A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

Trying to Understand a Ripped Jesus

I’ve never thought of Jesus as meek and mild, but I also never imagined Jesus the way I saw him depicted on a billboard in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a few years ago.



Ever since I saw this billboard, I’ve been curious about its origin, whether it’s unique or part of a genre, etc.

But I’ve never taken up the task of researching it.  So instead I’m asking folks around the world.  Have you ever seen billboards or other public depictions of Jesus like this? Know anything about its origin?  Those of you who’ve been to Myrtle Beach lately, is it still there?  Do you know who paid for its display?

17 Responses to Trying to Understand a Ripped Jesus

  • Looks a lot like the artwork in and around the CMA Christian biker culture.

  • What’s CMA?
    The biker culture would certainly fit Myrtle Beach, which in the past held biker gatherings.

  • JULIA,
    this fits perfectly with something I saw in Japan!! There is a diet product here called “Jesus Body.” I will post something to your FB about it since I am not quite sure how to do so on here.

  • CMA=Christian Motorcyclist’s Association. Hatboro, Arkansas. There is a strong and almost militant theology within much of the group. There are lots of war veterans in the CMA, and the macho “God and Country” theme runs very strong. It’s a similar philosophy to the overall partriarchy that ‘s part of the biker culture.

  • A few years ago, I heard a paper about how the well-built Jesus came from the 80’s, where there was more emphasis on hyper-masculinity developing in groups such as “power teams” (groups of Christian weightlifters who performed feats of strength mixed with evangelical theology). It was set in the broader hyper-masculinity developing in pop-culture (particularly found in film–with Terminator, Stallone movies, etc.)

  • This is GREAT!!!!! I’ve only seen some billboards – none with the Jesus image that I can think of, but it does speak to our cultural understanding of being able to mesh the holy with the contemporary. I guess this can be seen by some as being pretty kitschy though, but many churches have catchy quotes on the notice boards outside their churches. These can be inspiring, or make someone think. Although not a huge billboard with a catchy image, it can still be a great way to catch people who are stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work!

  • Tried to respond this a.m. …lets try again.
    A seminary student at my church gave a sermon appealing to the “men” in the services, talking about a Jesus who would come back and kick butt. I asked the Ed director after one of the services what he thought and he didn’t have any problems with it. Is it a male thing? I have real issues with this theology – a dichotomy where we talk of Jesus’ instructing us so that we can change, talkiing through thought-provoking and “reversal” stories, giving second chances, acceptance and forgiveness, and the God of revenge who is sitting back to allow us to dig our own graves before he comes back to slay us and stuff us in. The folks who talk of a butt-kicking Jesus out of one side of their mouths turn around and talk forgiveness and love out the other. You can’t pick your Jesus depending on your mood or circumstances. You can’t have it both ways. It’s bad theology, whether its in words, practice, or a billboard, and it sure as heck isn’t going to bring anyone into relationship with Christ.

  • Julia, I tried to respond here, but couldn’t get the ideas to work right in a tight space, so I’ve posted a longer response at http://www.bigbible.org/blog/2009/09/what-wrong-with-this-picture.htm

  • Actually, when some classmates and I were observing the youth group at a Brethren in Christ Church, we saw they had a floor-to-ceiling banner that had a Hulk-like Jesus carrying a cross in one hand and a Bible in the other. We remarked that Jesus was not only holding a book that wasn’t written when he was alive, but he was holding the method of his execution in the other! Even more disturbing, below Jesus was written, “Are YOU ready to join God’s army?” in huge red letters. We were really surprised by this sign’s presence in an Anabaptist church, since they are traditionally pacifists! We asked the youth director about it, and he said that one year, their summer youth program had been called “Bible Boot Camp,” or something to that effect, so that was the banner they used.

  • “The New Adventures of Jesus” by Frank Stack reprints one of the first underground comics – first published in 1964. In it, Jesus returns to earth in the 1960’s where, among other adventures,he is drafted.

    In “Jesus Goes to the Movies”, we see Jesus attending Hollywood’s version of his life in which a very muscular Jesus defeats Pontius Pilate and … “the king is dead, the people are revolting, the slaves are free, the city’s burning, the people up in arms, the dam busted, volcano erupting, army routed, Rome overthrown!”

    As the audience leaves the theater, one says “The end’s not like the book.” and Jesus replies “Believe me, it’s better!”

    I remember reading this when it came out and was SO glad when it was reprinted. Highly recommended.

  • Just wanted to weigh in as a man who is repulsed by this image of our Lord. There’s nothing redeeming about this image, and no defensible reason behind it. It’s exactly of a stripe with the disciples wishing to rain fire down on those that dishonored their dream-wish Messiah.

    Lord Bless.

  • How about Shamgar, son of Anath, who slayed 600 Philistines with an ox-goad? Or David who killed a giant, and then led armies into battle. What about the God who said that David was a man after His own heart.

    Perhaps this God that also dealt with David with mercy didn’t have as much of a problem with the dichotomy as we do.

  • The young hero stripped himself then (that was God Almighty),

    strong and resolute. He ascended onto the high gallows,

    brave in the sight of many, there, [since] he wished to release mankind.

    I trembled when the man embraced me. However, I dared not bow down to the earth,

    fall to the surface of the earth, but I had to stand fast.

    I was raised [as a] cross. I lifted up the mighty king….

    That’s from “The Dream of the Rood”. The image of Jesus as a strong young hero is not all that strange. The Heliand brings such an image out even more strongly, with the Twelve as his faithful thanes or housecarls.

    “What do they teach them in these schools?” 🙂

  • This thread has lifted up the parallels with the strong, virile, warrior Christ. The Dream of the Rood was especially interesting.

    But, in the billboard, Jesus seems to be breaking free of the cross prior to death, refusing the voluntary submission that seems important to other traditions. If he’s to take revenge for how he’s treated, in what sense did he willingly submit to it?

  • Missionaries have long worried over the tensions of “contextualization”: to get a religious message across, you need to put in the language of the audience. The dialect, the nuance, all needs to be there, both in how you talk and in all the little symbolic references.

    But that involves, inevitably, changing the meanings of the message. Playing around with connotations affects more substantive issues.

    If you’re selling the Gospel in America, you need to put it in the language of the people, and you need to pay close attention towhat pushes their buttons. The Gospel really takes off in the US early in the 19th c.–and especially in the South, which till then had been the most under-evangelicalized of regions.

    Why? Because regular folks seize the reigns of religion for themselves, and despite a lack of education and “book larnin'” get out and do it. They speak in the dialect of the people, and the people respond.

    It wasn’t always a pretty sight. Still isn’t.

    This is a perfect example of that. The South is the Bible Belt, but also full of “rednecks.” You don’t reach the “rednecks” by inviting them to a lecture on Karl Barth’s ecclesiology.

    You reference pop culture–here, Rambo and Terminator–and you associate Jesus with virtues they already admire.

    You lose things along the way–the Sermon on the Mount might not be the converted redneck’s favorite passage–or maybe it will be. Who knows?

    But don’t kid yourselves: Who do you want as a neighbor? The converted redneck who keeps pestering you about sending your kids to Vacation Bible School? Or the unconverted bathtub-speed-cookin’ redneck who raises hell until 4 AM every night and ends up stabbing his common-law wife on your front lawn?

  • I love the blending of Rambo, Terminator and Jesus. I also love the implied steroid use and the erection hiding just beneath the loin cloth. Cartoon Jesus for people who want cartoon philosophies and the simplicity of a god of limited complexity of thought and prone to simple minded and violent solutions; the consequences of which are visited upon the head of their children and their children’s children’s children for all time.

    I’m impressed that such a thing exists and has defenders who would publicly reveal such limited capacity for reason.

  • An extremely important book: Leo Steinberg’s The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance and in Modern Oblivion. It puts this sort of imagery into its deep historical context.

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