Christ’s Laughter on the Cross : Caricature and Religion


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.

Is the (real) Tradition the Talmud, the Kabbalah or the Zohar?


Alphonse-Louis Constant was a French clergyman and a controversial figure of occultism in the 19th century. As the author of an abundant work, he took the pen name Eliphas Levi, or Eliphas-Levi Zahed, which is a translation of his name into Hebrew. In 1862, he published Fables and Symbols, a work in which he analyzed the symbols of Pythagoras, the Apocryphal Gospels, and the Talmud. Here is one of these fables, « The Fakir and the Bramin », and its commentary, which are not unrelated to a certain topicality:

THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

Carrying an axe in his hand,

A fakir meets a bramin:

– Cursed son of Brama, I can still find you!

I love Eswara!

Confess before me that the master of heaven

Is the best of the gods,

And that I am his prophet,

Or I’ll split your head open!

– Strike, » replied the bramin,

I don’t love a god who makes you inhuman.

The gods do not murder anyone.

Believe or not that mine

Is more forgiving than yours:

But in his name, I forgive you.

SYMBOL – THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

« When the opposing forces do not balance each other, they destroy each other.

Unfair enthusiasm, religious or otherwise, causes the opposite enthusiasm through its excess.

That is why a famous diplomat was right when he said: ‘Never be zealous’.

That is why the great Master said: ‘Do good to your enemies and you will build fire on their heads’. It was not revenge by occult means that Christ wanted to teach, but the means to resist evil by learned and self-defense. Here is indicated and even revealed one of the greatest secrets of occult philosophy. »

Eliphas Lévi also made an interesting statement on the veil, a difficult subject admittedly, not unrelated to current events.

« Absconde faciem tuam et ora. Veil your face to pray.

This is the use of the Jews, who, in order to pray with more contemplation, wrap their heads in a veil which they call thalith. This veil originates from Egypt and resembles that of Isis. It means

that holy things must be hidden from the profane, and that everyone must only count on God for the secret thoughts of his heart. »

Finally, here is an extract from a small dialogue, quite lively, between an Israelite and Eliphas Levi.

Israelite: I am pleased to see that you are making cheap of the mistakes of Christianity.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, I suppose so, but it’s to defend the truths with more energy.

Israelite: What are the truths of Christianity?

Eliphas Levi: The same as those of the religion of Moses, plus the effective sacraments with faith, hope and charity.

Israelite: Plus idolatry, that is, worship that is due to God alone, given to a man and even to a piece of bread. The priest put in the place of God himself, and condemning the Israelites to hell, that is, the only worshippers of the true God and the heirs of his promise.

Eliphas Levi: No, children of your fathers ! we do not put anything in the place of God himself. Like you, we believe that his divinity is unique, immutable, spiritual and we do not confuse God with his creatures. We worship God in the humanity of Jesus Christ and not this humanity in the place of God.

There is a misunderstanding between you and us that has lasted for centuries and has caused much blood and tears to flow. The so-called Christians who persecuted you were fanatics and unholy people unworthy of the spirit of this Jesus who forgave by dying to those who crucified him and said: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do (…)

Israelite: I arrest you here and tell you that for us the Kabbalah is not authoritative. We no longer recognize her because she was desecrated and disfigured by the Samaritans and the Eastern Gnostics. Maimonides, one of the greatest lights of the synagogue, sees the Kabbalah as useless and dangerous; he does not want us to deal with it and wants us to stick to the symbol of which he himself formulated the thirteen articles, from the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, but the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud are unintelligible without the Kabbalah. I will say more: these sacred books are the Kabbalah itself, written in hieroglyphics, that is, in allegorical images. The Scripture is a closed book without the tradition that explains it and the tradition is the Kabbalah.

Israelite: That’s what I deny, the tradition is the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Say that the Talmud is the veil of tradition, the tradition is the Zohar.

Israelite: Could you prove it?

Eliphas Levi: Yes, if you want to have the patience to hear me, because it would take a long time to reason.