Getting the chance to relish hours upon hours of televised coverage of Winter Olympics and now March Madness makes me especially aware of the great entertainment good competition provides. When excellent athletes (or other types of super-gifted folks) battle one another for a prize it's exhilarating to witness (regardless of who actually wins) and makes me proud to be human (and, theologically speaking, God's greatest creation), especially when there's good sportsmanship and the finish is oh-so close.
What's just as entertaining, maybe even more so (imho), are contests that are ridiculous, either because they're competitions over frivolous things participants (and their entourage) take with over-the-top seriousness (like the tryouts that led to The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom), or they're important battles foolishly fought (like WWII as presented on Hogan's Heroes).
As you may recall (with a smile on your face) the Heroes are a bunch of jovial crackerjacks posing as POW's stuck in Stalag 13 "the only camp in Germany that can boast zero escapes." This location conveniently puts the Heroes in the center of the European theater, allowing them to undertake all sorts of important secret Allied missions. Hogan et al always succeed in their courageous endeavors, too, partly because of the clever gadgets they're able to invent, but also (and this is what's really fun about this show) because they always manage to get their Nazi captors to unwittingly assist in these secret Allied efforts, bringing their own Axis cause down. Nothing like winning by getting the enemy to do most of your work! In the case of Hogan, it's all because the Nazi brass is so overly vainglorious it can't imagine powerless POW's capable of outsmarting anyone, and, hence, makes itself outrageously dupable (and besides, Sargeant Schultz can ALWAYS be distracted from his post with a plate of good strudel).
These are the kind of comical machinations we find in Exodus 7 and 8, where Team YHWH squares off against Team Pharaoh to see whose gods/God reign(s) supreme.
Moses and Aaron, measly Hebrew slaves, come before Pharaoh asking/demanding YHWH's people, a whole nation of measly Hebrew slaves, be let go. Pharaoh of course scoffs at the thought. How dare these puny, dirty upstarts challenge the power and purposes of mighty Egypt?
According to the story, it's now time for a "Plague-Off". Because in the ancient world deities were believed to speak through Nature and make their strongest statements through natural catastrophes, it follows that plagues are the form God (and the gods) use to duke it out for the Universe's top honors.
First we have a little warm up, with Moses throwing down his staff in front of Pharaoh as it instantly turns into a snake. (I know, neat supernatural gadget!) Pharaoh's magicians then do the same thing, but once their staff turns into a snake it's eaten by Team YHWH's.
The contest then beings in earnest, with Plague No. 1: Moses taps the Nile and its water instantly turns into blood. We're told this made the Egyptians absolutely miserable - now they and their livestock had nothing to drink and, in addition, everything started to stink. So what did Pharoah's magicians do in response? As Yehuda T. Radday notes in On Missing the Humour in the Blble, An Introduction, (from On Humour and the Comic in the Hebrew Bible, 1990, Almond Press), "Instead of turning the blood back into water, they proudly displayed their art by doing the same thing by their spells (v. 22)." They made everything twice as miserable for Egypt. Way to go! And then when Moses brings on Plague No. 2 - "swarms of frogs who even jump into Pharoah's bed chamber (8:off), the magicians bring more frogs upon the land (v. 7)." Oh what a treatment Werner Klemperer and John Banner could have given these goings on!!!!
It all reminds me of the song Everything You Can Do I Can Do Better (another of my favorite competitions, between Annie Oakley and sharpshooter Frank Butler, included here for your hearing enjoyment). The Biblical version, however, would go, Everything I Can Do to Make Your Nation Miserable You Can Do Better. Again, the imagination reels with the possibilities....
Pharaoh benches his magicians for the rest of the match and goes against Team YHWH solo. He doesn't stand a chance and God makes mincemeat of him, hardening his heart over and over again so plague after plague can can pummel him and his people, decimating his power and egomaniacal building schemes.
It's easy to find all this horrible havoc YHWH is wreaking wholly objectionable and a good reason to simply reject the Biblical narrative (at least the Old Testament) and its overly violent God outright. On the other hand, if we embrace this story as humorous, written in the same kind of playful spirit that brought Hogan's Heroes to the screen (and for the same kinds of reasons), we can start to see all the destruction as the kind of "ridiculous suffering" that is one actually one of comedy's key characteristics. (See previous blog Grinding Aristotle for more.)
Yes, we can immensely enjoy all of this … but then its back to basketball. We can laugh at the dumb stuff later. Time now for the stuff that warrants getting out the tv trays.