Evidence, Authorship, and Humor

Evidence, Authorship, and Humor August 4, 2019

Sometimes the Babylon Bee’s satire has me laughing hysterically, as a former conservative Evangelical (and/or as a sci-fi fan). And sometimes it has me shaking my head in dismay at how dismally unfunny and off-target its attempts at humor can be.

In one recent example in the latter category, they decided to cast aspersions on historical critical scholarship, without apparently understanding those methods or those who use them, never mind their usefulness and value. The piece envisages an academic author doubting their own authorship of something they wrote.

The fact of the matter is that forgery, misattribution, and other such phenomena are known all throughout history. I had a student in my class on the historical Jesus make a comparison with the domain of music. Plenty of composers have preferred to have their work widely performed because people thought it was by Mozart, Haydn, or Pugnani, rather than have their work neglected and ignored. We also have evidence that religious people within Judaism and Christianity have done that – no one seriously thinks that all of the works attributed to particular individuals are by those individuals. Conservative Christians typically regard the Books of Enoch and Gospels attributed to Thomas, Peter, Mary, Philip, and many others as forgeries.

And so the suggestion that there is something inappropriate about asking who wrote works is out of touch with reality. The early church itself saw such inquiries as necessary, and they wrestled with these matters. We do not always see things as ancient people did, and so revisiting a subject that some of them considered closed and settled is likewise necessary rather than inappropriate.

Bart Ehrman blogged about the authorship of the Book of Revelation. Mike Kok has had a wonderful series about the traditional authorship of the Gospel of Matthew. There was also a bit of satire involving The Flintstones and literalism. See also:

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  • Patrick Murphy

    I always find Babylon Bee two-faced.

    It is hilarious whenever it satirizes it’s own subculture. Such satire is appears solely to be in good jest in a self-deprecating “we are trying, but we mess up too” sort of way that still implies grace towards its own.

    But whenever it ventures out of its own subculture to satirize a different Christian or non-Christian group, the grace and good humor changes into scathing criticism meant to show that their targets (and such target’s sympathizers) are trapped in the snares of false teaching and deception, and this not being a part of true Christian community.

    • Nicely put!

    • soter phile

      so basically: every Republican’s experience of late night television?

  • John MacDonald

    At some point sarcasm became a sign of wisdom and intelligence. Suddenly, it became important to listen to what comedians had to say.

  • soter phile

    “it’s funny ’cause it’s true.”