‘Jesus jokes’ are nothing new

Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey have a CNN column up about what they perceive as an increase in jokes about Jesus.

I’m looking forward to reading Blum & Harvey’s new book, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. But I have a hard time accepting what they’re arguing here:

[Jesus jokes] represent a comedic trend that has animated the United States since the 1970s. More and more comedy gimmicks hit on Jesus, his ethnicity and his relationship to politics. … The first public jokes about Jesus were heard in the 1970s. There had been religious jokes before this, but none about Jesus had become widely popular because organized Christianity held such authority.

I’m not old enough to remember comedy before the 1970s, but I find it hard to believe that a figure so prominent and essential in our culture was untouched by comedy for hundreds of years until then. That’s not how comedy works.

My sense is that jokes about Jesus were probably already well-established by the time the Alexamenos graffito was scratched into a Roman wall.

I know Lenny Bruce was telling Jesus jokes in the 1960s, but I’m looking for other specific examples and specific jokes.

Share ’em if you got ’em.

* * * * * * * * *

This isn’t a Jesus joke in that sense, but it’s evidence of a joke from Jesus — or at least a bit of punning word-play.

Steve Caruso (via) unpacks a pun from the Gospels.

“All who take the sword will perish by the sword,” is an elegant phrase in English or in Greek. But in Aramaic, Caruso says, the word there means either “sword” or “end.” Thus in Caruso’s “plain retro-translation back into Galilean Aramaic,” Jesus is saying, “For everyone who took up a sword, by a sword (OR ‘in the end’) they shall die.”

Caruso pursues the implications for pinning down the source and dating of this saying of Jesus. What I’m most intrigued by is what it reveals of Jesus’ character. Gethsemane, then betrayal and arrest. And then a touch of mordant whimsy.

I like it.

* * * * * * * * *

And finally, here’s a story from Stuff Fundies Like about turning Jesus into a joke.

The video there is a lesson in How Not To Do Evangelism.

I remember doing this sort of thing in church youth group. I remember feeling reluctant about it, and then feeling guilty about feeling reluctant about it because we were taught that any such reluctance was due to a lack of love for God. I wasn’t yet able to articulate to myself that, no, it was actually due to a holy and proper aversion to the lack of love we were displaying toward other people.

This kind of tract-bombing evangelism is so widespread, and so many millions of gospel tracts have been printed and distributed like this, that I suppose it’s possible that someone, somewhere, once became a Christian as a result.

But I’ve never heard of such a person. Ever. Not one.

That utter lack of results suggests that this exercise isn’t really about trying to find an effective way to communicate or to build relationships. It’s about exempting ourselves from complicity. “Hey, don’t blame me … I slapped a gospel tract on that guy’s windshield. Ball’s in his court now. If he goes to Hell it’s his own damn fault.”

Stunts like this “Tract Smack Down” claim to be examples of good Christians accepting their responsibility to spread the gospel. In reality, though, they function more as a defiant assertion of irresponsibility.

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  • ASeriesOfWords

    I couldn’t watch that whole video. Too… derp.

  • MikeJ

    I remember within the last couple years reading about some guy who was in the news for some reason related to religion.  In the course of the story it was mentioned that he’d been converted after seeing one of those guys at a ballgame holding a John 3:16 sign.  Wish I could could remember now how it was or what the context was that I was reading his history.

  • patter

    An Indian man dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates.

    “Yes, how can I
    help?” asks St Peter.

    “I’m here to meet Jesus,” says the Indian man.

    Peter looks over his shoulder and shouts, “Hey, Jesus, your cab is here!”

  • Tofu_Killer

    -“Mark Twain, a Biography”
    “Jesus died to save men- a small thing for an
    immortal to do, & didn´t save many, anyway; but if he
    had been damned for the race that would have been act of a size proper
    to a god, & would have saved the whole race. However, why should
    anybody want to save the human race, or damn it either? Does God
    want its society? Does Satan?”

  • Carstonio

    There’s a Jesus joke set at an inn, told in The Crow. But my favorite extended joke is Life of Brian. Not about Jesus specifically but about what the Pythons called “closed systems of thought.” I loved the scene where Brian, fleeing a crowd that has mistaken him for a messiah, drops a gourd and loses a shoe. The crowd begins dividing into rival sects of  Shoeites and Gourdites.

  • Curt

    In the Dutch areas of the country, Michigan, Iowa, etc…there is an word from the Dutch , sputtin – originally spotten – which means blaspheming, that is used to admonish anyone who makes jokes about religion. Kind of sounds like “spitting”, as in spitting on the Word of God. “You’re sputtin!” Always thought it was a funny sounding word, myself, which made it hard to take the admonishment seriously. Personally, a religion that can’t at least laugh at itself and its own foibles isn’t a religion worth having.

  • aunursa

    I want to stand next to the guy holding the JOHN 3:16 sign, and hold up my Jewish response… MOSES: 1-5

  • galactica_actual

    They’re not exactly “Jesus jokes”, but for almost two hundred years, the Québécois have had an entire slew of profanities (les sacres) related to Catholic liturgy, and yes, Jesus.

    Although I’m an American (who’s fluent in French), I find it hard to believe that in two centuries, no one in Québec thought it was at least a little bit funny that yelling “câlice de crisse” would shock the little old ladies.

  • The Guest Who Posts

    An old Orthodox Rabbi is distressed when his only son converts to Christianity. He tears his hair and walks out into the desert and screams to the clouds: “My son has become a Christian!”

    Then a mighty voice is heard from the heavens: “SO HAS MINE!”

  • histrogeek

    Jesus saves! Moses invests! Buddha had a big 401(k) but never cashed in!

  • There’s also those variations that include the Blessed Virgin, including a favorite, the one that ends, “Mother, sometimes you just piss Me off!”

  • Mjbarefoot

    The scene in an episode of “American Dad” where Jesus is at his birthday party talking to some guests and says “What can I say? They knew not what they did. They knew not. [pause] They know now!” when seen through a Christus Victor soteriology is the funniest joke of all time. It is the ur-joke. All humor worth laughing at is really laughing at the devil.

  • Eric

    So Jesus is giving a sermon to a group of followers when the Pharisees drag a woman before him. They say, “This woman has been found in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband. What shall we do with her?”

    It was an ambush. If he advocates mercy, he is in a sense denying the old laws. If he advocates harsh, stony judgement, he is acknowledging the Pharisees’ authority.

    Of course, as is well known, he responds, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    The crowds mutters among themselves, remembering past sins that they had gotten away with. They begin to shuffle their feet, cough awkwardly. The accused woman smiles through her tears, still sobbing.

    Then one old lady shoves her way through the crowd, picks up a rock the size of her torso, and SLAMS it into the accused woman’s forehead. Blood and brains fly through the air to spatter on the ground.

    Jesus moans in frustration and says, “Mom, you KNOW I hate it when you come to my sermons!”

  • I don’t know any old Jesus jokes off the top of my head.  But I can think of exactly one word that pretty much eviscerates their premise:


  • Magic_Cracker

    Jesus is on the cross, fading in and out of consciousness.

    “Philip! Philip! Come to me!”

    “Yes, Lord?”

    “Philip, when I am gone, you are to go north, to Turkey, and proclaim the Word.”

    “Yes, Lord!”

    “Thomas! Thomas! Come to me!”

    “Yes, Lord?”

    “Thomas, when I am gone, you are to go east, to India, and proclaim the Word.”

    “Yes, Lord!”

    “Peter! Peter! Come to me!”

    “Yes, Lord?”

    “Peter, I can see your house from here!”

  • “Next time, use Mortz’s Nails!”
    “Peter … I can see your house from here!”
    “Shutuppa you face, I’ma talkin’ to your mother!”

  • Jesus Saves! Moses Scores! :D

  • AnonymousSam

    Jesus walks into a hotel…

  • Damanoid

     Jesus’ classic vaudeville bit from the New Testament  (John 1:45-51):

    Philip found Nathanael and said unto him, “We have found him of whom
    Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son
    of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of
    Nazareth?” [Joke!] Philip said to him, “Come and see!” [Boom!] Jesus saw
    Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed
    in whom there is no guile” [“Hey, here’s an honest Jew” — joke].
    Nathanael [not getting it] said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus
    answered him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you yesterday, standing
    under a fig tree.” Nathanael said [losing his cool], “Rabbi, you are the
    son of God! You are the king of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I
    said I saw you standing under a fig tree, believest thou?” [Big joke!
    Gets laughs!] “You shall see greater things than these.” [Release.] And
    he said to him, “Truly, truly I say unto you, you shall see the heavens
    opened and the angels of the Lord ascending and descending upon the Son
    of Man.” [Boom!]

    –unpacked by improv comedian Del Close, via The Straight Dope 


  • Michael Pullmann

    Women love Jesus. He was hung (spread arms wide) like this.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Jesus and Moses were on Heaven’s back nine when they came to a water hazard.

    “What club you gonna use, J.C.?”

    “Oh, a 7-iron I think?”

    “A seven? You’re going to want to go with a 5-iron, maybe even a three.”

    “Arnold Palmer uses a 7-iron, so I’m going to use a 7-iron.”

    “Whatever you say, Lord.”

    Jesus hits the ball with the 7-iron and sure enough, it goes into the water.

    “Oy-vey! Not another penalty stroke!”

    “Tell you what, J.C., I’ll help you play through.”

    Moses raises his arms, the water’s part, and Jesus goes onto the now-dry lake bed and plays through.

    [repeat two more times, i.e., “Arnold Palmer uses a 7-iron iron, so I’m using a 7-iron”… etc. ; at the second repetition…”

    “Well, J.C., I told you not to use the 7-iron, so I’m not helping you this time.”

    “No worries,” says Jesus, and He walks out on the water, calms the waves, and plays through.

    Meanwhile, two other golfers happen by and as Moses, “Who does that guy think he is? Jesus Christ?”

    “No,” said Moses, “Arnold Palmer.”

  • T-Shirt seen at innumerable gamer conventions: “Jesus Saves! Takes half damage!”

  • flat

    why did Joseph and maria took Jesus with them when they went to Jerusalem?

    They couldn’t find a babysitter.

  • XD that’s AWFUL!!!! used to date a guy who told jokes like that, worst dirty jokes you ever heard, full of lame puns.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Women love Jesus. He was hung (spread arms wide) like this.

    Spoken like someone who has never contemplated trying to get a penis bigger than about eight inches into any of one’s orifices. Ow ow ow fucking ow.

  • Münchner Kindl

    This kind of tract-bombing evangelism is so widespread, and so many
    millions of gospel tracts  have been printed and distributed like this,
    that I suppose it’s possible that someone,  somewhere, once became a Christian as a result.
    But I’ve never heard of such a person. Ever. Not one.
    utter lack of results suggests that this exercise isn’t really about
    trying to find an effective  way to communicate or to build
    relationships. It’s about exempting ourselves from complicity.  “Hey,
    don’t blame me … I slapped a gospel tract on that guy’s windshield.
    Ball’s in his court  now. If he goes to Hell it’s his own damn fault.”

    On the plus side, the kids are getting exercise running around.

    On the negative side, running just to slap down a tract and then run away is even worse then the usual “Leaving a tract slyly somwhere while hanging around”. It’s several times worse, because it’s no longer about any positive gospel. It could be hate flyers and KuKluxKlan distributing them the same way – because that’s how it looks: they don’t want to speak to anybody (of course, they can’t talk with anybody who deviates from their learned script and aren’t interested in listening to what the other person has to say). So we see them put a tract into a guy’s hand who’s sitting in his open car, and run away. Aside from everything else about the tract itself, that would make me think that this is something to be ashamed off, or something secret (The govt. forbids reading the Bible in schools! … only it doesn’t).

    As for people who converted by reading tracts: Chick has a bunch of testimonies on his website, there’s a long PDF about a small church that spent a bunch of money on tracts and even a tract on how effective their evangelism is.

    If we take the charity approach that Chick isn’t a huckster (out to get cash, but not believing his own stuff) but instead a duped guy (believes his own nonsense), and do not assume that these “testimonies” are fabricated out of whole cloth, I assume that most stories are not really “people who never heard of Jesus before” but rather “grew up in fundie circle, lapsed a bit, and came back after reading a tract”.

    Because people outside the bubble won’t simply accept that Chick is right because he says so, with a story they already know. Or if they are that gullible, they are wandering from Church to Church.

  • Tofu_Killer

     My favorite joke of all time. If you hadn’t posted it, I would have. Thanks.

  • LL

    Didn’t Sara Silverman have some Jesus jokes?

    The only generic joke I can recall isn’t really a joke so much as a bumper sticker: 
    Jesus is great, but his fan club is full of assholes. 

  • Michael Pullmann

     Pun run in my family. They also cause people to run from my family.

  • Tofu_Killer

    Okay, I play trumps….

    Dave Allen

  • Carstonio

    Sam Kinison ruined the Jesus-joke genre for me because of his outrageous sexism. His imitation of Joseph growling his doubts about the true parentage of Jesus wasn’t too bad. But his reasoning as to why Jesus wasn’t married treated all wives as henpecking, castrating harridans.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Fair enough, but Kinison did offer some solid advise to men on how to perform cunnilingus.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I think the (literal) slap-dash method serves two functions: (1) You get more tracts onto more cars; (2) you get to LARP being an oppressed, persecuted Christian on the Lamb for the Son of Man.

  • vsm

    English speakers used to do that too, though the tradition is unfortunately mostly dead these days, aside from the occasional “Jesus H. Christ”. Some such curses still survive in their adorable minced forms, like zounds (God’s wounds), criminy (Christ’s money) and gadzooks (God’s hooks, i.e. nails).

  • SkyknightXi

    I always have the same worried sense whenever someone speaks of phallic imagery with spears, swords, etc. Did they forget how SHARP those things are? How PAINFUL they’re going to be?

  • heckblazer

    The full version is “Jesus Haploid Christ” if I’m not mistaken.

  • T-Shirt seen at innumerable gamer conventions: “Jesus Saves! Takes half damage!”

    To which the obvious retort is, “No, no, Jesus takes no damage.  See?  It says right there on his character sheet that he has Improved Evasion.”  

  • Jesus is great, but his fan club is full of assholes.

    I like this contemporary version:

    Jesus is like Robert Pattinson.  A nice guy, good at what he does, but his obsessive fans just get so creepy.  

  • Magic_Cracker

    Some other bumper-stickers:

    Jesus is Coming (Quick! Everyone look busy!)Christ is Lord, but Cash is King
    Jesus died for your sins! (Not that you asked him to.)
    4/3/33 NEVER FORGET [silhouette of three crosses a la the twin towers*]

  • Tricksterson

    According to the Apostle Biff it was “Hallowed” as in “Hallowed be thy name”.

  • Tricksterson

    Well he does get bonuses for being, depending on one’s interpretation, anywhere from a demi- to a greater god.

  • Tricksterson

    The full joke is “Jesus walks into an inn, hands the innkeeper three nails and says ‘Can you put me up for the night?'”

  • Tricksterson

    George Carlin as Jesus when asked what religion he would be today:  “Not a Christian.  I could never belong to a religion whose symbol was a guy nailed to a piece of wood.  Especially if that guy is me.” (imperfect quote)

  • Anton_Mates

     Easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle, huh?

  • gocart mozart

    [The audience members at the back of the crowd are having trouble hearing the Sermon on the Mount.]Man: I think it was, “Blessed are the cheesemakers”!Gregory’s wife: What’s so special about the cheesemakers?Gregory: Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

  • gocart mozart

    Brian: I’m not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
    Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
    Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
    Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
    Brian: Now, fuck off!
    Arthur: How shall we fuck off, O Lord?

  • D9000

    Now Jesus was taken into the street, and bade to pick up his cross. But, lo, a wonder occurred, for the cross fell apart even as he laid hand on it. The soldiers brought another cross, and again, at once Jesus touched it, it fell into its separate parts. Yet a third time a cross was brought, and yet a third time it was broken. 

    And the people watching cried it as a great marvel, and said that the will of the Lord had been shown, that his Son might not be crucified.

    But Jesus said unto them, I see what it is, you’ve got the wrong sort of joint on that, you want a proper mortise and tenon; give me a chisel and I’ll have it sorted in half a minute.

  • gocart mozart

    Reg: [arriving at Brian’s crucifixion] Hello, Sibling Brian.
    Brian: Thank God you’ve come, Reg.
    Reg: Well, I think I should point out first, Brian, in all fairness, we are not, in fact, the rescue committee. However, I have been asked to read the following prepare statement on behalf of the movement. “We the People’s Front of Judea, brackets, officials, end brackets, do hereby convey our sincere fraternal and sisterly greetings to you, Brian, on this, the occasion of your martyrdom. ”
    Brian: What?
    Reg: “Your death will stand as a landmark in the continuing struggle to liberate the parent land from the hands of the Roman imperialist aggressors, excluding those concerned with drainage, medicine, roads, housing, education, viniculture and any other Romans contributing to the welfare of Jews of both sexes and hermaphrodites. Signed, on behalf of the P. F. J. , etc. ” And I’d just like to add, on a personal note, my own admiration, for what you’re doing for us, Brian, on what must be, after all, for you a very difficult time.

  • gocart mozart

    Boring Prophet: There shall in that time be rumors of things going astray, erm, and there shall be a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia-work base, that has an attachment. At that time, a friend shall lose his friend’s hammer, and the young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before, about eight o’clock.

  • Chrissl

    I ran across the following in an account of a folk holiday (I forget which one) on which it was customary to tell blasphemous jokes:

    Q. Who was the sexiest man in all of history?
    A. Jesus, because he rose after he was dead.