Pastor Review of Killing Jesus

November 3, 2013

Conservative, Biblical Review

Killing-Jesus-book-review(1)  As always, O’Reilly does a good job of historical research.

(2)  The first full fourth of the book has to do with the historical context of Jesus’ life and death---the Roman Empire in its “pax romana” period. He does good work on the various political pressures which---at the human level (which is all O’Reilly is interested in here) caused Jesus’ death. (In my estimation, it is overdone; the identity of an emperor’s homosexual partner, what happened to the third son of third “wife” of another or information about Cleopatra’s physique would be seen by some as a bit unnecessary. No compelling reason exists for much of the first seventy-five pages, even though it is interesting history. He would argue that he was demonstrating the crushing political machinations which made Jesus’ death necessary---at the human level. Fifteen pages would have done as much, especially since the New Testament is explicit about the subject. But, again, for history buffs, it is intriguing material.)

(3)  Interestingly, O’Reilly says (as he did in the interview with Norah O’Donnell) that one need not take the Bible “literally,” but in his book he does otherwise; he stays close to the New Testament account of Jesus’ life. Many serious students would have been more careful in reporting New Testament events, but he doesn’t stray far from the traditional picture of Jesus. He does not explicitly or seriously call into question Jesus’ miracles (p. 200, especially p. 156, where he states that the powerful deeds of Jesus are identified using both Hebrew and Greek words signifying supernatural events) but, strangely, says that “somewhere in the twelfth century, these supernatural happenings will come to be known as miracles.” A totally gratuitous sentence. One wonders: what is the difference between a supernatural event and a miracle?  He uses the word “legend”rarely, but too often for the taste of some. (On p. 199, he refers to the “legend” of Lazarus’s resuscitation.) He says that Jesus sweats actual blood in the garden (p. 222).  He even has Jesus admitting before Pilate that, indeed, He is the Christ, the Son of God. (p. 232-233) In much of this, O’Reilly sounds like an evangelical pastor who interprets the Bible literally. He does report the theory that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute (p.144; see Robertson’s “Harmony”, p.187 and Zondervan’s Bible Dictionary, p. 514, for a refutation of that theory.) He states that Judas acted to “force Jesus’ hand” (p. 209). He doesn’t defend Judas’ act, but has him thinking, “If Jesus is God, that will soon be known.” (p. 211)

(4)  O’Reilly refers to the “discrepancies” of the gospel accounts. “Before being written down, the Gospels were oral histories. This might explain some discrepancies among them.” (p. 126) Again, many serious students of the New Testament would argue that there are apparent discrepancies but none in fact. The four gospels have often been compared to four newspaper reports of an event about which, obviously, one would expect to see varied viewpoints depending on a host of facts regarding the four correspondents.  He admits (p. 1) that the events “appear contradictory and were written from a spiritual viewpoint rather than a historical chronicling of Jesus’s life.” (emphasis added)

(5)  He writes a puzzling sentence: “Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Jesus has led a life that is a continual fulfillment of Jewish prophecy.” (p. 176) Of course, Jesus knew He was fulfilling prophecy, as He often said.

All in all, the book’s central focus is the amazing life of Jesus Christ, a subject of cosmic importance. For new material, the book, while it deserves—in view of its subject---to be read by every human on earth, sheds very little new light on that life. O’Reilly made much of Jesus’ humanity, on the various political pressures which produced His death, of His hesitancy about dying, and about the exquisite suffering on the cross. None of that will come as much of a surprise to those with even a cursory knowledge of the New Testament. All Christians would agree: praise to God is eminently appropriate because a book about His Son is a best-seller in America.

The Norah O’Donnell Interview 

The interview was rather bland. The vast majority of modern media figures would naturally give O’Reilly, or any other Christian, a hassle for believing God induced anybody to write anything. O’Reilly was careful to state, and re-state, that he only felt that the Spirit of God wanted him to write. The surprise is that O’Reilly was surprised by the push-back. Has he not read the New Testament? Again, O’Reilly comes close to pillorying those who take the New Testament literally, and then writes a book in which he largely does so himself. He says that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” but not from the cross because “nobody could hear Him.” The reader might choose to trust Luke (Luke 24:34) who, conceivably, had more accurate information than we do today.  He said that he studied Jewish, Christian, Roman, and Muslim sources in preparation for writing the book. Perhaps the inclusion of Muslims was a slip; Mohammed was born almost six hundred years after Jesus was crucified.

Bill Anderson

October 2013