Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why O'Reilly's "Killing Jesus" Nearly Killed Me

By now many will know that Bill O’Reilly has written a new book titled Killing Jesus. The Fox News conservative pundit has already published two other books of the same genre – Killing Kennedy (2012) and Killing Lincoln (2011). I once borrowed an audio copy of Killing Lincoln that I listened to on a trip. I admit that I found it interesting. So, while I do not subscribe to O’Reilly’s flavor of politics and had never watched his O’Reilly Factor, I thought I would see what he had to say in Killing Jesus. Having finished the book I thought I would share my impressions with you.


I am not sure where to begin with this book. I can’t provide a serious review because it is hard for me to believe that he published it with a straight face. This book is horrible on so many levels. O’Reilly claims that he and his co-writer, Martin Dugard, have uncovered a narrative about Jesus that is fascinating and frustrating; a story that has not been fully told until now in this book (pp. 2, 4). However, a simple read of any undergrad Introduction to the Gospels textbook would demonstrate that O’Reilly doesn't know what he is talking about.

Of all the problems with this book it is his complete lack of understanding about history that is most frustrating. He claims to separate myth from history, but I don’t think he knows the difference. He certainly doesn't have a coherent methodology. Not only does he not understand how history writing works (both now and in antiquity), it is obvious that he makes it up as he goes along or he just gets it plain wrong.  For instance, he in correctly writes that the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed in 722 BC by the Philistines when even Wikipedia knows that it was the Assyrians that conquered Samaria, not the Philistines (p. 14). In another place he discusses Luke’s story of the twelve year old Jesus teaching in the temple (2:41-48). O’Reilly, who claims to be using “classical” sources in his research, says that the event took place on March 23, AD 7 . . . in the afternoon (p. 70). Really? He knows the date and the time? Where he got this information from is a mystery. At times his “evidence” comes from Medieval Jewish sources that would have no bearing on the first century. Often he uses Josephus injudiciously. And there are some typos that make the whole situation even sadder. One such example is found on p. 241 where Pilate calls “the high priest and church elders to announce his decision.” Church elders!? Me thinks Mr. O’Reilly gets ahead of the story here. I could go on, but this handful of examples demonstrates that his claim to be a “historical investigator” doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

Adding to problems of the book is the really bad writing. At times I could hardly look at the page because my eyes were in pain from what the authors clearly thought were clever sentences. Lines like “But the young Jesus is not long for this small town” (p. 81) or “The Plot to kill Jesus is about to unfold. But Jesus has other plans” (p. 171) and “Jesus travels with a dozen grown men, each with a man-size appetite” (p. 199). O’Reilly makes Jesus sound more like a hero in an action film than a traveling religious teacher. While I tried not to skip any pages, there were times I had to skim just to keep myself from banging the book against my head.

One point that has been made by some reviewers is that O’Reilly’s Jesus ends up as an anti-tax Republican. While it is true that he does highlight the oppressive tax system of Rome, I can’t say that he beats that drum consistently. It certainly is there, but I don’t think that Bill has created Jesus in the image of the Tea Party. But it’s possible I missed something during those times when I had to read with my eyes closed lest they burst into flames.

As one of my former students has pointed out to me, Bill probably didn't write this book. It was most likely written by a ghost writer, I assume his co-author Martin Dugard. On a recent 60 Minutes interview Bill claims that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the book (see below). If this is true, it’s too bad the Holy Spirit didn't help him to do a better job of it.

I have spoken to some who, although they may be fans of O’Reilly’s brand of politics, are suspicious of what he is trying to do here. I think they all realize that Bill can smell the money. I recommend that you NOT buy this book. You would be better served by sending the $20 to a local organization that provides outreach for the poor in your area.


Finally, I admitted above that I had listened to and enjoyed Killing Lincoln. After reading Killing Jesus I now question everything that is in that book as well. I will be talking to a Lincoln scholar in the next week. 


29 comments:

  1. I had read excerpts online and seen egregious errors, but wow, this is some really poor writing and research (if we can even call it that). Just a money-making gimmick. Kind of surprised any publisher would let it go to print.

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    1. "Killing Jesus" shows a shocking lack of knowledge, literacy and respect for the reading public.

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    2. I agree with the above. I would never read O'Reilly's book, my book is the Bible.
      He is so full of himself.

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    3. Bill O'Reilly is a Hollywood writer of history who swears up and down that they've consulted all of the experts, but in the end it is all about the drama, controversy, love story, and gratuitous violence that sells it. The real problem is that people don't read real history books (only editorialized textbooks) so they will never know the actual difference. I would call Bill O'Reilly's book more essays than academic and leave it there at the door of interest or entertainment. That goes for all of his books.

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    4. I am watching "Killing Jesus" now checking for biblical inaccuracies and cannot believe my ears. How Bill O' Reilly could even attempt to reflect on the life of Jesus when he knows so little of the Bible is inexcusable. This is a distortion of the truth, plain and simple.

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  2. I saw a copy of the book beside the bed. Evidently my wife bought it. Of course it's bad history and bad theology. John, wake up. There's a long tradition of bad history and bad theology at play here. And of course the Holy Spirit gets sock-puppeted in this context. The real question is what should I say, or do? I think the right answer is... nothing. Who cares why anyone killed Jesus. Real problem is keeping a peaceful home.

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  3. When I heard O'Reilly comment that Jesus could not have said the things attributed to him on the cross by eyewitnesses Matthew, Mark and John, and investigative reporter Luke, because he was being crucified which is a death of suffocation and he was too far away, I decided that the book would not be a good investment. I agree, O'Reilly is a little too far to the left for me.

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  4. Forget Killing Lincoln, the book you want to read is Manhunt by James Swanson. As for Killing Jesus, my objection is that it is subtly anti-semitic. If his book is history, not theology, then anyone who denies history is either stupid, delusional or evil. What does that make the Jews who deny obvious history?

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  5. As strange as this may sound I had to leave the 'Christian Church' in order to see into the mystery of the fellowship which is life in Christ. I began my faith quest with just one thought. That thought was that 'Something' is responsible for the fact that anything exists at all.

    I spoke to that 'Something' that no longer came with a description to go with it. I was looking up at the night sky feeling disorientated because I had no 'safe harbor' of belief which I did have when life was explained by the doctrines of the Church.

    As I sat there looking up at the stars bewildered by having no beliefs and hungry beyond description to understand what existence meant the following words came to me; "The universe is a friendly place."

    I read the Upanishads, The Lao Tzu, and Buddhist Dharma. In each of them I recognized the same kernel of meaning I had noticed in the teaching of Jesus and Paul.

    In a long long journey of faith and despair I came to consider Christ by understanding him through the concepts of the Logos and the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end and sustainer of all experience.

    I do not call myself a 'Christian' because the word is associated with organized religion and dogma that lead me to unbelief. Despite that, I have a faith that lives and speaks to me.

    I am grateful for having exchanged belief for faith.

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    1. Whatever keeps you warm at night, man. Even if it is total rubbish.

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    2. Paul taught the ressurection of Jesus. He taught that Jesus died for our sins so that we can live in peace with God and man. Jesus gave us the Church to partake in Christian fellowship. We grow in faith and sanctification together not apart. Read revelation, it deals entirely with Jesus church that you no longer partake in apparently.

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    3. Hi,
      Thank you for your words. I have come to a better understanding of Christ outside of organized religion as well. Not that I have gained an understanding, I embrace reading the Bible. Once thing is for certain, I love Christ, and I suspect you do to. Faith is a much deeper experience than belief.

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    4. I hope your growth continues and you see that your sins are just as numerous and serious as the sins of us self-identified "Christians" with whom you wish no association. +Peace of God+

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  6. I saw the tv interview, and it was simply terrible. O'Reilly made an ineffective argument for writing on the topic of Jesus' death, and he glibly rejected the New Testament testimony as if he were opposing a political moderate.

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  7. The one that got me was there never was a hegira because Egypt was too far and there were no buses. When he is not playing Pope you ought to see him playing General. Next he will claim he has found the bones of Mohammed. he dug up a yellow cab buried outside a Nazareth Disco and the hack license said Mohammed. Wait for my book Killing O'Reilly.

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  8. Your review actually made me laugh out loud in two spots: skimming to avoid banging the book against your head and having your eyes burst into flames. Brilliant. I too rolled my eyes numbers of times at the action hero Mickey Spillane writing style.

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  9. Dear Professor Byron! Are your books really that expensive? I went to Amazon and they quoted even higher prices. I am quite amazed. Ed Ross

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  10. Dear Ed,

    Yes, I am sorry to say they are. I do have a commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians that is coming out later this year. It will be about $35. I also have some other things in the works that will be more affordable. One of the drawbacks to publishing with highly respected academic publishers is that no one can afford the books, including the author!

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  11. I can tell you right now as a person who graduated with a degree in history, Killing Lincoln was horrible and it was denied entry into Ford's theatre with good reason. Never mind the historical errors, a simple glance at his 'sources' would tell you he's full of shit. History is written with the aid of secondary sources, but your material should come from primary sources which were scant at best. His book on Lincoln would not pass a cap class's research requirement in the slightest.

    As far as the biblical 'history' sure some of it might be true, but if you read any Livy you learn most historians at that age indulged and never fact checked well not like they would today. In fact, Tacitus never checked his Jewish sources. He took them at their word, so with that in mind I read the bible and take it with a grain salt and realize maybe 5% of it actually happened.

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  12. O'Reilly dismissed the Gospels as being historically inaccurate. That's all you really need to know. His book is just the ramblings of an unbeliever about some mythical "historical" Jesus who exists only in O'Reilly's mind and that of his co-author Martin Dugard. Don't waste your time reading it.

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    1. The sad part is millions who have read it believe it as truth.

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    2. John10:8 Jesus said " No man takes my life from me, I lay it down myself. I have the power to lay it down. I have the power to take it up again. This commandment was given to me by my father". Now, who killed Jesus?

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    3. Re John 10:8
      Right at the Heart Daryl.
      AMEN .....AND AMEN .....

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  13. How many more "Killing" books is the egotistical O'Reilly going to "write" if Dugard dies???? O'Reilly will have to find another ghost writer to make him more $$$$$$ from this garbage.

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  14. Forget about accuracy in KILLING KENNEDY, either. $$$ seems to be his guideline, not historical accuracy. Following the Warren Commission's obsolete and outdated conclusions like a sleepwalker, he ignores the solid facts that show us Oswald was framed for a crime he didn't commit. It was a financially lucrative departure from earlier days when O'Reilly used to claim otherwise. As a turncoat, we may now conclude that this "Catholic" has done the same thing to Jesus Christ, even as he dares to say the Holy Spirit inspired him to write this inaccurate, insipid and indigestible piece of disinformation. The Holy Spirit affirms to Christians that Jesus is the Son of God. So much for "the Holy Spirit made me do it...." in this travesty where Christ as the Son of God is never mentioned-- as if Christ (that means ANOINTED ONE) somehow became the inspiring world class religious figure that he did through a batch of lies by followers who never heard a mumblin' word from their leader of any such thing. Think about it.

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  15. Thank you, Professor Byron, for your reassuring review. It has quelled any urges to follow any more of O'Reilly's work. My reactions to the movie version I watched tonight (free of charge) were much like yours while reading the book. I could not believe my eyes and ears. As a Catholic grandmother, I sat horrified that someone could claim to be Catholic AND to be the author of such flagrant error following an agenda using (inaccurate) history minus theology. The script is what killed Jesus! Heaven help those who know so little that they might take that mishmash with a few Bible verses sprinkled here and there as Gospel.

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  16. For a Lincoln scholar, I recommend Dr. Tom DiLorenzo.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Real-Lincoln-Abraham-Unnecessary/dp/0761526463

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  17. I bought the book used for 6 bucks. Started reading it, then went this evening to a seminar about Jesus' life. The man giving the seminar called the book inaccurate and not to be taken seriously.

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  18. There are theologians (living and dead) who have dedicated entire lifetimes to documenting the life of Jesus, attempting to separate history from myth and even their findings are inconclusive at best. Bill O'Reilly's greatest achievement is yelling at people who don't agree with him. He's a hack who does not deserve the position to which he has ascended. One doesn't even have to read his nonsense to disqualify him as a credible source.

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