Bad Boy, Bad Jesus, Bad Bad Jesus: Reviewing “The Bad Jesus” by Dr. Avalos, Part 1

One Proud Owner of "The Bad Jesus"
The prolific and indefatigable Dr. Hector Avalos, who is a giant of a man, a scholar's scholar, just released a new book, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics. In it he continues with a main theme of two of his previous books, the theological, ethical and political irrelevance of the Bible for the modern world. In The End of Biblical Studies (2007), he masterfully showed how biblical scholars are preoccupied with maintaining the relevance of the Bible for the modern world, even though their own research actually shows the opposite. In Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (2011), he expertly showed how modern biblical scholars are still unjustifiably defending the indefensible ethics of biblical slavery. In this new book Avalos takes on the over-all ethics of Jesus himself---Oh My---as represented in the four canonical gospels (irrespective of whether Jesus existed or not, which he remains an agnostic about). Avalos skillfully shows how the Jesus depicted in the New Testament has a bad side, a side permeated by a “religiocentric, ethnocentric and imperialistic orientation.” He reveals the bad side of Jesus that modern biblical scholars unjustifiably try to hide from view.

Here is how he states it:
If one relied on most modern treatises of New Testament ethics, Jesus had no bad ideas, and never committed any bad deed. This cannot possibly be sustained if Jesus is viewed as a real historical human figure. If Jesus was a human being, he must have had some ideas that are ethically objectionable, or, at least, morally questionable. If Jesus was a human being, he must have had flaws, inconsistencies and hypocrisy in his moral system, just as does every other human being. If his followers, ancient or modern, believe that those ideas are applicable to their lives and to the lives of others, then it also raises the question of whether any of Jesus’ bad ideas also had bad consequences. If Jesus had some bad ideas, then imitating Jesus’ bad ideas could be a bad practice today. Given how much time historically has been spent on lauding the Good Jesus, this book centers on illuminating ‘the Bad Jesus’. (pp. 29-30)

So why is it most modern scholars don’t consider Jesus to have done anything wrong or evil?
The answer, of course, is that most biblical scholars, whether in secular academia or in seminaries, still see Jesus as divine, and not as a human being with faults. Their Christology is high enough to exempt Jesus from any evil sentiments or ethical malpractice...Most New Testament scholars are affiliated with religious institutions and are part of what I have called an ecclesial-academic complex that has no counterpart in any other areas of the humanities. For example, most, if not all, scholars of Greek religion are not part of some Greek religious movement or organization. Despite biases that always exist in the study of the classics, it is fair to say that few have any personal stake in whether Zeus or Tiberius was good or bad because those entities don’t constitute any sort of authority for their actions. That is not the case with Jesus, who is still viewed as the paradigmatic authority for most Christian scholars. Such scholars are still studying Jesus through the confessional lenses of Nicea or Chalcedon rather than through an historical approach that we would use with other human beings. (p.7)
Dr. Avalos is attempting to change how biblical scholars study the Bible by advocating a secular understanding of the biblical texts. Modern biblical scholars “do not treat the Bible as another ancient document such as Homer’s Iliad or The Epic of Gilgamesh.” (p. 23) But they should. They should do this to see what they get. It’s the only respectable way to study historical documents if we want to know the truth about them.

Hector's broader argument in his particular book contains several elements:
1. Biblical scholarship is still primarily a religionist apologetic enterprise despite claims to be engaging in historico-critical and descriptive scholarship.
2. A more specific Christian orientation is clearly revealed in the manner in which the ethics of Jesus are predominantly viewed as benign and paradigmatic, even among supposedly secular academic scholars.
3. However, many of the fundamental ethical principles announced or practiced by Jesus actually would be antithetical to those we otherwise describe as ‘acceptable’ or ‘good’ by some of the most widely accepted standards of ethics today.
4. Accordingly, such a predominantly benign view of Jesus’ ethics signals a continuing acceptance of Jesus as divine or as morally supra-human, and not as the flawed human being who should be the real subject of historico-critical study. (pp. 8-9)
Stay tuned and I'll write more about several of his case studies in the ethics of Jesus. His goal is to illustrate "the extent to which religionism, and more particularly a Christian bias, still permeates what are otherwise supposed to be historical-critical descriptive studies of the ethics of Jesus." (p. 27).

From the looks of it this book just may change how biblical scholars view Jesus--many of whom are already liberals. It should. We shouldn't give Jesus a free pass. There's a bad Jesus we need to see. Look and see for yourselves. It could be shocking.