Opinion by Candida Moss, Special to CNN
(CNN)--Bill O’Reilly’s "Killing Jesus: A History" is the best-selling book in the world right now. But it’s far from flawless.
The Holy Spirit may have inspired "Killing Jesus," but he didn’t fact-check it.
Here are five ways it shows:
1. Not everything Roman historians tell you is true
Of the first 80 or so pages of "Killing Jesus," only 15 are about Jesus himself. The rest is history, biography, and politics of the ancient Mediterranean. Much of this is gleaned from Roman and Jewish historians like the imperial biographer Suetonius and the Jewish general Josephus.
These are authors that O’Reilly trusts implicitly. Maybe it’s because Suetonius reads like the National Enquirer, maybe it’s because the Romans loved eagles, but whatever the reason, O’Reilly gives them too much credit.
The Romans were fantastic record-keepers but had different standards for their history writing. O’Reilly refers to the acta diurna – a sort of proto-newspaper recording political events, marriages, and divorces that was read aloud in public – as evidence for accuracy in Roman record-keeping.
But he is wrong to see these as transparent statements of fact.
They were propagandistic: the Roman orator Cicero complains that he is misrepresented in the daily reports, and the Roman governor Pliny retells a story he had heard in which a dog jumped in the river after his deceased owner. It’s a little more Buzzfeed than Wall Street Journal.
2. Paul was not a Christian
According to O’Reilly, Paul was “a former Pharisee who became a convert to Christianity.” Paul was not a Christian; he was a Jew who moved from one branch of Judaism to another.
He never uses the word Christian. It seems that the early members of the Jesus movement referred to themselves as followers of “the Way.”
The word Christian wasn’t used until the end of the first century C.E. The first generation of Jesus' followers lived and died as Jews.
3. The Pharisees were not self-righteous bloviators.
The same old caricature of Pharisees as “arrogant,” “haughty,” and legalistic pervades the book. There is biblical support for this view from the Gospels, but O’Reilly and Dugard claim to be writing history and separating ”myth” from “fiction.”
For the past 30 years, scholarship on the Pharisees has shown that the Pharisees were not hyper-legalistic hypocrites. To make things worse, the authors seem to think that John the Baptist told the Pharisees either to burn or be condemned to hell (a rather peculiar reading of Luke 3:17).
The irony here is that our modern stereotypes of the Pharisees are grounded in Protestant critiques of Catholicism. Protestant Reformers saw Catholics as just like the biblical Pharisees, championing faith through works, and lumped the two groups together as legalizers and hypocrites. O’Reilly and Dugard, being Catholic, are actually stereotyping themselves.
4. Jesus was/wasn’t political
Any follower of Internet memes knows that Jesus can be made to say anything. O’Reilly has vacillated between saying (on his television show "The O’Reilly Factor") that Jesus was not political and arguing in his book that Jesus died to interrupt the revenue stream from the Temple and Rome and that "Jews everywhere long for the coming of a messiah ... [because] Rome will be defeated and their lives will be free of taxation and want."
Even though there’s no evidence for a direct financial link between the Temple and Rome, there’s no doubt that Jesus advocated for the poor. But O’Reilly needs to make up his mind. Is Jesus the man of the people seeking to liberate the oppressed from a heavy tax burden, or is he a peaceful man of God just trying to make a difference?
5. History isn’t just a word, it’s a discipline
O’Reilly acknowledges (correctly) that it’s difficult to look past the agendas of his sources and separate the myth from the history.
Historians prefer early sources and events that are documented in multiple (preferably independent) sources. O’Reilly puts all of this aside and cherry-picks episodes from whichever Gospel version he seems to prefer.
He will sometimes omit stories if they seem historically implausible, but he doesn’t do this consistently. He omits Jesus' words, from the Gospel of Luke, as he is being crucified: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In his CBS interview he explained that it was impossible for people to speak audibly while they were crucified. Fair enough; but then why does he include Jesus’s final words from the Gospel of John: “It is finished”? Is there something about the word “forgiveness” that sticks in the throat?
Apart from the methodological problems, the entire book is written in the style of a novel, not a history book. We hear the thoughts of Herod as he orders the execution of the male children of Bethlehem, for instance. It’s entertaining, but it’s historical fan fiction, not history.
Editor’s Note: Candida Moss is a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame and author of The Myth of Persecution.
Re this review:
1. Her comment about Roman historians is well-taken.
2. To suggest that Paul was not a Christian because he did not call himself one is semantics. He was arguably the FIRST real "Christ"-ian as we use that word today. As well, her dating of the term "Christian" is faulty. Its first use is in Acts, where the followers of Jesus are called Christian at Antioch. This may have occurred as early as 45-55 A.D., but in no case later than 65 A.D. That is not the "end" of the first century, but closer to the middle.
3. The Pharisees were in fact religious legalists, and could be self-righteous. However, it was the Sadducees who were even more legalistic and bloviating.
4. Her point about Jesus' being apolitical is correct. Indeed, the only "political" comment He makes is that about rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.
5. Her comment about history is well-taken. It is indeed a discipline, and is not something one simply regurgitates by cherry-picking from a handful of people in order to serve one's confirmation bias.
"the word Christian wasn't used until the end of the 1st century C.E."???
Technicallly, it wasn't used until much later than that. Folks weren't even speaking English for another thousand years or so.
"without God, we are all just Animals"
Speak for yourself.
True, we are an animal species, and now thanks to genome sequencing, proven to be related to our three Great Ape cousins, the orangutan, the Gorilla, and the Chimpanzee. Wow, you have a really cool god to lie to you all in such a heinous way! :(
You proved my point, without God, your just an animal...think about it your born with survival instincts. if you continue thru life like that, you join gangs, or packs and act like wolfs and take advantage of the weak...you attack things your scared of...Jails are full of animals...we Cage them...guess where they Find Jesus...in Jail...and some become civilized and are let out of cages, will others need to be caged for life...LIfe without GOD...
Sorry, but I can't help you :(
Try not to think about Satan coming for you in your dark moments, it isn't real so you should not be afraid. You have no soul, there is no life after death, and your ideas of gods are false. But always look on the bright side!! You are alive, get up off your backside and get out there and live well!
ZenJahj, you seem to be the one that’s scared of atheism and projecting all sorts of ad hominem nastiness on atheists, likely because at some deep level you fear we’re correct.
I am an animal, as are you, and neither of us has a soul in the immortal sense any more than other animals. As for morality, no god is necessary. I can readily empathize with other humans of good will and can see that murder, assault, theft, fraud, and a thousand other forms of criminality and human-to-human predation are cruel and detrimental to a functioning, beneficial society. The latter, despite miscreants of whom many are religious, is what allows so many of us humans to make a living in this world. Apparently unlike you, based on your comments – and I can only assume you’re speaking for what your own conduct would be were your god not present to prevent it – I don’t need a magical being to tell me the golden rule nor to enforce it by threats of punishment.
MikeFright, if everyone was like you, we would need no police, since you were born perfect, No one had to instill values into, you were just born that way, great. Most children want things that are not their own, they steal and fight with their bothers and sisters, it's the Nature of the Beast...So since you have never been tempted to do anything wrong...which how would you know what was wrong anyways...if you were born in FIJI from cannibals you would have been feed human meat while a baby, is that wrong? not to them, if you were born were eating Dogs is part of the culture is that wrong? how would you know...no ten commandments, no God just make up you own rules, perfect now nothing's wrong if your the leader of that tribe of country...just like the leader of America tells teenage boys grab and gun and kill these people they are bad...so they do...is that wrong? Obama is our leader he say go kill, you do as your told...he's making the rules for you...right...think about it in this Godless society, I want to marry my goat is that ok? on have two wives one male one female...its that ok...who determines that...i can always move to a country were i can have a harem of women and marry a 9 year old...that's ok...I'm confused...can you help me determine what is right and what is wrong...afterall Hilter thought he was right...Just sayin
Yes. We ARE just all animals, god or no god. You got that right. Yet somehow, WITH God, humans seem to act even WORSE than wild animals. An animal in the wild will kill another animal for food; but humans kill each other arguing over which god is the "correct" god. That's just pathetic.
2 Faults with this piece by Candida.
"Paul was not a Christian" perhaps not in name, however he was spreading the teachings of Christ and entreating people to believe in Christ as the Son of God which is what Christians actually do, ie tell people to believe on the Son of God thereby making them Christians. So Candida its safe to say that paul the Jew was actually saved upon believing that Jesus was the Son of God which is what we know to be Christian.
"The Pharisees were not self-righteous bloviators."
Well they certainly were where it mattered for Christians, in the presence of Jesus and in attempts to show up Jesus hence for Christians that characture of the Pharisees sticks.
The pettiness of these two points by Candida makes me wonder whether this was not much more than a dig at a Fox News personality IOT show off here CNN liberal cred!
Nope, she's much more attractive than Bill.
However, Bill O'Reilly IS a self-righteous bloviator.
A review from the department of mythology, too funny.
Not sure how Orielly comes to the conclusion Jesus DIED to interrupt the revenue stream between the temple and Rome. Anyone who is quoted as saying "Who's picture is on this coin? 'Cesar' Then give to God what is Gods and to Cesar what is Cesar's" Doesn't sound like he's really concern with revenue...and especially not enough to die for its interruption.
It is a sort of paraphrase of the percieved Jewish belief of the time. The Jewish people for their Messiah were looking to a restorer of the throne, of the King David. Through the prophets they beleived the messiah would come and restore Isreal to its Davidic glory. However when Jesus appeared and set them free from the oppression of sin, and not the oppression of the Romans they started to persecute him. his death on the cross did free them from opression of sin giving them a closer relationship with God but didn't stop the taxes.
wow, this guy has really gone off the rails.
Yes, it's hard for O'Reilly to separate the actual truth from what he would like it to be. And, likes to spin it for his agenda. Suckers are born every minute.
Apparently the delusional folks are out in force today. The ones who think the Bible is all mythology, that is. Showing once again the difference between having an opinion, and having an informed opinion.
Sorry, Tom, but you're delusional.
Or... the difference between believing in imaginary beings and, well, not believing in ancient fairy tales.
I curious. Can you point out why Bible is not Mythology. All religions/faiths have their versions of mythology. There is Greek mythology, Roman mythology, Hindu mythology etc, just like there is Christian mythology. Part of the mythology is propagating the absoluteness of the professed faith. Bible is part of that mythology.
O'Reilly consistently flips and flops to whatever is expedient at the moment.
There is no "there" there, as far as fact or truth is concerned.
This is the problem with society, no one was there. So how can you say something happened or didn't. God, Jesus, and the Holy spirit all here for you. Have a relationship with God if you want, if not go about your business...in the end you will know the truth.
You cannot have a relationship with Bugs Bunny, either. Get it? Probably not.
@ZenJahj: How do you know Christopher Columbus set foot in the New World? How do you know your own ancestors existed? No cameras, so no photos. What's left? Historical texts, archeological evidence and word of mouth handed down over generations. It seems to work for secular matters. But on Biblical matters everyone is a professional skeptic. How curious.
In the end, you will die, and you will cease to know anything.
And your evidence for that is...
obvious? (150+ years of neuroscience does help a tad too)
O'Reilly gets is quite wrong when he says Jesus could not speak from the cross because of the suffocation. This would be true, except for the fact the feet were nailed. Part of the torture of the cross was to prolong the process as long as possible. With pain, the sufferer would be able to push up with the nailed feet to keep from suffocating. This would have made speech possible, though difficult due to dryness of the throat and pain. I would think the Romans would want their victims to scream out in pain and unleash all kinds of foul language to show that the crucified person was an animal worthy of death. The miracle of the cross is not that Jesus spoke, but that He kept His composure in the face of pain and hurled insults. This led one of the others crucified next to Him to come to his senses as well as the statement of the Roman Centurion. Therefore, there is no need to displace the sayings of Jesus on the cross.
We need look no further than the breaking of the legs of the other victims which would have caused rapid suffocation to prove the point that Jesus died of causes beyond that of suffocation itself. Other than taking the reports we have at face value, there is no way to independently verify that Jesus said these things from the cross. I believe that He did, by the way. However, what I am saying is that Jesus could have said these things from the cross.
Your speaking for Jesus now...hahaha, think about how crazy that is. Realize to sell a book you need controversy...or no one will care...Unless you were there, with Jesus on the cross, you might want to rethink what you really know...
Ms Moss is more than likely from a very conservative brand of Protestantism. There is a silly reference to "The Way" in scripture, but it was never for an organized denomination. Just for the band of believers, apostles, disciples, and recently converted Jews. IPaul would not have been called a Christian during that time. Later in the 1st century the world Christian came into use, and then St Ignatius gave us the word Catholic in a letter in 107 ad. Both Christian and Catholic both came from Antioch. It was verbally in use before that. His mentor Pope Clement was ordained to the priesthood by Peter himself. Catholicism was and still is the only universal church throughout the world. If non- Catholics believe the distortions relating to when the church was founded (The Constantine theory) they might want to visit the Roman catacombs from the late 1st to the early 4th century. They are Catholic to the core. The heresies came around over the following centuries, but the Catholic Church led the fight against them. Everything is not in scripture either. Where is trinity, incarnate, or the protestants altar call in the bible? The bible does not include all that is necessary for salvation. Scripture being profitable is not the same as sufficient. What good is an infallible book without an infallible interpreter and single human beings do not have that power. To say the bible has it all is adding to the text. It never says that. It only says profitable. To say Paul was not called Chrisitian is a silly juvenile point based on Semantics. He believed in Baptism, the Eucharist, and the Trinity.
Question of the day: What makes atheists so darn scared at the mention of the work 'god' that they are forced to go on angry tirades on-line, screaming about how absurd it is that anyone would believe?
Could it be: Fear?
What makes mindless imbeciles believe in bronze age myths?
By name calling and insulting, you have just proven their point.
Paul obviously does not understand logic...
Thank you for making my point
Paul, the only point proven is that you're not very intelligent.
Ah yes, when all else fails, insult.Even if the poster agrees with you. Alas unable to make the connection.
If you don't wish to be insulted, Paul, don't say stupid things. Really, it's not as difficult as you might believe.
What makes imbeciles think that their bigotry against the bronze age is justified as "intelligence"?
Being a cat, I find it unsurprising that you don't understand the meaning of the word, "bigotry".
Sure I do. Your bigotry against the intelligence of the bronze age peoples who recorded the Tanakh is quite obvious.
Your assumption of their intellect is bigotry, since you failed to use logic to come to your conclusions. You used bigotry to come to your conclusions, therefore you are not logical.
...or you could try to bend your noodle around the fact that not all Humans who have zero belief in your fables, are angry :) But stories of invisible pink unicorns, talking snakes, souls, gods, demons, witches, warlocks, other realms of existences, eternal lives etc do get a tad tiresome when Humans in the 21st century still are able to make themselves believe it is true. Maybe in a few more years, there will be an entirely new group of christians who have incorporated the Harry Potter series of books into their belief system?
Congrats! You have the snarkiest comment so far.
Jennifer, humans only use like 10-30 percent of their Brains...Evolve, Understand God and you can use all of your Brain...And Yes Demons are real...but again you haven't evolved your still an animal...attacking things your scared of...that's perfectly Natural...One day, Hopefully you will see the light...and guess what you will get you use your whole brain, and see things that Animals cannot...
Remember Animals do not have a Soul...I do ...Evolve...I'm a Soul man...on a mission from God...Wake up, you can use all your Brain and your soul will live on...or you can just attack things you no nothing about...afterall your just an animal...
Not scared, not forced, not angry, not screaming, not fear.
What would make you say something like that?
Have you read any of these posts? It's like O'reily instulted their mothers? He stated what he believes and the CNN crowd thinks it's their swarn duty, not to uphold any truth, but to smash the idea of faith with all their will! What beside fear will makd someone slash out that way?
Most of us aren't scared of the word 'god' or any other word. Atheists don't fear god, they fear Christians. Why isn't it Christians can't keep their faith to themselves?
Yes. Fear of all those who proclaim they know what God wants and use the force of civil law or worse to impose their will on others.
Is that what this book is doing? Imposing restrictions on your freedom? Sorry. I don't think that's why people here are attacking faith, try again. Maybe you'll convince yourself of something else!
Its the Fear they may be wrong, and there is a God...so attacking people, makes them feel like they have a purpose. Afterall, without God we are all just Animals...so don't expect anything more that attacks for no believers...its all they Got...sad but true...
We are animals whether or not there is a god or not. That's part of the problem with religious beliefs. They make you believe things that aren't true, like we are a "special" animal. Face it. We ARE animals.
jails are filled with animals...Criminals...who think survival by attacking others, stealing, lying, cheating, killing is normal...so imagine No Bible, no Ten commandments...and you create Hitler...and others who have animal like belief systems...So once you Understand the message of Jesus...you shed your animal skin and become a child of God...your no longer an Animal...think about it...what if you were raised by wolfs...Jails are full of them...Zero parents, Zero Guidance, Wall street is full of them also...who warship money, and will do anything to get it...again ...Animals...
hahaha, your saying your still an animal...I have evolved, maybe you should too...Jesus teaches you how...you have nothing to loose and everything to gain...become more like God, than an animal...the world will thank you for it...Peace, Love, and all good things to you my friend...your here for a reason...give it a try...it will blow your mind...
Something tells me that anything Bill O'Reilly says or does has a minimum of five inaccuracies, the real number is probably closer to 15 or 20.
My first thought when I read this headline was, "What? There are only 5 inaccuracies?!"
Let's see now. We have a man (O'Reilly) who is demonstrably full of crap on just about every subject he spouts off about, purporting to tell a historically accurate story about a mythological series of events. Why would anyone spend a dime on this junk?
I notice that when I use the word mythology around Christians in reference to their Christian myths they get upset, but they do not seem to mind when I reference Hindu creation myths, Norse myths, or Greek mythology. But, in India the Norse and Greek stories are also myth, but there the Hindu myths are taken seriously (the christian myths are often seen as spin-off's of Hindu ones).
I read the book and, even though he did live on in spirit, I was very sad when Yoda died. Very sad, indeed.
...and then when Darth dies, all wounded, half his head missing, legs missing etc....when HE is a spirit, he's all put back together again just the way many after life believers believe it! Wow, I'll be the christians loved that bit...
"if your eye gets poked out in this life"
"will it be waiting for you up in heaven.....with your wife?"
It would have been nice if Ms Moss noted in her article that Mr O’Reilly had her on his program to discuss the book and provide her take on it. Furthermore, she should have shared with all of us that she noted to Mr O’Reilly that it was a good book. Check the transcript of the program yourself.
Several years ago, Mr Oreilly responded to an email I sent him. He argued that Jesus would support war if it protected the innocent. The story of Jesus freaking out in the temple was his justification. You decide. Jesus...would...support...war. LOL
Well, since Jesus is YHWH of the Old Testament according to orthodox Christian doctrine, yes. He would support war.
You want "flubs". Read the Bible. What's worse? – Believing any of it.
Tony, you speak in such simple terms that this might elude you. You can verify many areas of the books of the bible. You're as much a simpleton on the matter as those you look down upon.
You can also verify many parts of the Harry Potter books, such as the existence of a Muggle prime minister, cars, the tube, playgrounds, telephones... The best stories are the ones that incorporate a large bit of the "real" world so that you can believe that maybe, just maybe, this fictional world really does exist.
A 300+ lb woman drinking soda at the post office yesterday asked me if I was spreading the word of god to my two young children. I couldn't hide the grin, told her we were working on it, that we'd gone over just a few hundred of the older gods, and that Anubis, god of the dead was proving to be a favorite. Her face dropped a degree, and then my 5 year old asks her if she really thinks she still going to live after she dies? I thought she was going to be sick.
If you are going to lie to yourself daily about metaphysics, you're probably going to have a tough time adjusting to this, the real world. Just 2 cents.
I'd have no problem explaining metaphysics to you or your 5 year old.
hahaha, just teach them about survival of the fittest, and raise them like Animals...Afterall, Without God, we are all just animals...
You forgot the part where everyone in the post office stood up and clapped while you nonchalantly put on a pair of sunglasses.
In other words: this story never happened.
Ah, so it's just like the bible!
Yes, because nothing in the Bible has ever been verified... derp.
Works of fiction frequently include real world events in their fantasy, cat. You, once again, prove your inferior reasoning and intellect.
I'm not a believer in the Bible, so I'm not calling Mobetter a liar as a testament of faith. I'm calling him a liar because he is clearly lying to make himself sound clever. At least the stories in the Bible were made up for social and cultural reasons instead of being about making their authors look cool...
Is every History book ever written completely true, or do you think maybe some of the facts and translations could be a little off...Yet text books fill the classrooms and into the brains of children do go the messages...I Like how the government told US that Martin Luther King was killed by a crazy guy, Yet they the Government was found Guilty of killing him...Google it...Yet My history book i studied in school mentioned nothing about the Governments involvement...We are all just Pawns in a Fallen world...
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