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Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project

Miracles of Mary Stories and Humor

By Wendy Laura Belcher

January 31, 2024

Some Miracle of Mary stories are intentionally funny, as is typical of any folklore tradition.

Humor is in the eye of the beholder, so it is not easy to determine which stories were intended to be funny and which ones only appear funny to us today. Let us know what stories you think may have been intentionally funny. It's useful to consult some of the research on humor in folklore and biblical stories.


Some examples of humorous stories might be ones about Satan. Sometimes he is powerful, but sometime he is mocked and brought low. The first one below is about an innocent man who unwittingly keeps thwarting a cunning Satan. The next is about Satan having to serve humanity for twelve years. The third one is about Satan and it seems funny at first, but then the story takes a serious turn.

The pious rich man whom Satan served in hopes of destroying him and who tried to trick him through fishing, hunting, and fasting

Satan destroyed the oven of a monastery and was compelled to serve the monks for twelve years in punishment.

A husband broke his vow to live celibately with his wife and the wife cursed him by saying any resulting child would belong to Satan

Satan came to some monks and entrusted a child to them; the monks ate the child


A more difficult case is the following: a pair of stories that often appear together in manuscripts, depicting a jealous man or woman burning down their spouse's home. Why were these stories written down?

A man who out of jealousy burned down the house of a former wife who had abandoned him.

A man who suspected a former wife of having burned down his house.

Some stories might have been considered funny because they depict a common human mistake, such as a deacon accidentally catching the church curtains on fire with his candle.

An incense box doesn't burn and a church fire goes out

In two other stories, powerful men laugh because someone has told them something impossible will happen. But, God has the last laugh, because the impossible thing comes true.

Atrib's Virgin Mary Church and the monk who saved it with his prayers when its destruction had been ordered by the Caliph

Homily on the Virgin Mary and the Biblical Patriarchs: Part 3: The Virgin Mary and the biblical patriarch Abraham (print only)

Some stories address embarrassing situations (diegetic humor).

Dabra Zamaddo's righteous monk who was afflicted by bugs

pricenton ethiopian eritrean & egyptian miracles of marry project

The Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project is a comprehensive resource for the 1,000+ miracle stories written about and the 2,500+ images painted of the Virgin Mary in these African countries, and preserved in Geʿez between 1300 and the present.

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