Last spring I watched the National Geographic special based on Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s book Killing Lincoln. I need to state, right off the bat that I am not a fan of Bill O’Reilly. I find him smug and often times condescending. I think he is very intelligent, but gets wrapped up so tightly in his world view that he can’t see the forest for the trees.
I was not overly impressed, with Killing Lincoln, I found nothing extraordinary in the production and overall no real revelations. It was a nice retelling of the story in a narrative form, but nothing more.
A friend shared with me their copy of Killing Jesus: A History and asked me to read it. The title was a giveaway that I would not like it. Calling anything written about Jesus as the definitive history is a bit presumptuous since the main source for all of their material is not history but rather “theological history”. They conclude their introduction with these words:
“the incredible story behind the lethal struggle between good and evil has not been fully told. Until now.”
I guess for 2,000 years we have gotten it wrong --- thank God they came along to straighten us all out.
Unfortunately there book is filled with so many FACTUAL errors that it made me laugh out loud a number of times. Unfortunately, most casual readers of the story would never know that they are wrong and would just be taken in with the narrative.
And in that regard, I think they do a good job. If they were to have called this “historical fiction” I would not have nearly the issues with them. But Mr. O’Reilly, in his usually smug manner wants us to believe that he has it all figured out (and Geraldo Rivera found Al Capone’s filled vault). I felt like I was reading one of Max Lucado’s books which present a very definite theological understanding of “historical” events.
When I began reading the book, I started writing down all the errors that I caught. I got so busy taking notes that the flow of the story was lost, so eventually I quite. First and foremost is a presumption that they make: that the authors of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were eyewitnesses to the events that they record and that they did so in an objective historical fashion. That view is so far off the mainstream that it is laughable. The Gospels are not “history” as we tend to define it today (objective accounts of events), but rather theological narratives of Jesus to help us understand who they believed he was. There was nobody writing the stuff down --- nobody thought it was important until after the resurrection event.
A few other glaring errors; on page 14, in a footnote, they state that the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Philistines in 722 BC. Unfortunately, the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians. On page 90 they tell us that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Nowhere is that found even in the Biblical text. The idea comes from Pope Gregory the first (Gregory the Great, c. 540-604) during a sermon on Mary he declared that Mary was the prostitute from Luke’s Gospel.
On page 147 (again in a footnote) they make this ridiculous claim. “Women in Jesus’ time were considered equal to men”. In other words, for the next 2,000 years we went backwards in equality.
I could list many more, but I think you get the point.
Killing Jesus is a good novel, a good piece of fiction of what it might have been like during the last few days. But overall it misses the point. If you want to read about the passion of Jesus, and are up to the challenge I would suggest Raymond Brown’s classic (outdated but still valuable) Death of the Messiah. Or for a more modern take: Borg and Crossan’s The Last Week.
I do not recommend this book!