The Philosophers' Magazine has a Twitter account for quotes. Today it posted the following quote:

The total absence of humour from the Bible is one of the most singular things in all literature. --Alfred North Whitehead

Some people appear to disagree. For example, according to the blog post Holy Wit: Humor in the Bible – From the Daily Office – February 25, 2013, Jeremiah 1:11-12 contains a pun, but you need to be able to read the Hebrew original in order to appreciate it.

However, my question is not about whether Whitehead was right but about the source of the quote. And what was the context of that quote? Even though Whitehead's process philosophy influenced process theology, the man himself is not known as a theologian or Bible scholar.

I couldn't find the quote on Wikiquote.

  • I'm not sure puns should be considered a subspecies of humour. If there is a pun in Jeremiah I bet it's a damned unfunny one.
    – user14111
    Dec 10, 2019 at 4:01
  • @user14111 I just read it. Pun yes, joke no. It is roughly the equivalent of holding up your wrist and saying in English "Watch this" or "I'm watching you."
    – Mike
    Dec 10, 2019 at 18:35

1 Answer 1


It's recorded in the Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead as recorded by Lucien Price.

"Do you remember that remark of Thomas Hardy about the 'jealous God' in Tess of the D'Urbervilles?" I asked.

"No," said Whitehead. "What is it?"

"I remember it," said Mrs. Whitehead. "Quote it him."

"'But although to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children may be a morality good enough for divinities, it is scorned by average human nature.'"

"How amiable the Grecian gods appear by comparison," said Mrs. Whitehead. "They may have had their crimes and follies, and have been no better than they should have been, but their offences were more urbane."

"Yes," I said. "Even if they, too, went to the devil in the end, they had a good time going. The point is, the Greeks always reserved the right to laugh at their gods."

"The total absence of humour from the Bible," remarked Whitehead, "is one of the most singular things in all literature."

I found this by recalling that Whitehead, as a Brit, would have written "humour" instead of "humor". An initial web search for Whitehead quotes about the Bible gave lots of results with "humor", but searching the web for quote whitehead "absence of humour" bible gave the above-linked book as the 3rd result. (By comparison, searching for quote whitehead "absence of humor" bible gave only unreliable and unsourced "quote collection" websites.)

  • Strangely, I also found the book on Google Books, but could not search inside it.
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 9, 2019 at 18:24
  • @IkWeetHetOokNiet It might be country dependent? Or maybe you used up some "allowance" of Google Books page views. Dunno.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Dec 9, 2019 at 18:47

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