I’ve tried to avoid acquiring this book by Bill O’Reilly and his mysterious co-author. And thought I could given the emerging number of critical reviews of it by colleagues in the field (for example, see Candida Moss’ review HERE and Anthony Le Donne’s HERE). But at the local level, literally, when speaking with friends and acquaintances around here who have read, or are reading the book, I see the need to familiarize myself with the contents of this NYT bestseller in order to address it strengths (if any) and weaknesses. But, until I read the thing entire, I’ll start with just a couple observances from the first 15 pages (only the first 15!) that have me worried.
To begin with, the authors claim the book is a “fact-based” book, which is from a historical perspective, an ostensible declaration given the kind and character of the source materials available to us. That said, the four canonical Gospels are very good sources for historical information about Jesus. But that information cannot simply be lifted from these texts since all of them were written with a clear bias and intent, namely, to proclaim the words and deeds of the son of God and Messiah, so that folks who read (or better, hear) these things might believe. It is evident from the start that O’Reilly thinks the four gospels can be trusted as straight, unalloyed presentations by eyewitnesses of what Jesus said and did, as well as other events related to his life. This opens the book to all sorts of problems from the very get-go.
Another glaring omission to the book is a description of the authors’ methodology, something that is usually part and parcel of a “historical” book. If an author is either unwilling, or unable to articulate his/her methodology a/o presuppositions, then the book would be better off described differently, at least not as a historical fact-based book. Perhaps “fictive historical-fiction”?
If you haven’t seen O’Reilly’s agonistic encounter with Notre Dame professor Dr. Candida Moss on his own television show (He invited her to discuss the book. Moss deftly discloses a number of problems with the book), it is worth a watch. It becomes clear when watching the exchange, that O’Reilly intends to avoid dealing with texts that he thinks do not support his argument by labeling them “theological.” This is the case since, according to O’Reilly, “Jesus stayed out of politics.” Thus, the story wherein Jesus tells the rich man to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and then come follow him, is labeled by O’Reilly as “theological” and not historical/political. Further, when Jesus says its easier for a camel to go through a space the size of a needle’s eye than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, this again, is “theological” and not historical/political. In this fashion, O’Reilly avoids dealing with texts that undercut his portrait of a Jesus who, according to O’Reilly, lived in a world where politics and religion were separate, and thus can be treated separately. Problem is, O’Reilly is apparently unaware that in Jesus’ time and place, religion and politics were embedded in each other, so that his claim that “Jesus stayed out of politics” is a rather crass ethnocentric anachronism.
As early as pages 14 and 15 of the book, this “fact-based” book gets “the facts” wrong. In one footnote, we are informed that the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell in 722 BC to “the Philistines” (!), and not the Assyrian Empire. In another footnote, the date of the Jerusalem Talmud ( if that is the one the authors are referring to, which isn’t clear. The other, more prominent one is the Babylonian Talmud) is incorrectly placed around 100 AD.
So, goes the start of my experience of Killing Jesus. More to come.