Death is a difficult subject to discuss. Some deaths are not just tragic, but transform the landscape of human existence. Such are a recent triad of works by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.
O’Reilly is a journalist and political talk show host on Fox News. His co-writer, Martin Dugard has written several works and collaborated with O’Reilly on the Killing series.
The latest book, Killing Jesus: A History. It follows his first two books, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, two assassinations which shook American history.
O’Reilly brings same journalistic look used with Lincoln and Kennedy to a killing with even greater consequences. Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to a Roman cross under the coercion of Jewish leaders and with the apathy of a Roman prelate who could have stopped it. From
O’Reilly, a Catholic by upbringing, admits this is not a theological treatise. He approaches the crucifixion of Jesus through they eyes of a historian and journalist, not a theologian. This book is not a sermon or Bible class, but a historical treatment of a figure and even that has tremendous theological and spiritual consequences. O’Reilly’s historical eye colors his approach to a figure bigger than history itself.
Using the organization of the timeline employed in previous books, O’Reilly methodically leads the reader down the path leading to Golgotha. He begins his story with Julius Caesar and the foundations of the Roman empire. With that backdrop, he comes to the Galilean hills surrounding the sea to sketch the man Jesus of Nazareth. (O’Reilly uses the gospel accounts as primary and reliable sources.)
He paints the historical and cultural background of the first century in a unique way. Characters like Herod the Great take on human, not historical dimensions. The description of the major players such as the Pharisees, Scribes, Sanhedrin, High Priest, and Pilate bring depth seldom seen. The reader cannot do anything but hate Augustus Caesar and Herod Antipas. The fierce hatred of the Romans by the Jews of Jesus’ time takes on a hotter hue. His detailed description of crucifixion stabs the reader with the true brutality of both the act and the callousness of those who carried it out. I had never considered what kind of man it took to be part of the Roman execution squad. I have to admit, even with a graduate theological education, O’Reilly’s book provided insights I have yet to read in dusty commentaries.
Most will have a problem with the basic approach of O’Reilly. He presents the idea of the resurrection but does not draw a conclusion about it. Perhaps the reason is the book is about the death. Some readers would like a pronouncement of faith. The might wonder why O’Reilly did not deal with the claims of Jesus. Yet, the facts, when presented, force the reader (or listener) to come to their own conclusion. Such was the nature of Jesus’s preaching (who do men say that I am?) and apostolic proclamation (do you believe?). In the story of Jesus, once the facts are clear, it is hard to escape the conclusion which must follow.
You may not like O’Reilly’s treatment of Jesus. It is earthy and human. It is not a sermon designed to save but a history designed to illuminate. Yet, armed with his descriptions you develop a deeper understanding for Biblical events which occurred.
Killing Jesus: A History by BIll O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. MacMillan Press, 2013. 352 pages.
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