The Catskills Bible: Misdirection and Humor

Posted on by Brooke

It’s a basic building block of comedy: you lead the hearer in one direction, then suddenly “go the other way.” “I don’t know what I’d do without you, baby…but I’d rather!” (drummer does a rimshot here)

Reading the story of David and Bathsheba last evening, I found myself dwelling on what looks to me like a similar bit of humor on the part of the narrator. (It’s likely that this has been picked up in the commentaries, but I haven’t looked into them yet. I mean, you folks are right here.)

David has impregnated Bathsheba the wife of Uriah, and David is trying to trick Uriah into having sex with Bathsheba so that Uriah will think the child his own. However, Uriah keep piously avoids going home to his wife, remaining celibate in the company of, and in solidarity with, his active military unit. David’s final ploy is to invite Uriah to his room and get him good and drunk (2 Sam 11:13, my translation):

“David summoned him, and he ate before him and drank, and he made him drunk, and he went out in the evening to lie in his bed with…the servants of his lord! To his own house he did not go.”

The sentence begins to convince the reader that David has succeeded: Uriah, besotted, goes out into the evening to lie in his bed. But then the penny drops: it’s not his wife’s bed, but his billet with his unit. David is foiled again.

I am reminded (and I don’t recall who to credit here) of that bit in Genesis 19:19-20, where the men of the town have threatened Lot with rape for protecting his visitors:

“And they pressed hard against the man Lot, and they approached to ‘break the door,’ and the men reached out their hands and brought Lot to themselves…home! And shut the door.”

Besides the apparent wordplay for male-on-male rape (“break the door”), the reader is persuaded to think that “the men” grabbing Lot are the men of the town, until the sentence ends and we find that it is the visiting men who have grabbed him, to pull him to safety.

My question to you, O readers: is this a motif that comes under discussion in a general way? Are comparisons made to other biblical texts, or do you know of any? My interest is in narrative or poetic sentences that seem to mislead the reader for a time, only to set right the misdirection at the end.