. He can have a nasty sense of humor. <p> The believing Israelite himself, however, may become the target of chastisement or ridicule, a victim of that divine nastiness and malice, for the examples drawn from Elijah and the Psalter present, thus, only one side of a picture that appears equally often in the Hebrew Scriptures. From the point of view of the Israelite believer, the episodes such as those with the prophets of Baal or the reassurances of Psalm 23 are encouraging. The Israelite will rejoice in the discomfiture of his enemies. In a society and culture as keenly attuned, however, to the pain of humiliation, embarrassment, and ridicule, a considerable part of Hebrew Scripture speaks of the humiliation felt by the just at misfortune or embarrassment. Indeed, the sanctions cited for misbehavior on the part of the just highlight, and sometimes keenly, the humiliation, ridicule, and embarrassment that will be felt by those who misbehave or whose misfortune, as in the Book of Job, is seen to be a deserved punishment for wrongdoing. <p> The Book of Psalms is a particularly useful source for bringing out the power and pain of humiliation and ridicule because the psalms, as passed on and as written, span at least a millennium of Israel's history and testify throughout that time to the power of shame and ridicule. Psalm 23 is by no means unique. Psalm 137, set in the Babylonian captivity, brings out the humiliation sharply felt by Israelites in captivity and closes with a hair-raising curse on their Babylonian captors. Psalm 109 speaks of the malicious tongues of those who speak against the psalmist and, like Psalms 35 and 73 (and, of course, Psalm 137), curses those responsible for this situation. Since satire originated from the curse, the proximity to satire of these violent feelings is clear. <p> In addition, biblical narrative and those conduct writings known as wisdom literature provide more instances of the keen sense of ridicule felt in Scripture. Sarah, in Genesis (16: 1–6), becomes jealous of the successfully pregnant Hagar and demands that Abraham send her away. The Philistines, "when they grew merry," call for the blinded and impotent Samson "to make sport for us" (Judges 16: 25). (To escape humiliation at the hands of the victorious Philistines, Saul asks his armor-bearer to run him through "so that these uncircumcised brutes may not come and taunt me and make sport of me" [1 Samuel 31: 4].) Despite his suicide, Saul is regarded as one of the heroes of Israel. David rejects the advice of Ahitophel, which is a public humiliation, and the counselor returns immediately to his home and hangs himself (2 Samuel 17: 23). In Ecclesiasticus, in Proverbs, and even in Ecclesiastes, counsels of conduct are reinforced by the threat of shame that will accompany misbehavior – in oneself, in one's wife, or in one's children. Proverbs can reinforce its catechism of avoidable shame with humor, as for example, in dramatizing the hallucinations of the drunkard as part of its endorsement of sobriety (23: 29–35). The writer of Ecclesiasticus is so convinced of the efficacy of shame as a spur to righteous behavior that he carefully and extensively delineates "proper shame" so that his attentive and presumably obedient listener "will be popular with everyone" (Ecclesiasticus 41: 14–24). <p> No biblical writing speaks more powerfully of the power of shame than the story of Job, who, like his friends, believes that he has been cursed by God, but who, unlike his friends, feels that the curse and shame of misfortune are undeserved. Job's intense response to what he believes to be unjustifiable misfortune leads to self-imprecation – cursing the day of his birth – that parodies Psalm 8. He nastily calls God the "man watcher" (7: 17), spying on his creatures to find them at fault, ironically reducing God to the role of the overseer or Satan who prompted God to test Job in the first place. Job repeatedly expresses his sense of shame at his misfortune. As the exchange with his friends continues, the sarcasm and the satire of the four increase, because Job's three friends cannot admit the theology-shattering possibility for them that the innocent might indeed suffer. To suggest the vacuous and the insubstantial, the disputants trade deprecating wind imagery back and forth among themselves anticipating by centuries the same Swift-like image that courses through <i>A Tale of a Tub</i> (1704) to picture the inane and the unconvincing (a basic image in Ecclesiastes as well). The intensity of these exchanges concludes with Job's self-imprecation and demand that God appear as witness to respond. However much the Book of Job restores and increases Job's good fortune, it is well to remember that the God who appears in Job neither answers Job's questions nor even informs him that his test has been the result of a wager on his justice. In <i>Satire and the Hebrew Prophets</i>, I observed: "If the lexicon of the Hebrew Scriptures does not include <i>satire</i> and <i>irony</i>, it certainly includes innumerable instances of many words associated with both: <i>byword, contempt, hate, humiliate, laughingstock, reproach, scoff, shame, taunt</i>, and related terms like <i>honor, regard</i>, and <i>repute</i>" (Jemielity 1992: 37). These words are certainly central to the lexicon of Job. <p> When the Hebrew Scriptures give us such humor, they create disgust or dismay in the audience that is its target or believes that it is being unjustifiably targeted. Consciously or not, this is satire, that is, criticism, judgment, or censure that amuses. It is not a conscious literary artifact, written, as in Horace, to entertain. In the Hebrew Scriptures, as diverse as the writings are, the moral purpose, the instruction, is always primary and close, one assumes, to exclusive. These diverse writings instruct, uplift, reassure, and criticize. They do not entertain, except peripherally. Ancient biblical satire is satire, but not intentionally so. It is not a deliberately designed literary artifact. While it can amuse and entertain those who share, say, the prophet's viewpoint, it discomfits those who do not. The laughter of the Hebrew Scriptures is frequently hostile and aggressive toward those who stand outside of or neglect the faith of Israel or, as in the Psalms and in wisdom writings, feel the humiliation directed at them by enemies or by the consequence of their own misbehavior. The laughter directed at the enemy or at unethical conduct simultaneously reinforces and amuses anyone who shares the same point of view. Like satire, consequently, ridiculing passages in the Hebrew Scriptures are directed at a twofold audience: one whose behavior is being criticized and one who agrees with the prophet or wisdom writer or storyteller that such behavior deserves to be criticized. Ancient biblical satire is thus punitive and persuasive. <p> A simple comparison. Husband and wife argue in the presence of the wife's friend. The wife insults her husband with a remark that her friend finds amusing. Here, in a nutshell, we find the double audience of satire: the target, whose reformation the critic (the wife) might genuinely desire, and the friend who agrees with the wife's point of view. The wife's remark discomfits one hearer and amuses another. In the Book of Amos, for example, Amos utters judgments against the nations of Damascus, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, and the Northern Kingdom. Amos' targets there were not amused. Amos' supporters, on the other hand, those whose faith Amos sought to reinforce, were amused. Amos was directing God's laughter at the unbelievers of the North. Those who agreed with him shared in God's laughter at the expense of the Northern Kingdom. These are the two audiences of all satire: the targeted and the reinforced. The same comparison, moreover, illustrates two criteria of effectiveness. If every critical statement – prophecy, satire, or editorial – speaks to a double audience, it speaks with two criteria of effectiveness as well: the rhetorical and the historical. The wife's friend, who laughs at the insults directed at her friend's husband, has no way of knowing how effective her friend's chastisement will be, what the insult in fact or in history will effect. She laughs because she enjoys the language skill of the censure, how it is crafted rhetorically. Effectiveness can thus be rhetorical and historical. Judged by the latter, the Hebrew prophets, for example, were colossal failures. Not one single catastrophe they threatened was avoided. But, the same may be said about the historical effectiveness of most satire. Did, for example, Jonathan Swift's <i>A Modest Proposal</i> (1729) alleviate Irish poverty? If the potato famine in Ireland a century later is any indication, <i>A Modest Proposal</i> must be regarded as a failure. <p> What becomes a common denominator between prophetic satire in particular and its classical and later equivalents is their frequent complaint about the ineffectiveness of their criticism. Alexander Pope's concluding note to <i>Dialogue II</i> (1738) threatens to abandon satire because it is useless: "Ridicule was become as unsafe as it was ineffectual." Jeremiah frequently complains about the indifference of his listeners, and the Christian gospels are studded with Jesus's frequent complaints about the refusal of those who have ears to hear. But, aside from a shared perception of historical ineffectiveness, these satires, biblical, classical, and modern, also share a quality of rhetorical effectiveness, by which we may evaluate how well the language has been put together. As we leave church on Sunday and comment on the excellence of the sermon, we surely are not speaking historically or empirically. Did the sermon change hearts? We don't know. The excellence we speak of pertains to an effectiveness of language: a sermon coherent, well organized, effectively illustrated and the like, a sermon worth our time to listen to. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>A Companion to Satire</b> by <b>Ruben Quintero</b> Copyright © 2006 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Excerpted by permission of John Wiley & Sons. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.