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Are there any examples of actual jokes in tanach? Please provide sources.

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An angel, an angel and an angel walk into a tent. One says to the host: "Your wife is going to have a kid!" Hahahahahaha –  Double AA Oct 21 '12 at 16:35
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There are nevuos with plays on words. If that qualifies. –  JNF Oct 21 '12 at 18:52
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At my shul growing up once Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan came to speak. One of the congregants asked him after davening, "Rabbi, are there any jokes in the torah?" Without blinking he said, "Yes, but they're all old." –  not-allowed to change my name Oct 21 '12 at 19:11
    
See: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/17493/1569 –  b a Oct 21 '12 at 21:34
    
There are many examples of puns. –  J. C. Salomon Oct 23 '12 at 18:46
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7 Answers

In the Haftorah of Parshas Ki Sisa (Malachim Aleph 18:20-39) when Eliyahu is on Har HaCarmel and he is waiting for the priests of Baal, he watches them as they pray to their god to rain fire upon their sacrifice. When none is forthcoming, Eliyahu tells them (verse 27) to "Call with a loud voice, for he is a god. [Perhaps] he is talking or he is pursuing [enemies] or he is on a journey; perhaps he is sleeping and will awaken". I have always been under the impression that Eliyahu was poking fun at them rather than suggesting a real option. So perhaps Eliyahu we see at least had a sense of humor. (Although I'll wager that the priests of Baal didnt find it half as funny!!!)

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@michoel, thanks for editing –  yehuda Oct 22 '12 at 14:32
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And "he is on a journey" is literally "the path is to him", which many interpret as "he's in the bathroom!" –  Shalom Oct 22 '12 at 20:29
    
Some says that Baal may refer to hercules. Hercules is often on journey. –  Jim Thio Sep 23 '13 at 13:48
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There is an excellent book by Yehuda Radday and Athalya Brenner, entitled On Humor and the Comic in the Hebrew Bible (JSOTS Series; Continuum International Publishing Group, 1990). I don't have a copy on hand, so I cannot provide you with the relevant page numbers, but the sorts of issues that they explore are whether or not, and to what extent, Jonah is a parody and Esther is a parody, whether or not there is scatological humour in such passages as Ehud's assassination of the fat Moabite king, and so on. For passages within the Torah in particular, I seem to remember them mentioning situational humour (such as when Pharaoh's magicians demonstrate their prowess by making the plagues worse), and puns. That last one is important, since it underscores the fact that humour isn't necessarily that which makes you laugh.

To my mind, the most beautiful example is one found outside of the Torah, in the book of Samuel. When we meet Saul, we are told that he is exceptionally handsome and very tall. On his way to find the seer, Samuel, he encounters a group of young girls drawing water from a well. (Almost every book I've ever seen on the Hebrew Bible as literature mentions the trope of 'boy meets girl at well'). When Saul asks them about the location of the seer, they respond with the most syntactically awkward conglomeration of phrases, anticipating and repeating one another in confusion. Rather than suppose that we are looking at a corrupted text (as some have, historically, supposed), it makes greater sense to suggest that the author is representing the sound of a group of young girls speaking over one another in order to answer the handsome stranger.

For the Torah in particular, one of my favourite examples (and one not mentioned in Radday and Brenner's book) is the response of Cain to his punishment. He is already singled out as being arrogant (his statement in 4:13 can be read as both an expression of anguish and a rhetorical question: "Is my crime too great to be forgiven!?"), so it is unsurprising that after being condemned to a life of vagrancy he goes and settles himself elsewhere and founds a city.

The specific punishment that God gave him was that he be "נע ונד" (a wanderer and a vagabond) upon the earth - 4:12. Both of those words are participles, which means that they can be read as verbs (wander, move back and forth) or as nouns (one who wanders, etc). The land in which Cain settles himself after receiving this punishment is Nod - formed off the participle of נד! In other words, it would be like somebody being told they must be "a wanderer", so settling in a land called "Wander".

As to whether or not these are viable examples, and as to whether or not they reside in the minds of interpreters, you should look at Radday and Brenner's book. There is good evidence either way, and anybody who wishes to treat the Bible as literature needs to consider the sorts of difficulties inherent in ascertaining genre and intent, given the length of time between its composition and today, the foreignness of the culture that produced it, and the fact that it is written in a language that is no longer spoken.

Postscript

I was going to add a second answer, now that people are actually providing more in the way of specific examples, but I figured I'd add it to this one instead. This is an example of humour in Tanakh that I didn't mention - one that I personally find very funny, and which I think is continually mistranslated. It can be found in 1 Samuel 15:32-33, and constitutes the (rather grisly) execution of Agag, king of Amalek.

When Agag is brought before Samuel, his "famous last words" are to declare that, אכן סר מר המות. This is translated by JPS as "Ah, bitter death is at hand!" - although they note that the Hebrew is apparantly uncertain. Artscroll, similarly, translates it as "Alas, the bitterness of death approaches", the NRSV has "Surely this is the bitterness of death", and so too several other translations.

Myself, I would read סר as a masc. sg. participle of סור ("turn aside"), its referent being מר המות. My translation, therefore, would render this as the hapless and ironic observation that "At least the bitterness of death has passed!" Agag, you couldn't be more wrong.

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Just for those who haven't seen it -- the Samuel passage is I Samuel 9:12-13. In English it sounds something like this: Indeed he's ahead; hurry up now because he's arriving today because there's a sacrifice today for the people at the altar when you reach the city that's when you'll find him before he'll go the altar to eat, because the people won't eat until he arrives because he'll bless the sacrifice, after that the attendees will eat; and now go because today is when you'll find him! (You want to say "girls, stop and breathe!") –  Shalom Oct 22 '12 at 20:41
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I had to fight myself not to insert some *like, totally OMG!*s in that quote. –  Shalom Oct 22 '12 at 20:42
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I know two:

I Shmuel 15:14:

יד וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל, וּמֶה קוֹל-הַצֹּאן הַזֶּה בְּאָזְנָי, וְקוֹל הַבָּקָר, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ. 14 And Samuel said: 'What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?'

Shemot 4:2: ב וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו יְהוָה, מזה (מַה-זֶּה) בְיָדֶךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר, מַטֶּה. 2 And the LORD said unto him: 'What is that in thy hand?' And he said: 'A rod.'

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I like the first one, but I tried unsuccessfully to figure out the second one. Could you explain it? –  b a Oct 24 '12 at 0:51
    
Hashem tells Moshe that that is a Mazeh in his hand. And Moshe corrects Hashem and says, no, Mateh. –  josh waxman Oct 24 '12 at 2:41
    
I think the second is a better fit for this question. –  Seth J Oct 24 '12 at 3:23
    
Someone's mentioned the ume one on this site already, but I can't find it now. –  msh210 Oct 24 '12 at 3:32
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@msh210 Someone did indeed –  Isaac Moses Oct 24 '12 at 21:00
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Adding to Shimon's answer, we need to consider the virtue of Jewish kvetching. In Born to Kvetch, Yiddish expert Michael Wex asserts that a unique aspect of Jewish humor, the kvetch, roots in the Torah.

Regarding the nonstop grumbling of the Israelites:

They kvetch about their problems and they kvetch about the solutions. They kvetch in Egypt and they kvetch in the desert. No matter what God does, it's wrong; whatever favor He bestows, they're never enough.

So, for example, the Israelites are on the edge of the Red Sea, with Pharoah and his hosts closing fast behing them. God has been plaguing the Egyptians left and right and has just finished killing every one of their firstborn males. The Israelites are understandably nervous, but there's a big difference between being slightly apprehensive and insulting the agent of your deliverance: "And they said to Moses: 'What? There's no graves in Egypt, you had to take us into the desert to die. ...What did we tell you in Egypt? Get off our backs and let us serve the Egyptians, because serving the Egyptians is better than dying in the desert'" (Exod. 14:11-12).

This sort of thing constitutes what might be called the basic kvetch, the initial declaration of unhappiness that identifies the general area of complaint.

And then there's the counterkvetch:

The Jews want meat instead of the manna that they've been getting? Moses tells them: "God's going to give you meat and you're going to eat it. Not one day or two days; not five days or ten days or twenty days. But for a month you're going to eat it, until it's coming out of your noses" (Num. 11:19-20).

They get meat, all right--quails, hundreds and hundreds of quails--and for dessert they get a plague.

There are more examples in Wex's book, which centers around Yiddish language and culture. Hope that helps.

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How does this answer the question? –  msh210 Oct 22 '12 at 14:46
    
I think we can identify biblical kvetching these days with Jewish humor. Also, I think "until it's coming out of your noses" is pretty solid. They're not pesukim intended for laughter, but they can be read comically. –  Aryeh Oct 22 '12 at 17:43
    
I think part of the jokes of "is there no grave in egypt" is the idea that egypt is famous for its graves. Pyramids are graves, for example. They're effectively saying that the whole point of their deliverance is because because they are so pathetic they don't deserve graves like Pharaohs. –  Jim Thio 20 hours ago
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The incident in Megillath Esther in which the king finds Haman pleading for his life to the queen and says, "What, and now you're trying to get at the queen while I'm still in the house?!" (my own, modernized, rough translation) can probably be seen as a bit of dark humor on the part of the king.

I think it is pretty clear at that point that the king had lost confidence in Haman and had decided to have him killed. I also think it was unlikely that he seriously suspected that Haman was trying to either attack or seduce Esther in that instance.

Most likely he was just in a (drunken) rage and made the quip that turned out to be very damning, perhaps even more so than he intended it.

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I always thought the funniest joke in the Torah is coming right up in Vayera --- starting at Bereishit 19:30, with the punchline at verses 37-38. It seems to me that the story of Lot and his daughters was obviously a (pretty nasty and sick, actually) national joke for Israel/Judah, at the Ammonites' and Moabites' expense. Sure, we're all descendents of Terah, but YOU'RE ALL MAMZERS! Nice way to describe the origins of your neighbors...from the Mouth of G-d by the hand of Moshe! ...a good reason later on for Ammon and Moab to be tribute-paying subservient peoples, forbidden in the Temple in Devarim 23:4.

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I like it the humor although Im not sure thats how God meant it! (15 Chars) –  yehuda Oct 25 '12 at 21:05
    
I thought mamzers are kids born out of adultery. Simply because Lot is not marrying her daughter doesn't mean it's mamzers. Also everybody was mating with their own family at that time. Including abe. –  Jim Thio Sep 23 '13 at 13:54
    
@Jim Thio - a mamzer is the product of adultery or other forbidden relationship, like incest. See some of the questions and answers with the "mamzer" tag for more info. –  Gary Sep 26 '13 at 0:29
    
But Sarah is Abraham sister? Maybe not that close. Also Mamzer is not well defined during Lot's time. The command against which individuals you shouldn't copulate with is not around yet. Hell, by that definition, we are all mamzer because Seth, Cain, Abel, and their sisters have no one else to breed with and must be screwing up families. –  Jim Thio Sep 26 '13 at 6:32
    
@Jim Thio I must say I just love reading stuff coming out of that nice active mind of yours! Shows me that there are still thinking people all over the planet...the points you come up with are definitely ones I never thought of...keep up the good inquisitive work, there's soooo much for us to learn still... –  Gary Sep 26 '13 at 14:35
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Just before the 2 angels destroyed Sodom, they asked Lot if he has family members to escape with him. See Bereshis 19:14

וַיֵּצֵא לוֹט וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל חֲתָנָיו לֹקְחֵי בְנֹתָיו וַיֹּאמֶר קוּמוּ צְּאוּ מִן הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה כִּי מַשְׁחִית יְהֹוָה אֶת הָעִיר וַיְהִי כִמְצַחֵק בְּעֵינֵי חֲתָנָיו:

So Lot went forth and spoke to his sons-in-law, the suitors of his daughters, and he said, "Arise, go forth from this place, for the Lord is destroying the city," but he seemed like a comedian in the eyes of his sons-in-law.

So if you picture the situation, you'd probably imagine those sons in law laughing their heads off at the thought that those 2 men (angels) would destroy those whole city just like that..

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