More than 70 students, faculty and community members filled 0305 Carver Hall to hear ISU Professor Hector Avalos argue the immoral practices of Jesus Christ.
Avalos literally wrote the book about Christ’s wrongdoings. “The Bad Jesus” argues there is a bias in contemporary biblical studies which favors Jesus Christ. Avalos presented that thesis along with scriptural evidence for his claims.
“I’m not saying Jesus was all bad,” Avalos said. “I’m saying that modern scholarship teaches that Jesus was all good, and it just doesn’t comply with the scripture.”
Avalos noted this trend is nearly universal, and can be seen within the works of Christian, Jewish and secular scholars alike. However, Avalos is an expert in the ancient near east and used the Bible as well as pre-Bible literature to prove his points.
For example, John 2:14 famously tells the story of Jesus brandishing a whip in the Jewish Temple and pushing over tables, all because people were selling their cattle and otherwise exchanging money.
“If a man entered a church while you were playing Bingo, took out a whip and started tipping over the tables, would you say, ‘Gee, he’s really challenging the church’s view of commerce’?” Avalos said. “No, you wouldn’t find anything about that ethically okay, but because it’s Jesus nobody thinks it’s bad.”
He added, “We don’t want people vandalizing temples because they don’t think people are worshipping correctly.”
Vandalism is one thing, but some of Jesus’ actions would bring about grave repercussions. His words were even used by Nazis in anti-Semitic propaganda.
In John 8:44 Jesus charged Jews with being the sons of the devil. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to bring about your father’s desires,” the scripture reads.
“This had an effect on history,” Avalos said and showed the audience black and white photos of signs with German writing. “They put this verse on road signs in Nazi Germany. People acted on this throughout Christian history, and a lot of scholars know it.”
In defense of Jesus, the Nazi’s were somewhat selective in their reading of the New Testament. Clearly they weren’t acting as he instructed in Matthew 5:44 when he said to love your enemies.
He may have said to love your enemies, but in Luke 14:26 Jesus commanded his followers to hate their families. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” reads the scripture.
“If anyone else in history said this it would be viewed as hate speech,” Avalos said.
This verse is subject to such varying interpretation that Avalos dedicated a whole chapter in his book to it. For the lecture he broke down the arguments using Greek, the original language of the New Testament.
“People might say Jesus meant you should leave your family, or that you should love Jesus more than your family, but there’s no linguistic evidence for that,” Avalos said. “The word used for hate is miseo ... which can be seen later in Luke 16:13.”
The verse Avalos mentioned reads “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other.”
“Nobody suggests this means you will love one master and love the other a little less,” Avalos said. “It’s zero sum, you’re to love one and hate the other.”
Avalos used additional scripture to cement this point, such as Amos 5:15 and Judges 14:16.
Avalos also charged some of Jesus’ philosophies as violent. For example Matthew 10:34 reads, “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” This is referring to the fate of those who did not follow Jesus as their messiah.
Avalos paired this with Christ’s more famous doctrine in Matthew 5:38, where he commands his followers to act peacefully and, when struck, to “turn the other cheek.”
“Let’s say, for example, you found out your little brother was being bullied at school,” Avalos said. “If you told your brother, ‘Don’t hit them back, because I’m going to come back later with a blowtorch and scorch them for you,' is that moral?”
Avalos continued this line of reasoning to refute a common view about the Bible, that the Old Testament God is more violent than the New Testament counterpart.
“The Old Testament God would punish you severely,” Avalos said. “Burns, plagues, agony, you name it. But it would always end in your lifetime. In the New Testament, the violence is eternal. The punishment is infinitely greater in quality and quantity.”
There are other views of Jesus which paint him as a lover of nature, and also as a feminist. Avalos again used the scripture to show one could just as easily argue the opposite.
He used an example from Mark 11 where Jesus magically kills a fig tree because he was hungry and there were no figs on the tree.
“Think about it, is that an eco-friendly response?” Avalos asked. “He could just as easily made it grow fruit on the spot, and it could’ve fed even more people. You may say, ‘This is just a parable,’ but then it teaches a bad message.”
He also pointed to Matthew 24:37, which reads, “For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” This alludes to Genesis 6 when God sends a flood over the Earth, destroying all life save what was on the Ark.
“This is advocating biocide,” Avalos said. “Is that eco-friendly? It’s virtually the destruction of our whole biosphere.”
For a feminist’s critique, Avalos offered Matthew 15:26, where a woman approaches Jesus to care for her possessed son, and he says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
“In other words, she is one of the dogs,” Avalos said. “Is that really women friendly, to say that to a woman whose child needs healing? Today Jesus would be classed with those who use hate speech against women.”
Avalos went on to explain there were cultures predating Jesus which treated women better than Christian societies. Woman served as leaders at synagogues during the Byzantine era, for example.
“You should not feed the hungry because Jesus said so,” Avalos said. “You should be kind because you have empathy. Anytime you use an ancient text to authorize your behavior I think that’s immoral. Would you not be kind to children if Jesus never said to?”