In his sixth “Young People’s Concert: Humor in Music,” Leonard Bernstein tells viewers that many very good pleasant pieces of music contain humor. He proves this by examining parts of musical compositions by Haydn, Mahler, Mozart, and Shostakovich. He tells us what it is in music that can make it funny.
He tells us that the same experiences that makes jokes funny, makes music funny. Humor requires a twist, a shock, something unexpected, something surprising, incongruous, and illogical. There are different kinds of humor. Wit, for example, is a surprising statement. Satire is making fun of something or someone, but unlike wit, it does not introduce anything new. Parody caricatures something simply for the fun of it. There is also good humor that does not attempt to ridicule or be illogical; it is designed to make a person feel good.
As I listened to Bernstein, I thought how unfortunately many people do not see that there are many instances in the Bible where scripture is humorous. It tells us something ironically, something that people should not take seriously – although many do. For example: It seems clear to me that the story of Balaam’s ass speaking to him was meant to be funny. The Bible could have made its point that Balaam was acting like an ass in another way, rather than painting an illogical picture.
In my book “The Authentic King Solomon,” I point out the frequent use of irony in Solomon’s story. Every time when the Bible tells us that Solomon was wise, and it does so many times, protesting too much, it always follows these statements by describing how Solomon acted unwisely. It seems that the biblical author wanted to mock the king who foolishly laid the groundwork of high taxation followed by his son Rehoboam that led to the division of the kingdom that Solomon’s father united.
The rabbis in the Talmud recognized this. For example, while most people fail to see the humor in the way in which Solomon decided the case in the story of the trial of the two prostitutes by suggesting that the baby be cut in two with each complainant receiving half a child, the rabbis recognized that the statement by one of the two women – do not kill the baby, give it to the other woman – does not prove she is the child’s true parent. She may have said this simply because she did not want her child who would interfere with her acts of prostitution. The rabbis suggested that if the story is true, Solomon made his decision because God spoke to him at that time and told him who was the child’s mother. The story of the visit of the queen of Sheba is another example. The Bible tells us that she came to ask Solomon riddles. This makes no sense. If Solomon was truly wise, she should have asked important questions, not play games. The rabbis suggested that her riddles were very clever, and imagine some examples. The Bible also uses other women to mock Solomon. It states that he loved many foreign women, and then ridicules him by stating that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, using the oft-used numbers seven and three.