In his book Christ‘s Laughter (2006), Guy Stroumsa recalls that the Gnostics of the first centuries of our era represented Christ « laughing » on the cross. What was he laughing at? « At the stupidity of the world, » they said.
In the Gospel of Judas, an apocryphal text composed in the 2nd century, Jesus also laughs.
Another Gnostic text, found in 1978 in the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the 2nd Treatise of the Great Seth, gives this explanation: « It was another, the one who carried the cross on his shoulder, it was Simon. It was another one who received the crown of thorns. As for me, I rejoiced in the height, above all the domain that belongs to the archons and above the seed of their error, their vain glory, and I mocked their ignorance. »
This explanation is based on the thesis of heresy called docetism. According to this thesis, Jesus would not have really suffered on the cross. His nature being divine and spiritual, his physical body was detached from him, simple appearance, simple clothing. He would have remained « impassive » (impassibilis), nailed to the cross.
The fact that God could laugh at men, kings, peoples and nations was not absolutely new. There is this verse from David’s Psalms: « He who sits in heaven amuses himself, YHVH makes fun of them » (Ps. 2:4): Yochev ba-chammayim yitzhaq.
Yitzhaq. « He laughs. » Abraham gave this very name to Isaac. For Christians, Isaac is a prefiguration of Christ. Isaac, led by his father Abraham who intended to slit his throat, carried the wood necessary for the sacrifice himself, just as Christ carried the wood of his cross.
Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish and Neo-Platonic philosopher born in 25 B.C., evokes the history of Isaac’s miraculous conception, in order to draw, as he often does, an anagogical lesson. His thesis is that Isaac was miraculously born of God himself and Sarah, then a very old woman. Sarah says: « The Lord has made laughter for me » (Gen. 21:6).
Philo comments: « Open your ears, O mysteries, and welcome the most holy initiations: « Laughter » is joy, and the word « he has done » is equivalent to « he will beget » so that these words mean this: the Lord will beget Isaac; for he is the Father of perfect nature, who in souls sows and generates happiness. « Legum Allegoriae III, 219
Christ nailed to the cross laughs, – while derided and ridiculed by the soldiers.
Sara affirms at Isaac’s birth, the birth of « He laughs », that it is the Lord who generated the laughter in her.
Christ dying and laughing, Sarah conceiving « laughter » through the divine operation.
Humanity’s closeness to the divinity can be sensed in nakedness, death, conception.
This is one of the fundamental problems faced by religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. How can we reconcile divine transcendence with historical, material, immanent reality?
If God is absolutely transcendent, how can He generate Isaac in the womb of an old woman?
Isn’t the simple fact of asking the question, based on the letter of the Scriptures, already a « caricature »?
Is not the fact that Jesus is a naked God, who died on the cross, in humiliation and derision, not in itself susceptible to being caricatured in a thousand ways?
The prohibition of the representation of the Prophet Muhammad testifies to the same problem. How can we reconcile the prophet’s humanity with his divine mission? The difficulty of the question seems unrelated to the simplicity of the answer: the outright prohibition of any representation.
Let’s take a step back. Isn’t any critical, distanced, and sometimes even a little ironic question a form of caricature – for those who don’t ask questions, and don’t ask themselves them, either?
When it comes to religion, it is so easy to fall into caricature, or to be accused of it.