I don’t like Bill O’Reilly, his bombastic, vitriolic ways or his divisive cable talk show. But, that hasn’t prevented me from buying ‘Killing Lincoln’ and, more recently, ‘Killing Jesus.’
The former is a ludicrous examination of the Lincoln assassination, and concocts a bizarre, Oliver Stone-like theory that the Great Emancipator’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, was the mastermind of a conspiracy to kill Honest Abe in order to ensure Lincoln’s vow to ‘show towards none and charity to all’ wouldn’t happen. O’Reilly says Stanton wanted Abe whacked to ensure the South would be severely punished (which Radical Reconstruction must assuredly accomplished).
Killing Jesus is an equally lightweight, superficial account of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Relying almost solely on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, O’Reilly recounts the same, basic story we lapsed Catholics know all too well.
The only contributions, if they can be called that, are disturbing and all-too-gory details about the punishment meted out by Romans to revolutionaries such as Jesus. In fact, anyone wanting to know exactly how to recreate a crucifixion at home would love Killing Jesus.
O’Reilly’s Cliff Notes stand in stark contrast to the meticulously researched examination of the same, historical Jesus by Reza Aslan in Zealot.
O’Reilly ignores much of Aslan’s research (which was based on the incredibly thorough records kept by the ancient Romans who occupied Judea when Jesus did his thing).
In fact O’Reilly either overlooks, or fails to mention, such documented Roman facts as these:
- Jesus of Nazareth was one of hundreds of self-proclaimed messiahs who roamed the Judean countryside with one, single-minded goal: the overthrow of the Roman oppressors. The word messiah meant king of the Jews, and was intended to indicate a man who would one day restore home rule of Judea to the Jewish populace.
- Jesus attracted throngs of followers to his various sermons NOT because of the words, but because of the miracle-making. In fact, miracle-workers were highly paid professionals in those days and considered the professional equals of doctors and lawyers. Aslan says Jesus’s marketing genius was to not limit his wondrous acts solely to a few, well-healed one-percenters but, rather, to perform them in front of the masses. Along with John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth understood the power of word of mouth.
- Roman records contain no record whatsoever of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod or Pilate’s ceremonial washing of his hands and offering the throngs in Jerusalem a choice between Jesus and Barrabas. John and Jesus were just two more revolutionaries who were quickly dispatched with no ceremony or histrionics.
Last, but not least, O’Reilly never mentions the intense schism that divided the apostles in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’s crucifixion.
James (who was most likely one of Jesus’s many brothers and sisters) wanted to keep the flame alive. But, he never suggested his older brother was the son of god.
Luke, on the other hand, was interested in publicizing the brand of Luke (and, indeed, proclaimed himself Jesus’s favorite disciple in his gospels). Indeed, it was Luke who decided to bestow the surname Christ on Jesus, and proclaim him the son of god.
Not surprisingly, Go B Love, the Born Again Christian website, worships Killing Jesus and, dare I suggest it, is making a killing by offering the book on its website.
In my mind, though, and as Cervantes wrote long ago in Don Quixote, ‘The proof lies in the making of the pudding.’ The proof of the academic rigor ANY author applies to his or her subject is always found in the source notes and appendix. O’Reilly’s is only five pages long; Aslan’s is 63 pages.
And, to put the final nail in the cross (to mix metaphors), one of O’Reilly’s asterisks speaks volumes: In describing the type of primitive hut Jesus, Mary and Joseph inhabited in ancient Nazareth, he notes, ‘There were no indoor bathing or restroom facilities.’ Do tell. And, here I’ve thought all along that Jesus showered and sat in a hot tub after returning from 40 days and nights in the desert.
It’s a sorry statement about modern society that many Americans have crucified Aslan’s book solely because of his Arab descent. Yet, O’Reilly continues to rake in millions for hastily written, sensationalized books that capitalize on the deaths of Lincoln, Jesus and John F. Kennedy.
There ought to be a law. Or, at least a parable.