‘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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  • 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

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

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

  • 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.”

  • 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://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Americans also said the same about Gretzky.

  • D9000

    Surely only after he left the Oilers?

  • 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.)

  • 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/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

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

  • kalimsaki

    “He is One”


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

    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

    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.



  • EllieMurasaki

    Uh, where’s the funny?

  • P J Evans

     Drive-by spam?

  • Kiba

    Did you hear? They’ve come out with a low-fat Communion wafer. It’s called “I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Jesus.”

    From the Vicar of Dibley (loved that show)

  • Josh

    Not a joke exactly, but Lord Buckley’s “The Nazz” is great pre-1960 Jesus comedy.