The Bible LOL


Little girl laughing as she reads a book 














Jesting with Job

They say there's humour in the Bible
but I am not so sure.
The scholars cite a joke or two.
Why aren't there rather more?

They say there's punning in the Hebrew.
I'll take their word on that.
And ironies, of course, abound
in God's Magnificat.

'He that sitteth in the heavens
shall laugh,' we're told — and, yes,
we have no trouble seeing why.
In Proverbs, I confess,

we find an inner smile or two
or wince of moral truth,
a grin perhaps less pretty when
we lose an eye or tooth.

The Book of Psalms (one twenty-six)
has mouths that 'filled with laughter' —
but that's no consolation if
a smiting's coming after.

The Song of Solomon, they say,
is good for jokey quotes:
that bad-hair day when Sheba's locks
were 'as a flock of goats'.

Scholars argue Jesus had
a penchant for the comic.
His turn of phrase, I must concede,
can often be ironic:

vide, Peter, named the 'Rock',
who leaves him in the lurch;
vide, Peter, bouncing back
in Rome to found a church.

One parable might fit the bill —
that story of the son
whose brother has to fatten calves
while he's off having fun.

Humour, down from Aristotle,
is hellish to define —
but camels through the eyes of needles?
Water into wine?

My Jewish and my Christian friends
can get a little tribal
but in their dinner repartee
there's not much from the Bible —

although my Jewish colleagues manage
quotes from Genesis;
they sniff out humour there among
its threats and menaces.

The Book of Job is is hardly stand-up.
God hands him lots of strife.
His poor 'bowels boiled; and rested not' —
which hardly pleased his wife

who also found his breath was 'strange'.
The moral though runs deep.
Much much later, Job was given
'fourteen thousand sheep'.

There may be nonsense in the Gnostics
(who failed to get the nod)
but they're, of course, apocryphal,
and not approved by God.

Some say the triumph over death
may bring an airy smile —
St Peter's cheerful applicants
lined up in single file.

The Bible's handed down from heaven,
suitably embossed
(we like to think) in English but
with all the wisecracks lost.

I type them back as God looks on
to save me from conceit.
It may be just be a year or two
before my job's complete.



How well-suited words can be!
'Twirp', for instance. Etym. dub.
'Stupid or annoying fellow',
less than welcome at the club.

'Smart-arse' isn't quite the same;
a 'smart-arse' can't compete with breeding.
Twirps are upper middle class —
and rarely find their heart is bleeding.

To hunt them down's not hard — although
a silver spoon may be required.
Private schools can be of use.
Debating also, three a side.

Twirps aspire to leadership
but check in short on gravitas.
Their running commentary suggests
less the racehorse, more the ass.

Twirps annoy, by definition —
often more than half the nation
though sometimes one may rise to be
the Minister for Education.

Sense of humour is essential;
twirps are quick to sneer and laugh.
Since life's a mere debating point
a silly grin's their epitaph.


Seven births and seven deaths

How often did she think about
the old man I would need to be
if all her hopes were granted?

At the end, her seven kids,
mostly in their sixties then,
had somehow all survived

the trickeries of gravel,
the cancer genes, the wayward hearts
and all the accidents in turn

a station life can offer.
How far forward did she worry?
For those who had to leave she wished

a job, a marriage (happy mainly),
a pension in good time,
a house to raise the child or two

who at the end would see them off.
Flood-grey in my early thirties,
I must have spooked her just a little.

Did she see me stooped already,
skinny wrists and thinning hair,
tilting on a frame

with one small room and three sad meals,
not so unlike the boarding school
that housed my adolescence?

She had no time for such addresses
and checked out via a heart attack
the night she ended up in one.

Being protestant and prudent,
she'd surely thought some way ahead
but never quite too far.

How old were we in her mind?
Somewhere still we lived as children
roaming paddocks, riding ponies,

clambering on rocks or swimming
all day in the seaward pools,
the carefree '40s/'50s childhood

before our marital adventures,
the wash-in of the grandkids with
their several degrees of charm,

an easy sense of repetition
though never quite the same.
Seventeen there were, with smiles,

but nothing could replace her seven.
Our futures and their outer limits
must be our own concern.

She always said that she'd be gone —
and so would never have to see
the slow varieties of decline

or rationing of sudden deaths
the life she'd handed us required.
Beyond those nineteenth century maxims,

she never talked about it much.
Her own (rejected) diminutions
were numerous enough —

why bother to foreshadow others'?
Seven births are seven deaths.
Seven fadings-from-the-frame

or sharp obliterations
may help ensure that we, like her,
contrive it so we do not see

what happens to our children.

Geoff Page headshotGeoff Page is based in Canberra and has published 21 collections of poetry as well as two novels and five verse novels. He's also won the Grace Leven Prize and the Patrick White Literary Award, among others.

Laughing girl image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Geoff Page, poetry



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Existing comments

Oh my gosh, Geoff Page. What a great treat. I must say the OT prophets often make me smile (not laugh). I love reading their hard-won wisdom. More Geoff Page please!!

Pam | 03 February 2014  

Oh Geoff. Just loved the "Jesting with Job'. I think the OT was very big on irony and perhaps they had such an awful time it was hard to open to a large belly laugh. The garden of Eden was invented in a wistful moment of wanting something softer?

Jorie | 04 February 2014  

From what I was told at mass yesterday the 'pigs in the lake' would have had the audience rolling in the aisles. But I'm still stuck in self righteous indignation at the injustice done to the swineherds. Maybe we all need to lighten up...? Thanks for the reminder Geoff!

Margaret | 04 February 2014  

Once, poetry and tennis and swimming, now the Bible. Always a delight to hear how Geoff Page turns his discerning poetic eye to unlikely associations. May we have some more, please?

Rod Horsfield | 04 February 2014  

Thanks Geoff for your delightful poem The Bible LOL. I remember Iris Murdoch writing about Jesus' wonderful sense of humour, but it's hard to find much in St Paul, let alone the OT.

Rodney Wetherell | 05 February 2014  

Like in many translations, the humour gets lost. When we read commentaries on the Hebrew Bible we soon discover that the language is packed out with puns, many of them utterly outrageous and funny. Little of this crosses over into another language because puns only rarely find a match in the new language. Add to this the overall purpose of something like Scripture to instil Wisdom, and we find that English translators will prioritise that over the jokes. A good way to read the Bible is through its paraphrasers and interpreters in English, people like Geoff Page in fact, who have at their disposal the full range of English tricks. It is there that the humour of the Bible comes alive. As for the New Testament, personally, I find it impossible to take seriously people who have read it for years and cannot see its innate humour. Jesus is one of the great mordant ironists of all time. Who knows what he was saying by the end of the party, that doesn’t get reported back. Half the things he says and does turn the whole social world upsidedown and are like one continuous comedy festival. I find the longer I read the Gospels, in particular, the more I see everything in terms of its opposite and that any one fixed position is being tested by his sayings in ways that are LOL amazing. It is true, Paul can labour the point sometimes, but we have to remember that he himself said the main message was ‘foolishness to the Greeks’, which I sometimes read as Paul admitting the Greeks think ‘It’s a joke, right?’ It was a joke the Greeks finished up taking very seriously indeed.

Philip Harvey | 06 February 2014  

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