Did Jesus ever do anything wrong? Judging by the vast majority of books on New Testament ethics, the answer is a resounding No. Writers on New Testament ethics generally view Jesus as the paradigm of human standards and behaviour. But since the his-torical Jesus was a human being, must he not have had flaws, like everyone else? The notion of a flawless human Jesus is a paradoxical oddity in New Testament ethics. According to Avalos, it shows that New Testament ethics is still primarily an apologetic enterprise de-spite its claim to rest on critical and historical scholarship. The Bad Jesus is a powerful and challenging study, presenting de-tailed case studies of fundamental ethical principles enunciated or practised by Jesus but antithetical to what would be widely deemed 'acceptable' or 'good' today. Such topics include Jesus' supposedly innovative teachings on love, along with his views on hate, violence, imperialism, animal rights, environmental ethics, Judaism, women, disabled persons and biblical hermeneutics. After closely examining arguments offered by those unwilling to find any fault with the Jesus depicted in the Gospels, Avalos concludes that current treatments of New Testament ethics are permeated by a religiocentric, ethnocentric and imperialistic orientation. But if it is to be a credible historical and critical dis-cipline in modern academia, New Testament ethics needs to discover both a Good and a Bad Jesus.
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Hector Avalos (Ames, IA) is associate professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, the author of four books on biblical studies and religion, the former editor of the Journal for the Critical Study of Religion, and executive director of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion.
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