Review of Killing Jesus: A History #killingjesus

I recently live blogged Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s latest book, Killing Jesus: A History. You can find them here. If you’ve read those, you can skip this.

Simply put, there is nothing here beyond an attempt at agenda-driven drivel produced for the lowest common denominator. I wish I had my day back.

There are numerous issues with this book, most of which are covered in any Introduction to the New Testament (higher education) class.

Anachronisms, such as calling John the Baptizer (or, as they call him later in the book, John the Baptist) a young man at 40, abound. They call the Apostle Paul a “former Pharisee who became a convert to Christianity.” This is impossible due to the fact Christianity was still very much Jewish while Paul walked the earth. In chapter 5, they write, “The residents of Galilee are independent thinkers. Their persistent belief that they will ultimately control their destiny is one reason Judas of Gamala’s demand that they rise up against Rome had such a profound effect.” The ancient Galileans were not British colonists living in or around 1776. Given the concepts of communal life, limited good, and other social constructs not likely to be challenged seriously for 1600 years, it is impossible to consider such an individualist mind set plaguing ancient Galilee in the early years of what is now the first century. The authors insist — without supplying any evidence — this is what drove the religious revivalism of Jesus.

They destroy context and literary construction to, and I can only assume this based on the evidence of reading the book, hide the actual message of the Gospels. For instance, did you know John the Baptizer proclaimed in his message “this Christ… will punish you in the more horrible manner possible?” The real reason the tax collectors were despised is because they were “diverting Jewish money to a pagan king in Rome.” This is the claim of the authors as they open chapter 6. The attentive student of the New Testament will recognize this exchange as the one found in Luke 3, albeit with a politically conservative spin. John, according to the authors, commands baptism and receives the confession of sins in exchange for eternal life. The authors simply ignore Luke 3.11 where John commands those seeking to repent and, if they have more than they can use, to share it with those who do not.

This is not the only instance of using the current political climate to cloud the Gospel. In one particular footnote, the authors announce that it was the liberal (yes, they used that word) Sadducees who were wealthy and aligned with Rome. Unfortunately, liberal is not a word many would assign to the Jewish sect only using the Torah and denying the progressive theology of the Pharisees.

At no point in the book do they present anything new. Further, at no point in their book do they tell the story completely. They leave out details that might otherwise hurt their credibility in the conservative punditry community. For instance, in a short segment on O’Reilly’s program, he promotes the book by saying Jesus died because of taxes. While early on there is mention of the tax situation in the time of Jesus, nothing really comes of it. However, they do leave out economic situations of the time, such as the limited good and the shrinking availability of the means of production. Only the powerful few could own land and other avenues of wealth, leaving destitute farmers to become social bandits, rising up against both Roman and Jew.

Not that history matters to the authors. In a footnote, the authors state plainly the Tanakh (the entire Jewish bible) was established 500 years before Christ. This is impossible for several reasons, most notably because many of the books weren’t written by that time, not to mention canonical discussions were still held after the destruction of the Temple. They fully accept the Gospels at face value, with no attempt to veil their contempt at modern scholarship or their ignorance at what lies in the Gospels. In fact, they know all the history they need to know, as they note in chapter 1, “Many today challenge these writings, but thanks to scholarship and archaeology, there is growing acceptance of their overall historicity and authenticity.”

But, this is part of their arrogance. In their Note to the Readers, they write, “Much has been written about Jesus, the son of a humble carpenter. But little is actually known about him… In the writing of this fact-based book, Martin Dugard and I do not aim to suggest that we know everything about Jesus. But we know much and will tell you things that you might not have heard.” After reading this book, I returned again to read the last lines of the Note to the Readers. What I thought was hubris seems to be something along the lines of a concern for their own inadequacy. They write, “But the incredible story behind the lethal struggle between good and evil has not been fully told. Until now.”

Their evidence is non-existent, a reality made clear when in chapter 5 they label Josephus a “great historian.” Their goal, to fully tell the story of Jesus, is nowhere reached. While promising a researched narrative they simply rely on a fanciful retelling of the Fourfold Gospel story. It is written, I believe, to appeal to the fundamentalist and the evangelical but fails miserably in the hype induced by Mr. O’Reilly’s comments earlier this year, that somehow Jesus was crucified because he a member of the Taxed Enough Already Party.

Post By Joel Watts (10,115 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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