مرکزی صفحہ Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Culture (Biblical Theology... Book Review: The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament EthicsThe Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New...
Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Culture (Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology) 2017 / 05 Vol. 47; Iss. 2
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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 • Bauckham and N. T. Wright. Like the latter, he argues for a high early Christology. Picking up on Augustine’s warnings about three types of people who have unwittingly erred or intentionally connived to distort a true conception of the triune God, Bates contends that this book is an effort to correct the misguided rationalism of former attempts to depict the Trinity as well as the inappropriate means of scriptural interpretation that can result in faulty conceptions of God. Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity did not emerge as a late philosophical imposition predicated on Hellenistic assumptions (as Harnack argued), nor did it predominantly arise as an extension of the concept of divine agency within the matrix of Jewish monotheism (as Dunn argues). Rather, the idea of separate persons in timeless, intimate communion within the Godhead—i.e., Father, Son, and Spirit— was fostered and nurtured by prosopological exegesis, which is a technique that involved assigning dramatic characters to otherwise ambivalent speeches in inspired texts as an explanatory method. In speaking of the “the birth of the Trinity,” Bates does not refer to the ultimate or ontological starting point of the Trinity, but to the arrival and initial sociolinguistic framing of this doctrine in human history by the early church. This Trinitarian birth did not occur in a vacuum, but in the specific method of reading the Old Testament. The earliest Christians believed that the ancient prophets had in fact gained a supernatural view of the divine as these prophets participated in what may be termed a “theodrama,” taking on various masks or persons (prosōpa), and these early interpreters of the texts read the Jewish scriptures in a person-centered manner in order to recover the transcendentally revealed information about the nature of God latent therein. When this reading technique is employed, a theological wealth shines forth, as we are able to listen in on the intimat; e conversations within the Trinity. What emerges is not a Godhead marked by subordination and procession as the Scholastics viewed it, but rather a Father, Son, and Spirit who are characterized by relentless affection and concern for one another. What is offered in this book is a window into the inner life of God as discerned by person-centered reading of the Old Testament in the early church. Bates’s thesis in the book is contextualized in terms of other scholarship in chapter 1. Chapters 2–6 cover the full chronological divine drama from creation to final consummation. In fact, chapter 2 explores early Christian interpretations of the Old Testament. The third chapter examines moments of dialogue between the Father and the Son as depicted in the Old Testament. Chapter 4 enters into intimate intra-divine conversations, especially as seen from Jesus’ words to the Father on the cross. The fifth chapter recounts Jesus’ words of praise to the Father for deliverance, and chapter 6 culminates the story with discussions regarding the enthronement of the Son, the final conquest of evil, and the new creation. The book concludes with chapter 7, wherein Bates reflects on hermeneutical questions raised by the study. In contradistinction to the position put forward by James Dunn and Bart Ehrman (among others) that Jesus was “adopted” as the Son of God, Bates contends that the presence of divine dialogue in the New Testament and early Christian literature shows that the claims of the earliest church were the highest Christology, as Jesus was identified as a divine person through Old Testament interpretation. This book is written for readers of theology, history, and religion. I could easily see it used in seminars regarding the Trinity, Christology, biblical theology, and New Testament theology. It should be a nice addition to theological studies for years to come. Bradford McCall Holy Apostles College and Seminary Hawkinsville, GA. 31036 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 127 Book Reviews historical Jesus was, Avalos maintains, is 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. 128 Avalos has very high ethical standards for New Testament texts, as his moral guidelines are drawn from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human 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