مرکزی صفحہ Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Culture (Biblical Theology... Book Review: The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics The Bad Jesus: The...
Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Culture (Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology) 2017 / 08 Vol. 47; Iss. 3
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Book Reviews edging that the later redacting of the book creates some of its unevennesses. Preferring to adopt the Persian period, when Jerusalem was the center of the province called Yehud, as the setting for the final form of Micah and adopting alongside that a focus on how the book is understood and reacted to by today’s readers, O’Brien believes that inviting readers to note the different world portrayed in Micah will encourage them to look more deeply into the createdness of modern understandings of the ways the world works. Thereafter, O’Brien provides material always to be found in commentaries, discussion of the historical, economic and political background. In particular, she identifies “Gender. Empire. Blame. Land. Fairness” (p. lv) as typifying the ideological and theological foci of the book and which are presented in poetic and rhetorical forms, these engagingly explained. Subsequent to these lengthy, but vital, introductory matters is the commentary on the text of Micah divided into three sections, each including sidebar contributions from the author and ten scholars listed in the Front Matter, and followed by a Conclusion. Micah 1–3 Judgments against Female Cities and Male Leaders. Here, O’Brien deftly juggles the likely understandings of the text open to the hypothesized original hearers of the prophecy, the Persian per iod hearers and modern day readers moving among political, historical, ethnicallyaware, gendered, agrarian, postcolonial and literary approaches to lay open the complexity of the message/s of the text, the variety of polemic uses to which castigation of female behaviors may be put being particularly explored. Micah 4–5 Exaltation of Daughter Jerusalem and Her King. O’Brien notes that 184 the idealized image of the restored Jerusalem hauntingly indicates that this is not the current case; common miseries of women’s lives are woven into the account and make the contrast plain. Modern day situations of female distress that speak to these issues are discussed. The section ends; foretelling disaster again but more likely one approaching Jerusalem’s “enemies” this time. Micah 6–7 Yhwh’s Lawsuit and Daughter Jerusalem’s Response. The final section of Micah takes the form of a stylized covenant lawsuit wherein the deity impugns the people for not responding as he desires to the good he has done for them. But the province of Yehud, under Persian administrative control, would have experienced a leaching of its life-giving produce towards the centers of power in the Persian Empire. There would be little equality among the citizens; hence the lament presented voices the concerns of the poorest, and is perhaps—as O’Brien claims— spoken by Daughter Jerusalem. In the Conclusion, A Feminist Response to Micah’s Theology, O’Brien addresses the “theology of blame,” often known as “retribution theology,” commonly seen as the discursive thread of Micah and notes that this understanding of what is happening raises ethical issues that are hard to sidestep. However, she adduces recent studies of responses to trauma to show how victims of disaster may begin to re-assert themselves and seek greater control over their futures and that casting Yhwh in the role of punisher is actually less isolating and abandoning of the victims than were they victims of random chance, since they are still “under his eye” and able to return to his familial care if they repent and change their ways. Insights from Postcolonial Studies aid in recognizing the varying gender roles of punisher and nurturer and where they are being subverted in the book of Micah. This tidy and efficient book closes with a list of Works Cited, a full bibliography being available online, an Index of Scriptural References, and an Index of Subjects. Heather A. McKay Edgehill University Ormskirk, Lancs, L39 4QP, UK The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics. By Hector Avalos. The Bible in the Modern World 68. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015. Pp. xvi + 461. Paper, $35.00. It would be hard to come up with a more provocative title for a book than The Bad Jesus. Such a self-consciously irreverent title has a lot to live up to, but readers will not be disappointed. Hector Avalos aims not only to convince us that many portrayals of Jesus based on New Testament texts are morally or ethically problematic, but also to demonstrate how scholars have engaged in questionable distortions to minimize, explain away, or otherwise ignore any textual evidence that might not comport with modern ethical standards. The book is organized by exploring case studies in which Jesus appears to be ethically questionable, or “bad.” These portraits of Jesus include Jesus as an unloving person, Jesus as a hateful person; Jesus as violent, Jesus as suicidal, Jesus as an imperialist, Jesus as anti-Jewish, Jesus as an enemy of the poor, Jesus the misogynist, the “anti-disabled” Jesus, the “anti-medical” Jesus, the “eco-hostile” Jesus, and Jesus as generally “anti-biblical.” All of these depictions can be illustrated with New Testament texts, albeit cherrypicked in different ways. Who the actual historical Jesus was, Avalos maintains, is B I B L I C A L T H E O L O G Y B U L L E T I N • V O L U M E 4 7 • 2 017 • not the most crucial matter. Instead, he wants to look at how the New Testament texts portray Jesus, for it is their portrayals that have been creatively massaged by commentators to make Jesus “good” when, he argues, the actions and teachings are actually quite problematic by modern ethical standards. The Bad Jesus is thus an exercise in meta-criticism of New Testament scholarship. Avalos identifies numerous strategies that theologians and even seemingly “objective” scholars have used to ameliorate these negative portraits. Sometimes they ignore the difficult references altogether. Circular reasoning often allows them to claim that Jesus was not responsible for the problematic sayings attributed to him and that they are creations of the later Church. The logic is thus: Jesus was all good; therefore, he could not possibly have advocated something unethical. In other cases, the unethical language is treated figuratively, as if Jesus did not really mean what he said; this is a common tendency with sayings that appear to advocate violence. If those tactics fail, another option is to rationalize why such an unethical statement would have made sense in the ancient context and thereby to explain it away as irrelevant to modern audiences. None of these strategies is compelling for Avalos. As part of a wider program of ethical liberation, he sees no reason to wrestle with saving a moral core of the Bible. Ethical liberation, he proposes, must come from liberating oneself from the confines of these problematic texts and constructing a moral framework that does not depend on them. Avalos has very high ethical standards for New Testament texts, as his moral guidelines are drawn from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Hu- man Rights. Using these contemporary standards allows him to analyze the biblical texts with no holds barred. Take the imperialist Jesus. Scholars such as Richard Horsley and John Dominic Crossan (among many others) have argued vehemently that Jesus resisted the Roman Empire in different ways. On one hand, Avalos agrees Jesus may have opposed aspects of the Roman regime, akin to other resisters of colonial oppression. On the other hand, he observes that despite this, Jesus does not seem to be thoroughly antiimperial, for the kingdom of God regime that he envisions to displace Rome is just another imperial structure. Thus Avalos: Even if Jesus did not see himself as an emperor, he certainly can be seen as an agent or advocate of imperialism. What Jesus was presumably advocating was no less imperialistic than the Roman empire when he spoke of the Kingdom of God [p. 170]. This means that even scholars who have seen Jesus as a liberator of the politically oppressed have, in his view, neglected the very imperialist features of the kingdom Jesus advocated. Or consider Avalos’ reassessment of the ubiquitous portrait of Jesus as a champion of the poor. Instead of simply considering the sayings of Jesus that seem sensitive to the poor, as most commentators do, Avalos probes how Jesus’ teachings and actions would have actually affected their livelihoods. He points out that the socalled “radical discipleship” and the intellectual valorization of poverty did nothing for those who were suffering real socioeconomic injustices. As Avalos opines, Sometimes Jesus’ reported actions and teachings not only would have impoverished families, but they show how the biblical authors used the poor, sick and hungry as props for Jesus’ own imperialist theocratic agenda. If this is any reflection on an historical Jesus, then his teachings and practices betray a man who was egotistical, delusional or economically inept [p, 199]. And since Jesus continually promised an eschatological reward that never arrived, Avalos styles Jesus as a “junk bond salesman” (p. 219) and compares him to the late evangelist and doomsday prophet Harold Camping. Each of The Bad Jesus’ case studies is similarly fascinating and carefully argued. If one does not use the Bible as an ethical touchstone, however, these arguments are, while intriguing, rather inconsequential. Yet so many—Avalos would likely argue too many—people rely on this antique book for moral guidance that its principles cannot go unexamined. In many ways, The Bad Jesus puts the burden back on those who would claim that the Bible ought to serve as the supreme ethical standard for modern life, and so its reception among biblical scholars will be something keep an eye on. Sarah E. Rollens Rhodes College Memphis, TN, 38112 Ancient Education and Early Christianity. Edited by Matthew Ryan Hauge & Andrew W. Pitts. London, UK: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, 2016. Pp. xiv + 210. Cloth, $112.00. Ten articles comprise this volume on ancient education, with special focus on how questions of Greco-Roman educa- 185