Another Killing Jesus

Stephen Mansfield, Killing Jesus

15 May 2014

It is interesting that two books came out with the same title, at the same time, but with different authors. One cannot normally copyright a title. Of course, Bill O’Reilly wrote the other book with this same title that I reviewed a few days ago. It seems that Mansfield is an evangelical, and has written other Christian type books such as The Faith of Barak Obama, The faith of George W. Bush, The Search for God and Guinness, and Lincoln’s Battle with God. I’ve not read any of those, though I’ve read closely the book I’m reviewing.

There is one caveat. Like Bill O’Reilly’s book, this one denies that the four Gospels can be harmonized at certain points, such as the differing accounts of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. (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.)

Mansfield’s book begins with 6 BC, not with Julius Caesar as Bill’s book so began, and moves from there to AD 30, the year he thinks Jesus was crucified (others think it was 33 BC).

Mansfield tells the story of Jesus’ death from both the side of Herod the Great, who tried to murder Jesus when he was a baby by having all the boy babies killed from two years old and younger, and from the view of the New Testament, which complements the history. He speaks of Herod murdering his wives and sons over the slightest suspicion so no one would be surprised that he would murder a few boy babies (perhaps a dozen). Thus the story begins with Roman history but is heavily weighed by the New Testament itself. He writes of Jesus committing his mother Mary to His disciple John, and speaks of John’s brothers and sisters, thus denying the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Most of the book presents the last week or slightly more of the life of Jesus with many details given from secular history, biblical history, and theological comments from the Gospels. For example, we have insightful statements about Jesus’ trial before Caiphas and Annas. The former was the actual high priest, but he was the son-in-law of Annas, who in turn was the neck that turned the head. We learn such things from secular history, not from the biblical text, and they shed bright light on the text of Holy Scripture. Mansfield connects those details.

Once in a while, Mansfield misses a point. In John 18:5-6 when the soldiers find Jesus to arrest Him, He says I AM, and the soldiers go backwards and fall to the ground. Mansfield rightly detects the divine statement, but he says Jesus stated “I am He,” rather than the more accurate translation “I AM,” which comes from the Greek Septuagint, which in turn is an accurate translation from the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14, which says “I AM WHO I AM.” But at least Mansfield reaches the same conclusion; namely, that Jesus is the I AM of the Old Testament. In the presence of such majesty, the soldiers fell backwards to the ground.

In other words, Jesus went to the cross voluntarily, not by the force of a few soldiers. After all, Jesus is the creator. We often sing that He could have called ten thousand angels, which is true (Matthew 26:53), but He did not need them. All He had to do was manifest His deity, and the soldiers fell down backwards. (It is interesting that Scripture speaks of the lost falling backwards while the converted fall down on their faces. Such is the consistency of Holy Scripture.)

Then about the middle of the book (p. 133 on), Mansfield presents the details of Christ’s death in morbid detail. I’m sure the details are true, but the four Gospels only give us the bare facts of His crucifixion. The Gospels emphasize the theology of what He did, and Mansfield brings that emphasis better than O’Reilly. If you’re seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and all the gore that is presented (again, I’m sure its true because we have ample documentation from other sources), you’ll know how brutal the whippings were and how sadistic crucifixions were, the pain that went with it, and how long it took to die.

In short, this book complements Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus, and I recommend that you read this one also. Ω

Bill O’Reilly, Killing Jesus

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).

Enjoy!