‘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.

  • Mrs Grimble

     Better Dave Allen link
    Everybody should see Dave Allen at least once.

  • gocart mozart

    Jesus and Moses are playing a pro-am at Pebble Beach with Tiger Woods and Phil
    Mickelson, when they get to #8, a par 4 dogleg right. The pros hit 300 yard
    drives into the approach, taking the water out of play, but Jesus and Moses hit
    tee shots that leave them on the right edge of the fairway, about two hundred
    from the green, over the ocean.

    They get to their balls and Moses says,
    “I’m not that good, I’m going to lay up to the left.” So, he takes out his
    pitching wedge and hits a nice shot into the fairway, leaving him about 100
    yards from the green.

    Jesus says, “I’m going for it.” and pulls out his 7
    iron.

    Moses says, “What are you doing, that’s two hundred yards! You
    should use your 3 iron!”

    Jesus says, “Hey, Arnold Palmer hits his 7 iron
    two hundred yards!” He lines up and takes the shot, which is perfectly on line
    but lands in the water short of the green.

    Jesus raises his hand, and his
    ball floats to the top, bobbing on the waves. He grabs his gap wedge and walks
    out on the water, and hits a nice chip to the center of the green.

    Tiger
    walks over to Moses and says, “Who’s he think he is, Jesus Christ?”

    Moses
    says “No, he thinks he’s Arnold Palmer!”

  • gocart mozart

    If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.
    Lenny Bruce

    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/lenny_bruce.html#pY6bSdqcluSLOYod.99

  • Carstonio
  • gocart mozart

    Some Voltaire
     
    “It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that
    virginity could be a virtue.”

    “The first priest was the first rogue who met the first fool.”

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Jesus was likely quite good at not hurting anyone during sex who didn’t like being hurt. But the reality of a really long dick is — meh. It takes a lot of work to keep a really long dick hard, and it’s not worth it, in my experience.

    (Straight) men are the ones obsessed with huge lengths. Women tend to be more into thickness.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I can’t believe no one has brought up the most popular one in mid-Michigan in the mid-90s: Jesus is coming, get ready to swallow.

  • http://twitter.com/Didaktylos Paul Hantusch

    “No one knows when the Son of Man will come” – that’s pretty much par for the course where jobbing tradesman are concerned

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

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

    You’ll have to go to prison for that – he’s currently serving three consecutive life sentences for kidnapping.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollen_Stewart

  • heckblazer

    Bwa-?

    I didn’t know that’s how he ended up.  I suppose it’s not surprising that at the time of his crime he thought the Rapture was coming within six days, though I’m curious how that connects with kidnapping people.  The three lifetime sentences were avoidable on his part as Wikipedia says that he turned down a plea agreement so he could spread the word in court.

  • Silly

    When Joseph is pulling the nails out to take Jesus down from the cross:

    “No! The feet first! The feet first!”

  • Noah Brand

    The Pope is having a meeting with a very esteemed rabbi from Jerusalem, a leader in the Jewish community, and is taking the opportunity to show off a little. He shows the rabbi a red phone in his office and tells him it’s a direct line to God.

    VERSION A
    “Of course,” says the Pope, “the charges on a call like that are enormous, so we only use it when we have to.”

    “Oh yeah,” replies the rabbi, “we have something like that in Jerusalem. Doesn’t cost so much, though, ’cause it’s a local call.”

    VERSION B
    “Wow,” says the rabbi, “that is impressive. Say, just as a favor, would you mind if I placed a call?”

    “Be my guest,” says the Pope.

    The rabbi picks up the phone, waits for the ring, and says “Hello? Yes, hi. No, listen, can your father come to the phone?”

  • Shayna

    Or “Jesus saves, the rest of you take damage.”

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Jesus Christ in a chicken basket (okay, how old is that?), but that video is the most hilarious thing I’ve seen in quite some time.

    Best part: the youth leader shrieking “GO GO GO!!!” like they’re in a war zone, as the girls desperately try to even jog in their ankle-length skirts.

  • Richard Hershberger

    We can’t be drunk!  It’s only nine in the morning!

  • everstar

    My favorite interpreter of the New and Old Testaments has always been Eddie Izzard.

  • Kadh2000

    I consider it my civic duty to throw away anything anyone puts on my windshield without looking at it.   When I was younger, I would drop it in the parking lot.  Now I save it for a trash can.

  • Kadh2000

    Well, unless it’s a parking ticket.

  • ellen_fremedon

    My favorite Jesus joke is entirely visual, or at least the punchline is. It’s the one that begins “How does Jesus masturbate?”

  • mirele

    This is a joke I’ve heard since I was at least a teenager (so it dates to the 1970s):  Why doesn’t Jesus like M&Ms? Because they fall through the holes in his hands. 

    (It was a riff on an M&Ms commercial that stated M&Ms would not get your hands dirty with chocolate because they had a candy shell.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    Weird, because if I hold on to M&Ms too long I invariably get brightly colored spots on my hands.

  • Dave Empey

    It’s a beautiful Sunday morning. Too beautiful, the pastor thinks, to spend it in church reading a sermon to a bunch of people who won’t really care. So he calls in sick and heads for the local golf course.
    Up in heaven, God spots this and is outraged. “Do you see that, Son? Wait till I smite him!” But Jesus says “Wait, Dad, let Me take care of it.”
    “Forget it,” says God. “I know You. You’ll just forgive him.”
    “No, no, You’ll like this. Let Me do it. Just watch.”
    So God watches, and watches, and watches, as the pastor has the best game of golf he’s ever had in his life. Every hole at or under par, a hole in one, and on the last hole, a second hole in one.
    God is furious. “You said You’d take care of this, Son. Is that Your idea of taking care of it? Giving him the best round of golf in his life?”
    Jesus just smiles. “Think about it, Dad.”
    “Think about what?” God almost bellows.
    “Who’s he going to tell?”

  • P J Evans

    I saw this graffiti reported:
    Jesus is the answer!
    What is the question?
    ‘Who is Felipe’s and Matty’s brother?’

  • P J Evans

     I thought it was Jesus Henry Christ.The Romans couldn’t spell ‘Henry’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6913272 Matthew Shagam

    “In Yiddish as in no other langauge, the basic assumptions of
    Christianity were undercut. By the time Moody began teaching it, Jesus
    had long been a figure of both fear and derision in the Yiddish speaking
    world. The savior was regularly referred to by dismissive nicknames
    like Yoizel, Getzel, and most creatively Yoshke Pandre. The layers of meaning in this last name are amazing: Using the diminutive Yiddish suffix “-ke,” Yoshke might be translated as “Little Joe,” tweaking Jesus’s non-biological relationship to the credulous husband of Mary. Pandre,
    meanwhile, is Yiddish for “panther,” a reference to the allegations
    dating to Origen (and repeated in the Talmud) that the father of Jesus
    was neither God, nor Joseph the carpenter, but a plundering Roman
    soldier called Pantera (Latin for “panther”). Thus the name slyly makes
    Jesus’s birth illegitimate and those associated with it either rapists
    or fools.”

    http://www.jewcy.com/religion-and-beliefs/missionary_yiddish

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    Never said anything about the size of either, if you look closely.

  • Keulan

    I found that video more sad than funny. I doubt anyone who’s not already a Christian will find those tracts even remotely convincing. How many people actually read those things when they’re placed on their cars anyway? I read them for amusement only, but I bet most people just throw them on the ground. It just results in more litter, and most non-Christians in America are already aware of what Christians believe via cultural osmosis anyway.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    People were not nailed to crosses through their hands. It would not have worked. They were nailed through the wrists. And yes, I know almost all Christian iconography says otherwise. Christian iconography is wrong. /pet peeve

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    Just don’t get them started on the question of three or four nails.

  • Tricksterson

    And now I want someone to write a “Gospel according to St. Bastard”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Norman-Owen/720493199 Norman Owen

    Variations on a theme, mentioned only because I heard them in the 1950s (in church, though not in the sanctuary itself).  Assume the crucified position then:

    “Nice view of Jerusalem from here.”

    OR

    “Would you mind crossing your feet?  We’ve only got three nails.”

    Many many more, but most could be classified as jokes about church (parodies of hymns, etc.) rather than Jesus himself.   And told by/among the members of the church youth group, including pastors’ kids, etc. 

  • The Guest Who Posts

     That’s common in all Catholic countries, isn’t it? (Not a Catholic myself, but I’m given to understand that most Italian swearwords are like that.)

  • D9000

    I can’t believe we haven’t yet had the one about how Jesus can only have been Jewish – lives with his parents until his thirties, works in the family business, his mother thinks he’s the Messiah and he thinks his mother is a virgin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Borthwick/1343164902 Chris Borthwick

    “Do you mind crossing your legs?  We’ve only got one more nail.”

  • P J Evans

    Jesus Saves
    Green Stamps

  • Kiba

    The one Jesus golfing joke I heard from my mother when I was growing up was Jesus was playing golf with the Apostles and when it’s his turn he swings, hits the ball, and it lands in the water. The Apostles are dismayed but Jesus calmly starts walking out on the water then sinks like a stone. The Apostles rush to the pond as Jesus comes walking out and cry, “Lord, are you OK?” And Jesus says, “Yeah, I just can walk on water worth a damn since I got these holes in my feet.”

  • Kiba

    Love Dave Allen. I used to watch his show with my grandmother on PBS when I was a kid in the 80s. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    Jesus Saves
    That’s why He never loses data on the computer.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Seems like there should be an obvious Jesus joke about shouting both “Oh God” and “Who’s Your Daddy?” during sex.

  • D9000

    One I recall from my youthful days following Tottenham Hotspur was ‘Jesus saves, Hoddle scores off the rebound’. *

    * Football reference, not intended for American consumption. Canadians probably said the same thing about Wayne Gretzky.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    People were not nailed to crosses through their hands. It would not have
    worked. They were nailed through the wrists. And yes, I know almost all
    Christian iconography says otherwise. Christian iconography is wrong.
    /pet peeve

    Actually, there’s been some recent research that suggests that depending on how the feet are secured, nailing through the hands *would* work. There’s no particular reason to assume that Jesus was crucified in that particular way, but my understanding is that doing it that way would have been slower and more painful.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Americans also said the same about Gretzky.

  • VJBinCT

     I remember an old graffito from the 60′s in New York subways.  ‘Jesus saves at the Bowery’.   The Bowery being a local bank using a similar slogan in advertising back then, and the Bowery being NYC’s skid row.  It was funny at the time. 

  • D9000

    Surely only after he left the Oilers?

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.davis.9256 Karen Davis

    Problem is that many European languages (like Greek) use the same word for “hand” and “arm” (also “foot” and “leg”). KJV guys picked the wrong word (not the first or last time).

    When I was a kid, in the 60s, there were a couple of good news/bad news jokes about Jesus’s second coming. One was the Pope getting a phone call – Jesus is back! – but he’s calling from (Salt Lake City/London/Moscow). Another was “Jesus is coming, but he has to change planes in Atlanta.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Norman-Owen/720493199 Norman Owen

    It was Phil Esposito, before Gretzky.  (And worked particularly well because Espo was a notorious “garbage” scorer, picking up most of his goals – it seemed – by hanging around the crease and shoving in the rebounds from the shots of more classic shooters, like Bobby Orr.)

  • kalimsaki

    “He is One”

     

    This
    phrase  announces  the following  good news, which is both healing and a source of
    happiness:

    Man’s  spirit  and  heart,  which  are  connected  to  most  of  the  creatures  in the universe and are
    almost overwhelmed in misery and confusion on account of this connection,  find in the phrase “He is One”
    a refuge and protector that will deliver them from all the confusion and
    bewilderment.

    That is to say,
    it is as if “He is One” is saying to man: God is One. Do not wear yourself out
    having recourse to other things; do not demean yourself and feel indebted to
    them; do not flatter them and fawn on them and humiliate yourself; do not
    follow them and  make  things difficult  for yourself;  do not fear them  and tremble  before them; for the Monarch
    of the universe is One, the key to all things is with Him, the reins of all
    things are in His hand, everything will be resolved by His command. If you find
    Him, you will be saved from endless indebtedness, countless fears.

    From Risalei Nur collection by
    Said Nursi.

     

    http://www.nur.gen.tr/en.html#maincontent=Risale&islem=read&KitapId=499&BolumId=8783&KitapAd=Letters+(+revised+)&Page=263

  • EllieMurasaki

    Uh, where’s the funny?

  • P J Evans

     Drive-by spam?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    Let’s not forget, “God is returning, and boy is She pissed!”


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