October 4th, 2013
07:09 PM ET
Five things Bill O’Reilly flubs in 'Killing Jesus'
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.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
This is one of the weakest displays of critique of the accuracy of a book I have ever wasted time reading. They were so general and relied on the author's (of the column) determination of excess and the number of instances to substantiate her point. Weak.
Thank you! Was so infuriated over this garbage I had to post... but you did it for me.
Remember O'Reilly is part of the Fox people. Fox News tells fibs and make up the news to get idiots to watch their network. So O'Reilly made up a few things in his book. Is this a surprise?
Remember Fox News cannot broadcast in Canada. Canada has a law that news networks cannot make up stories, or tell lies if it's going to call it's self a new network. It's a entertainment channel.
I can't stand foxnews.. I watch it sometimes (In Canada) and it is full of propaganda... I cannot stand Bill O'reilly and Company...
However, and I have to say this... this is a first... Bill is right about the Bible on this one, and this Candida lady, although she is an intellectual, she is not wise.
Candida, let me say. I love socialism, I am a liberal, in Canada. but I was just watching you and Bill O'reilly, and I've got to say...this is the first time ever, I've got to say, Bill o'reilly is right... ever. You do not need to give away your money to get into heaven.... nor was Jesus for the poor people... he died for ALL, Jesus did however say, "How hard it must be for a rich person to get in the Kingdom" but they can. I'm also very curious... you have a long history of education about the Bible... yet somehow are Catholic. you are an intellectual, but you are not wise.
I'd call anybody who believes in this nonsense "unwise".
Jesus just gave me permission to call you an id.iot
Paul was “a former Pharisee who became a convert to Christianity.” Paul was not a Christian; he was a Jew – WRONG
Bill is correct about this. The Jewish religion came after their Talmud, which was started in 70 AD and finished about 500AD, waaaaaaay after the death of JC. All those before JC in Israel were Hebrews, either Pharisee (common man) or Priestly Sadducee.
The Jewish religion was long before that. it came into existence with Mosaic law.
And your correct? haha. Give me a break.
I like this one: "Paul was not a Christian". Love the strange notion that early "Christians" were somehow not Christians because the word had not yet been coined. If they were followers of Jesus, they were Christians. Sorry Candida (did you know you share your name with a sometimes infectiouos yeast?), that's a load of snot. I've read the letters of Paul. Trust me, he was about as much of what we currently call a "Christian" as one can get. Makes me wonder about your other "facts". Like the Pharisees. Obviously among a large group of people, there were many flavors of Pharisees. That Jesus definitely lived in a time where there were strong legalistic influences in the Jewish community isn't really debated. The Pharisees one sees confonting Jesus in the Gospels are definitely the ones who were confrontational. That's not deep.
You illustrate the divisiveness that is religion quite well. Thanks.
o'reilly envy big time!
This is a ridiculous peace by a left leaning wanna be journalist. The part about Paul not being a christian is proof to the point that the author is reaching for whatever she can to attempt to shed a bad light on the book. I'm sure there were many words that didn't exists at the time but what does this prove....This is why I choose to get my accurate news from elsewhere. CNN you are discrediting your organization with people like this
LMAO! Another person without reading comprehension. Come back and comment when you have found some.
I'm a Liberal, and he's right... Paul was a Christian, so were those who followed Abraham before Christ was even known.
@Canada – try to follow along Canada. I will use short simple words. Paul was NOT a Christian. The "label" had not yet been created. This is what we in the real-world like to call historical FACTS. And that is what the author was referencing.
And to those who are quoting "acts" in the Bible to argue otherwise – please try to get it 3 things through your heads: 1) the bible has been translated many, many time (lost in translation ring a bell?) 2) Parts of what we accept today as Christianity were actually voted on, not personally advocated by Jesus. 3) The Bible is mainly comprised of "select" writings penned by others AFTER the death of Jesus. This is a historical fact.
Could not aggree with you more. In fact the author is wrong. the disciples were indeed call 'The way'. However, the bible itself states that the disciples were called Chistians in Antioch. So Paul was indeed a christian.
Paul wasn't a Christian, that's not debatable point. What Christianity becomes is partially defined by the writings of Paul and the interpretations of them in conjunction with the Gospels and other stories and accounts, many of which were determined later as non canonical. Paul was a Jew and converted to a particular sect of Judaism, only one of a few which formed into what we call the early Christian Church.
Did you even read the entire article (including the bit at the end where it gives her credentials)? No offense, but "professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame" which if you don't know happens to be a fairly religious school with a pretty good track record of not supporting left-leaning wannabe journalists as professors. You are letting your stupid show.
Who watches this twit...oh yeah now I get it
Jesus only had one political comment to say in his time on earth and that is to pay your taxes, (give unto Ceasar). End of story.
It takes as much faith to not believe in God / Jesus as it does to believe God / Jesus is real. NO one can prove with todays scientific method that God / Jesus exists, however in the same token no one can prove with todays scientific method that God / Jesus doesnt exist. It all comes down to the faith we as individuals put into our specific beliefs. People can only state what is in their hearts and the faith that allows them to follow that belief.
no one can deny there is a Flying Spaghetti Monster. There is no scientific proof either way. Some things you have to take on faith but all are welcome into the loving embrace of His Noodly Appendage
The FSM does not exist. I ate him last night. And by the way, the FSM kind of glided and was not capable of true flight.
I cant prove one way or another about a flying spaghetti monster and it is not my place to try and make anyone else prove or disprove what their faith believes in. It would just be a better world if everyone could accept people for what they are, no matter what they place their trust and faith in. All we can do is be who we are and if there is "something" you sense in a person that intrigues you and makes you want to know... "what is it about that person" .. then ask.. the rest is faith... It does not have to be any more difficult than that, but man made religion causes so much division..
The problem is when people of faith expect others to believe as the do, follow the same rules set down in their scriptures, have the same morals, and so on.
I think I would like you!
No one is arguing it at all. What a frivolous statement. The science community readily admits that it has nothing to do with the spiritual and understandably so, yet we do have things such as string theory and other scientific dimensional thoughts which can fit right in with explaining spiritual planes. You are like those who insisted a heavy metal beast could never fly or would find it hard to believe that we could hold a device with access to every discovery to man in our hands, yet use it to create videos of cats.
So there is some historical facts to even begin to believe in this "Flying Spaghetti Monster"?...No. Then you might not want to speak of thing critically that you do not understand.
Psychiatry tells us that you can, however, prove that people having faith in eternal life, talking snakes and people rising from the dead are typically considered schizophrenic or some variation thereof.
Faith: The assertion that a claim is true without evidence. The ones responsible for proof of god are the ones making the positive claim. I do not know if there is a God. I believe it is highly unlikely based off of the evidence provided thus far from believers.
Faith is believing without seeing, that is true. I do believe and trust in God and the saving grace he extends to me as a sinner through the sacrafice of Jesus on the cross. I do not have to prove this because it is my belief in my heart through my faith, not a belief I am trying to force anyone else to accept. I'm not arguing, just simply stating what I have decided to put my faith in. It is the only thing that offers true hope for me and if its a story and nothing but some grand tale, I will never know the difference when I am gone.
t takes as much faith to not believe in the Tooth Fairy as it does to believe the Tooth Fairy is real. NO one can prove with todays scientific method that the Tooth Fairy exists, however in the same token no one can prove with todays scientific method that the Tooth Fairy doesnt exist. It all comes down to the faith we as individuals put into our specific beliefs. People can only state what is in their teeth and the floss that allows them to follow that belief.
Anyone else take note of the trivial fact that our learned Professor spells "judgemental" wrong . It is "judgmental". She could at least use spell checker.
JUDGEMENTAL is just an old spelling of the word. It was considered correct when I was in college.
I said it was a trivial point of little importance. But please show us a source where and when the Professors incorrect spelling was indeed acceptable.
I do not have anything to prove. Check on it yourself if you want to know.
OK, I have looked further. In England "judgemental" is acceptable or even preferred.
Glad you looked. It doesn't hurt to let some light in once in a while. I only meant we should not convict her until we have our own facts. I'd like you I think.
I will certainly be "judgemental" when buying my cars "tyres", and designing my computer "programmes"
i've always spelled it "judgemental" and i'm over 50, educated around the world and fluent in french, german and went not intoxicated from my favorite beer and tequila, english. mirror pond and patron.
but even when predictive text puts in the word "went" for the word "when" even stupid people like me can appear dumb.
I love it when people wrongly attack the author to discredit them without knowing what they're talking about!
"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."
Really? – I'm sure Rome wasn't just occupying the temple mount for kicks. From what I understand, the Romans "got their beaks wet" in taxes. Seems like that's a direct link
There isn't even enough historical proof to claim that Jesus was a real person. It is possible that there was some person named Yeshua and was a Jewish teacher around that time. Well of course there is but the man described in the bible has not been proven. The first telling of his story at least in written form was 60 years or so after the supposed crucifixion and by an unknown author.
Bill O"Reilly is a legend in his own mind only. This bloviating, narcissistic oportunist will say and write anything that brings attention to himself. Therein lies the lack of objectivity in his writing.
What Oh Really does is pander to the same bunch of dummies that read the national enquirer as if it was the holy grail and vote for the U.S.A. hating Republicans because they hate blacks and other minorities. His followers still believe the world is flat and that when they die they are going to float around on a cloud playing a harp and spend the next 100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 billion, trillion years listening to Pat Boone and Kay Starr.
Anyone who tells you that they hate someone--that would make me wonder whether he/she actually tried to follow the Christian faith. I have to work really hard at trying forgive people and at doing what I should, but I always know that I should not hate anyone or fail to forgive them.
Why would anyone in their right mind trust Bill O'Reilly on the matter of religion?
Why is this even being discussed? This is akin to debating the colour of the skin of a flying pig. As Israeli archaeologists recently discovered....Nazareth wasn't even around until after a few hundred years after Jesus of Nazareth was supposed to have existed. Its made up history and can't meet the requirements of anything remotely construed as proof. Thats why its called "faith"...
You have got your facts wrong the findings by the archaeologists confirmed that the city was in fact around when Christ walk the earth.
"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...."
It would seem that there's a strong correlation between the people who believe the propaganda of Fox News and the people who believe the propaganda in the bible.
How telling is it that this woman reads about the slaughter of male children and interprets the writing as "entertaining"? Strange, no?
I rather resent the fact that CNN, in just one MORE show of poor journalistic integrity, places this under "More Stories" on the front page. It's an OPINION piece, and should be clearly labeled.
I don't trust the opinion of anyone named after fungus.
Give her parents some credit. "Thrush" sounds like a bird.