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Humor as a Source of Truth

I suspect I have the largest collection of LDS humor owned by any non-Mormon in the Central Time Zone. I collected these works of art as part of my 40+ effort to get to know the LDS people better. I enjoy this stuff! I am glad that none of the three authors in this collection has been excommunicated.

How reliable is humor as a source for learning about a culture? Can you trust everything you hear from a comic? Of course not. But humor only works if it has an element of truth in it, and the more truth it has, the better it works. If the joke doesn’t resemble the reality being lampooned, it’s not funny. And often, to get the humor, you have to know the culture. That’s what I found to be of such value as I prepared for a life as a Protestant pastor in Utah that never happened (yet).

Similarly, as a Biblical scholar, I have utilized the humor of Roman comedians such as Martial and Juvenal to learn fascinating details about life in the New Testament era. Juvenal pokes fun at welfare cheats, the dangers of being a pedestrian in downtown Rome, and men marrying other men. I’m sure he exaggerates, but there must be enough truth for his Roman audience to recognize and laugh at themselves. Can we rely on his word that same-sex marriage was happening? If it wasn’t, the joke wouldn’t ring true. And there is plenty of humor mixed into Juvenal’s and Martial’s material that almost none of us would understand, because we don’t know enough Roman history or contemporary characters to get the inside jokes.

Jesus had a sense of humor. He made fun of the hypocrite who tries to take the speck out of their neighbor’s eye, but can’t see because of the log in their own eye. He says that the Pharisees strain a galma (gnat) out of their cup (before it dies and defiles the whole drink), but they swallow a gamla (a camel, equally unclean, but a thousand times bigger). And the greatest proof that Jesus had a sense of humor was: he used fishermen to spread the truth.