As noted earlier, I am making my way through Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus. Last night, I finished Part I, and so I thought this would be a sensible place to give a review thus far.
The book is actually divided into 3 parts; Part I, appropriately titled The World of Jesus, predates Jesus childhood by a hundred years or so and gives a history of the Roman Empire from about 100 BC up to the time Jesus is born. This generally deals with the history of Julius Caesar and his successors. In terms of the life of Jesus it covers his birth through just before He is baptized.
Part II then deals with Jesus earthly ministry from His baptism in the Jordan River through just before Palm Sunday; and Part III covers Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday.
First the good: we often times think of the Bible as completely separate from world history; almost as two parallel lines that never cross, much the way we often view world history and US history. And yet, the reality is that world history and Biblical history are intertwined, you cannot tell one without the other. So O’Reilly’s look at the history of the Roman Empire, particularly the desires of first Julius Caesar and then his successors to be called ‘son of god’, sets up an interesting background for the one who is coming who truly is God’s Son.
When Jesus declares Himself to be the Son of God, the Jews and the Romans are immediately equating that with Caesar. At first I thought the retelling of world history was a waste, but O’Reilly is to be commended for this as the connection is really quite telling in terms of setting the background for what will follow.
Now the questionable. The book is Killing Jesus, yet it actually is telling the entire life of Jesus; starting with His birth. So what we actually have amounts to a compilation of the four Gospels. However, as anyone who has read the Gospels will tell you, even the details are short on details. So O’Reilly ads details to form a narrative. For instance, the account of Jesus staying in the temple is filled with information regarding the manner in which the people traveled home, how it is understandable Joseph and Mary would not see Jesus for a whole day, how the Roman taxes are burdensome, and then the layout of the temple, and how difficult a task Joseph and Mary were actually undertaking to find Jesus.
Now while all of this may be true; the text in St. Luke does not mention any of it. Nor do the Gospel writers describe much about how people dressed, or what the feelings were toward Rome in Israel or toward the various King Herod’s who sit on the throne. So O’Reilly has taken the Gospels and added a more human perspective to them; which may be helpful, but there is also a reason some of this stuff was left out in the first place: the focus is one Jesus, not on the culture.
Which brings us to the ugly: the devil is in the detail. While the text of the book is basically historical, and can all be supported by historical data, and can be found helpful by many people; the footnotes are a different story. The footnotes reveal where O’Reilly really stands, and it is the footnotes that are going to be the most controversial.
The footnote on page 22 discusses the historicity of the Gospels. While O’Reilly calls the Gospels reliable, elsewhere he declares that they are written from a spiritual perspective and not a historical one. It is clear that O’Reilly does not cling to verbal inspiration, or that the Bible is inerrant.
The footnote on page 67 is largely incoherent, except for the fact that O’Reilly says that the Jews came to be called Hebrews, which is wrong. The people are called Hebrews in Exodus and never in the New Testament, where they are exclusively called Jews.
The footnote on page 79 deals with whether or not Jesus had brothers and sisters; the Greek word can be used for brothers, or it can be used for cousins. The footnote clearly pushes for cousins or step-brothers, arguing for the perpetual virginity of Mary. Perhaps the oddest part of this note is the statement that those who do not hold to the perpetual virginity of Mary are ‘Christian sects’.
And that is as far as we are right now. Part II is entitled Behold the Man and begins with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan.
The book is a surprisingly quick read thus far; however based on the footnotes and other comments I have heard O’Reilly make, I am not sure if I can recommend this book to others.
As I said with the miniseries The Bible on The History Channel, read the book and go to church.