Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review - 'Killing Jesus' by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard is one in a series of 'Killing'  books that include Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy.  I did not read either of these books prior to reading Killing Jesus.  The book is intended to be a history of the crucifixion event and not a Christian commentary but O'Reilly, who claims a Catholic faith, treats Christianity fairly and with due respect.  The book is, in fact, dedicated "To those who love their neighbors as themselves".  This is a clear reference to Matthew 22 and Jesus' reply to the Pharisees and Sadducees who, in an attempt to discredit Him, asked Him to point out the 'greatest commandment'.  I see his dedication as pointing toward those who are true Christ followers.

While I have essentially given up television (with the exception of NFL Football - Go Colts!) I have, in the past, watched O'Reilly's news and commentary program on the Fox network, The O'Reilly Factor.  It was one of the last regular programs on my watch list before deciding I simply had better things to do.  Thus I am familiar with O'Reilly's political views and the manner in which he approaches current and historical events.  I find him to be largely fair, and refreshingly open and unapologetic about his personal biases, most of which align reasonably well with my own.

O'Reilly draws from a collection of extra-biblical sources developed from the rich and extensive documentation left by the Romans themselves and, as one would expect, from the four Gospels.  True to his journalistic background he is careful to site his sources and references, and dedicates a small section at the end of the book to these sources.

The book begins with a lengthy discussion of the political and social world into which Christ was born with references to events more than 500 years prior to Jesus' birth.  O'Reilly's summary of the historical events that shaped the Roman Empire are engaging and sufficiently detailed to give the reader an emotional as well as intellectual feel for the combination of political might and moral decrepitude of the period.  O'Reilly starts with the time of Christ's birth and weaves a path back and forth through time pointing out significant events and personages that shaped the character, both good and evil, of the Roman Empire at the time of Christ.

After laying the historical, political and social foundation in the first four of twenty one chapters (plus 'Afterword', 'Postscript', 'Sources', 'Acknowledgements', 'Illustration Credits' and 'Index'), O'Reilly turns to the life of Jesus Himself.  He describes the significant events that influenced and shaped Jesus' relationship with the Jewish religious establishment, the Roman authorities, his Disciples and followers, and the general population around the region.  I find the descriptions to be generally true to the Biblical accounts.  O'Reilly draws some conclusions that are not directly attributable to a biblical chapter and verse, but are nonetheless reasonable and largely consistent with the attitudes expressed in the chapter and verse writing of the Gospels.  Coming to the book with a Protestant background (Church of Christ) I do not know if these conclusions are based on extra-biblical Catholic writings and thinking, simply the conclusions of a professional journalist, or literary 'seasoning' to keep the reader engaged.  In any case, a Biblically informed reader will be able to quickly identify these excursions and make their own judgments on validity.

The chapters that describe the hours and events leading up to and including the crucifixion are especially engaging.  The picture O'Reilly paints of the violence of Jesus' treatment at the hands of both the Jewish and Roman authorities is graphic, but respectfully done.  It does give a believing reader a deeper appreciation for Christ's suffering leading up to the crucifixion and is consistent with other Christian authors', (e.g. Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ) descriptions.  Likewise, O'Reilly's account of the crucifixion is well done and consistent with the Biblical record.

Chapter 21 ends with two women at an empty tomb and the words, "To this day, the body of Jesus of Nazareth has never been found.".  The 'Afterword', acknowledges the Biblical account of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances and the centrality of Christ's resurrection to the Christian faith.  It goes on to state how the each of the other important personages (Judas, the remaining eleven disciples, Pilate, and others) lived and died.

I would recommend Killing Jesus to all, and especially believers, as another view of Jewish and Roman society around the time of Christ's sacrifice.  I would also recommend, as the reader approaches the passion week in the book, that he or she take the time to read the biblical account of the passion and crucifixion to ground himself or herself as they read through O'Reilly's account.   The book was never intended to be "The Gospel According to Bill" and does not pretend in any way to be such.  The reader who goes in expecting to gain a deeper understand of the times, traditions, and society surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will not be disappointed.

Col. 1:9-12,


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