Some months ago I anticipated that Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Jesus, would be a bummer. I’m glad I did not claim to be a prophet because the book was a delightful surprise. It claims to be a history, and it is at least that. I have not read O’Reilly’s other books, Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy; thus, I cannot vouch for those.
I really expected the book to be full of liberal theories, doubting who Jesus claimed to be and what the Church over the centuries has always understood from the Gospel documents.
However, the authors (including Martin Dugard) begin with a history of Rome at the time of Christ’s birth, and with Herod the Great who tried to kill Jesus by killing all the boy babies two years old and under.
The history is detailed, accurate, and fascinating, quoting from such ancient sources as Josephus, Philo, Tacitus and others. They present the assignation of Julius Caesar and other Roman rulers that is the background for Israel under Roman rule and for the murder of Jesus. We read of the romance between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, the murder of Caesar, the suicide of Cleopatra―all leading up to the political background regarding the crucifixion of Jesus. After several chapters of Roman history, we are ready for how that plays into Pilate as Roman ruler over Jerusalem and Judea, leading to the murder of Jesus. Everything is about Jesus is history, and we are led to believe that nothing is fantasy or invented. Indeed, the Roman history is well known, and the documents we have of Jerusalem, Jesus, and the Apostles are many times more than what we have for the history of Rome.
We meet other Roman leaders like the decadent Tiberius, the murdering Herod the Great, his younger son Herod Antipas who murdered John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas―and much more. The whole Roman period reads like a modern day soap opera except that it is worse with Herod the Great murdering his wives and sons, and it is true. Over 100 pages into the book, we are ready for the Four Gospels, with all the historic background to help us understand them.
Then on page 128 and following O’Reilly has Jesus telling Nicodemus that He is the Son of God who has come to save the world. At the end of chapter eight, O’Reilly states:
Jesus will never write a book, compose a song, or put paint on a canvas. But two thousand years from now, after his message has spread to billions of people, more books will be written about his life, more songs sung in his honor, and more works of art created in his name than for any other man in the history of the world (p. 132).
The book does not read like a boring history but is a page turner, not only from the many fascinating facts, but also from the way the authors weave the background, characters, and biblical story together to make this fascinating reading. (The work reminds me of Paul Maier’s work, Pilate, which is also a page turner with its early history and biblical story woven together.)
There is one caveat. Bill denies that the four Gospels can be harmonized at certain points, and he has a tendency to deny that something is true unless it can be confirmed outside the Bible. In other words, often the Bible is not enough. (See my friend’s excellent work, Rev. Lee Ligion-Borden, Ph.D., Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Four Views, One Truth. She points out that differences are not contradictions but confirmations.)
I shall not spoil for you the rest of O’Reilly’s book, but here is the last sentence, speaking of the bodily resurrection of Jesus: “To this day, the body of Jesus of Nazareth has never been found” (p. 258).