The Meanest Miracle – Cursing the Fig Tree

This is Jesus’ stupidest and most mean-spirited miracle, as reported in the gospels. Here’s the story:

He’s walking the four miles from Bethany to Jerusalem just before Passover (March/April). Here’s Mark: “Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. (Ooh, look, a bonus! Proof that Jesus isn’t omniscient, and therefore isn’t God!) When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. The next morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.”

Jesus curses a fig tree, and unwittingly sets up a joke.

So, he’s not omniscient, and he’s petty, and he’s vindictive, and he’s also not very bright – because in the spring there would be leaves but no fruit yet. So he curses it, and the next day it’s completely withered.

What’s the point? Christian apologists tie themselves in knots saying that he did it to symbolize that the Jewish religion, though outwardly in full leaf, is not productive and is destined to die from Jesus’ update to True Religion. But Jesus didn’t say anything about that. When the disciples said “Oh, wow!” he just told them that if they had unwavering faith that yonder mountain could be thrown into the sea, it would happen. (If any of them tried, it didn’t work.) The apologists draw their message out of thin air. They also don’t address Jesus’ hunger, ignorance, anger or stupidity.

It’s a typical Jesus miracle in these aspects:

1) It could be faked – all you have to do is have your friend Lazarus (living in Bethany) come by that evening and pull all the leaves off, and next day the disciples would be fooled into thinking that the tree had withered at Jesus’ command.

2) It’s not the sort of beneficial and glorious thing that you would have chosen if you were writing a story about a real miracle-worker. In that case, you would have Jesus bless the tree instead of curse it, and within 60 seconds it would have fruited and produced enough delicious out-of-season ripe figs to make everyone happy. (And then the apologists would say that he showed how the Jewish religion could be transformed by his blessing into something productive, etc etc.)

Somehow it’s always like that. He heals someone who says they’re lame, or blind, or suffering from devils… but does he ever regrow an amputated limb? Ha! He can restore to life a friend who says he was dead… but what about his spiritual teacher, the man who baptized him, John the Baptist? Why didn’t he put John’s head back on his shoulders, and restore him to life?

Jesus’ miracles are always street magic, designed to engage the audience while he preaches his message of repentance and the return to God… and, probably, while his followers collect contributions for the Zealot uprising.

7 comments on “The Meanest Miracle – Cursing the Fig Tree

    • I care because I feel it is important to contextualize Jesus as the Jew he was, in the middle of the 200 years of uprisings against the Roman occupation of Palestine. It is important that we demythologize the fairytale Jesus of St Paul’s ambitious fantasies, especially as this magical view of the Bible is driving government policies in many aspects of American life. I’m not an American citizen, but I’m resident there – and the whole world suffers when the US gets too aggressively Christian.

      I also care because I have a novel on the entire subject, and my writing career is more deeply connected to this project than to any other.

      And because my favorite tree on my property is a lovely old fig tree!


  1. Those…are some angry bunnies.

    Of course, that story is nothing. One of the “lost” stories is of Jesus as a child pushing another child off the roof and killing him. When the people protested (and were probably about to kill him in revenge) he raises the dead kid from the dead and very “forcefully” asks if he (jesus) had really killed the (formerly dead) boy.

    Somehow I don’t think the kid was in a place to give an unbiased answer.


  2. Fig Newton says:

    I have always hated this story. Your analysis has provided a wonderful foundation for my hate.


  3. Homo Sapien says:

    @Clare, why wouldn’t one care? Who wants a treekiller Messiah? Deal death to trees and die on one… Hmm…


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