In Killing Jesus, Bill O’Reilly takes the reader to first century Palestine where Jesus Christ appears on the scene. Roman oppression is rampant and poverty is greater still. O’Reilly provides extensive background on the depraved behavior of several Roman Emperors while highlighting the brief three-year ministry of Jesus before focusing on the events leading up to and detailing his excruciating death.
There is no question that Bill O’Reilly is a brilliant writer and a masterful story-teller. His previous books Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy can attest. I’m happy to say I enjoyed both. And there are some good elements in Killing Jesus as well. His recounting of Roman History is riveting. Although I’m not quite sure why it takes a third of a book, it sets the scene into which Jesus steps. He accurately portrays Jesus’ cleansing of the temple while explaining the corrupt practices of the Jewish leaders. His detailing of the illegal trials, flogging and crucifixion of Christ are pretty solid as he relies heavily on Roman records, Jewish law and biblical sources. His chronicling of John the Baptist’s life and his clash with Herod was fascinating.
However, the majority of the book leaves much to be desired. It is rife with contradiction, misrepresentation, and historical error. O’Reilly characterizes the Gospels as being written “…from a spiritual point of view rather than a historical chronicling of Jesus’ life,” and says they “appear contradictory.” However, he quotes from the biblical record throughout the book when it supports his point of view. Bible scholars agree that the Gospels are eye-witness accounts, written from the personal perspective of each writer, one of which was Luke, the physician, a respected historian of his day. If every account were exactly the same, collusion would be suspected and, therefore, the gospels disqualified as historical accounts.
O’Reilly states that women were treated better in the time of Jesus than in many places in the modern world and were considered equal to men. History contradicts this. Jewish men considered women to be no better than Gentiles, they could be divorced for any reason, and they could not testify in court. It was Jesus himself who elevated women and disregarded the prejudice against them. He also gave women the honor of being the first to announce the news of an empty tomb, a fact which O’Reilly omits. Other omissions include five of the seven statements Jesus made from the cross.
O’Reilly correctly states that Jesus never suggested that the people should rise against Rome. However, he makes the assertion that Rome considered him a threat. This is contradicted in the gospel accounts, which O’Reilly borrows, of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who was reluctant to prosecute Jesus for the alleged infractions of Jewish regulation. As the Jewish leaders threatened riot if he didn’t do as they wanted, he washed his hands of him and turned him over to the Jewish leaders to deal with him themselves.
O’Reilly states that Jesus was thirty-six years old when he died. However, according to Luke’s account, Jesus began his ministry at age thirty and was present at three annual Passover celebrations. This would make him thirty-three when he died.
O’Reilly misquotes scripture when he credits the disciples with urging Jesus to go up to the feast in Jerusalem and declare himself the son of God. Actually, the account of the Apostle John records that it was his brothers who were challenging him.
O’Reilly recalls the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, quoting the apostle John. Then he misrepresents the context of the Scripture when he makes a general statement that Jesus’ point was that “God is about love, not rules.” Actually, Jesus’ whole discourse is about God’s prescribed way of salvation, and man’s responsibility to believe.
On several occasions O’Reilly presupposes Jesus’ state of mind and makes general, unverifiable statements. For example, Jesus is “impressed” with the adoration He receives on Palm Sunday. However, Luke records that Jesus wept over the people as he knew they would suffer because of their rejection of the Messiah. In another example, O’Reilly states that Jesus knows “next to nothing about fishing,” but for the next two pages recalls the story from Luke 5 where, on Jesus’ directions, Peter catches enough fish to fill two boats.
In the most egregious and blatant error of the book, O’Reilly claims that up to a week prior to his death, Jesus hadn’t publicly identified himself as the Christ. However, the gospels are full of clear accounts of Jesus equating himself with God. This is the very reason the religious hierarchy hated him and premeditated his murder from the beginning of his ministry.
Finally, O’Reilly insists that Killing Jesus is not a spiritual book, but a historical one. But one can not separate the historical claims and deeds of Jesus from their spiritual context. If his historical claims are false, then why bother with his teaching. If what he said and did is historically accurate then it has spiritual ramifications for us all.
Killing Jesus had so much potential. Unfortunately, O’Reilly hurts his own credibility and puts into question the documentation of his previous historical accounts. Killing Jesus is full of contradiction, omission, inference, and misrepresentation, all of which were disturbing and unnecessary. It has enough truth in it to be dangerous. The book is neither history nor gospel and should be treated accordingly.