I’m about a third of the way through Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus, which has been widely purchased since its release several months ago. Just O’Reilly’s popularity among so many evangelicals and his earlier books, Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy, ensured that this third installment would be a success. I really don’t care for O’Reilly’s politics, shows or most of what he writes. I think he is a good moderate, worthless when it comes to it. So reading his book is a bit of surprise to me. I didn’t buy the book, but a friend sent it to me in order to get my take on the book.
Just reading the introduction was almost enough to make me toss it in the trash. I’m glad that I didn’t. Not that O’Reilly is correct on his views of Christ and the world in which he lived, but he does an excellent job in recounting the history and the world of the First Century. He gives us background on what is taking place in Rome and Jerusalem. He brings us to the crossroads of Christ’s death and all the political currents that helped bring about Christ’s death. What he fails to do is see God’s hand in any of it.
O’Reilly treats the entire episode as if it was completely void of God’s hand or Christ’s willingness to go to the cross. This is where the book falls short. I’m actually quite glad that it does because I can recommend the book for its historical depiction of the events and culture of the day, without having to worry about O’Reilly’s bad theology shinning through. O’Reilly is truly writing from the vantage point of not knowing Christ or being known by Christ. He almost comes out and says this in the introduction when he writes: “We know so little about Christ.” Historically speaking, we know a lot more about Christ than any other person in history for the first 1800 years after his death.
What O’Reilly fails to see and know is that Jesus Christ is the only person in history that we can know on a real level and be known by Him. Of all those who are recorded in history, none of them can be known like Christ can. This is because Christ comes with the vantage of the Holy Spirit dwelling in His followers. So we don’t just know thing about Him, we know Him. He knows us. He is involved in our lives. His Spirit opens our eyes to the words of Scripture and makes them real to us, showing us their validity.
O’Reilly doesn’t act as if he has this benefit when it comes to Christ. I don’t think he believes in the miracles, or the words that Christ uttered. That is why he could write a book from a “purely” historical vantage point and not get caught up in the miracles and spiritual nature of Christ’s ministry. But it would have been far better for O’Reilly to know Christ and write from the advantage of having the Holy Spirit enlighten his mind to the words of Christ as well. It is sad that this isn’t the case.
My point here is to say the book is worth a read. Notice the singularity of that statement. I point that out because I know some would be tempted to use the book for a Bible study, or a Sunday school class. Please don’t! Spend your time reading and studying the Bible instead. However, I say it is worth a read because O’Reilly and his cohort, Martin Dugard, do a fairly decent job in the history aspect of the book. They really do help set the scene for the world that the Second Person of the Trinity stepped into. From the Roman history that is so vitally important to the way in which the Jews lived under Roman rule. The world Jesus was born into was a very cruel world and the book truly captures this reality. It also shows the Romans love for crucifying their enemies. Jesus was not the only Jew to be crucified in those days and Killing Jesus helps us see that.
This is important to know because at a point during the crucifixion of Christ, a Centurion declares Jesus to be dead. Many liberal theologians have said that the Centurion was wrong and Jesus was merely swooning. But if you know that the Centurion is not just a warrior for the Roman Empirie, but an expert on killing people via the cross, then you can see that he knew a dead person when he saw one. He was an expert in this process. Having not read the entire book, I’m not sure what spin O’Reilly will put on this aspect, but I’m sure it will be disappointing given O’Reilly’s tendency to punt anything on a supernatural level. This is more sad for him than it is for his readers.
For another great review of the book, read Paula Rodriguez’s review here. She writes:
O’Reilly’s biggest problem is that he does not appear to understand what Jesus’s purpose on earth really was or what he actually accomplished. The book jacket tells us that “Killing Jesus…recounts the seismic, political and historical events that made Jesus’s death inevitable.” And in their book, the authors do tell us the facts about how Jesus died; they tell us what was going on in the world around him when he died; and they tell us why others wanted him dead. But they don’t tell us the truth about why he died. Their arguments are that the world and its forces held control over Jesus the Nazarene and that those forces eventually led to his death.