INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - If anybody can find humor in the Bible it might be Mark Twain. About a street in Damascus he encountered in 1867 he had this to say in The Innocents Abroad: "The street called Straight is straighter than a corkscrew, but not as straight as a rainbow. St. Luke is careful not to commit himself; he does not say it is the street which is straight, but the 'street which is called Straight.' It is a fine piece of irony; it is the only facetious remark in the Bible, I believe."
And yet in his very next book, Twain alludes to another instance of humor in the Bible, though he leaves us hanging, and requires us to do a little research of our own.
In Roughing It, Twain refers to an anecdote that is told so many times over and over again that it becomes a moldy old chestnut of such magnitude that it freezes the faces of its victims...
"Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier - said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on time' - and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"
Twain suggests in a footnote, that an extravagant punishment should be meted out to the man who would contrive such a flat anecdote.
[Footnote 1: ...If I were to suggest what ought to be done to him, I should be called extravagant - but what does the sixteenth chapter of Daniel say? Aha!]
This reference to the sixteenth chapter of Daniel remained a conundrum to me as there are only twelve chapters of Daniel. I wondered if he might have meant to cite verse sixteen of chapter one: "And so the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead."
Aha! There it is! This is the extravagant punishment to be meted out to the man who contrives a flat joke; take away his choice food and wine, and make him eat vegetables!
So there we have it from Mark Twain. Yes, there is humor in the Bible, and too, it might be safe to conclude, as Mark Twain tells us in an Extract from Adam's Diary, "The original forbidden fruit was not apples, it was chestnuts."
- Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.org.