Published September 15, 2014
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
The Bible is hilarious.
Take the flood in Genesis, for example. Biblical, anthropological, and archaeological scholarship has shown that many ancient cultures have flood stories. These are stories that document, to some unknown extent, a natural disaster, and then try to explain that disaster within the worldview and theological anthropology of the day.
When the Genesis version is featured in Christian worship, we usually frame it with, “Because people were bad…” which is supported by chapter 6, verse 5:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
In other words, the flood was because of human wickedness.
Human and divine wickedness?
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (6:1–4)
What?! Hanky-panky between human women and male demi-gods? God was honked off that “his” randy offspring had given away some immortality and that’s the explanation for the flood? The next sentence is the one about the “wickedness of human kind.” Was that wickedness in being alluring? In living too long? Or are these two sections unrelated? Is this a just-so story to explain extra-Biblical folktales and make them congruent with those tales? Is it pure fairy tale and intended to be received as such? What did the collectors of Genesis mean to say about people and God and floods in this compilation?
All of these questions have been asked and answered for millennia among Jewish and Christian scholars alike. Not so much in worship. At least not worship tied to a schedule of readings like the Revised Common Lectionary or Narrative Lectionary. At least not among Christians who believe themselves to be well-versed in the Bible yet who cannot name the first five books.
The Bible really is hilarious. And weird and cryptic and profound and ugly and smutty and joyous. Do not cede your familiarity with and ownership of its many layers to preachers (like me) and public theologians (like Westboro Baptist). Read it out loud, using different voices for different characters. Mix up your inflections, emphasizing different parts to see how it changes the meaning for you. Because it is you—and your gathered community—that has the authority and responsibility for the Bible’s meaning.
Here are some fun parts to get you started. Remember: “feet” is often a euphemism for genitalia in the Bible. This leads teenagers to ask about the times Jesus washes feet or has his feet washed. Feel free to laugh and roll your eyes. It never hurts God or us to be playful in our faith.
2 Kings 2.23–24: Don’t make fun of bald men!
Numbers 22.28–30: Balaam has quite an ass.
Deuteronomy 3.11: The original sleep number bed.
Job 41: Why hasn’t Hollywood made a Leviathan franchise yet?
Isaiah 6.1–2: Those saucy feet.