Bill O’Reilly’s new book is titled Killing Jesus, so it’s not surprising that he focuses almost entirely on the crucifixion week. If you never watched Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, and if you’ve never given much thought to how Jesus actually died, you will find O’Reilly’s explanations helpful and instructive. He follows the accounts of the New Testament very closely and treats them with respect. You can tell the authors have done some research by little details woven into the account, like the title of the soldier responsible for ensuring that a victim of crucifixion was truly dead: the exactor mortis.
Mr. O’Reilly is the well-known commentator on the Fox News Channel, so it’s no surprise that he is largely interested in the history and politics that led up to the death of Christ. Because he professes to be a devout Roman Catholic, we would expect him to to have deep convictions about the events he describes. So I was surprised that the book offers no recent discoveries or fresh insights. Regarding the death of Christ, Killing Jesus seems largely accurate and faithful to the Gospels. It is interesting, but not compelling.
In the real world, the death of Christ is intricately interwoven with his ministry of the Gospel and his resurrection. In this book, the ministry of Jesus before his final week merits only four chapters and his return from death gets three inconclusive paragraphs. Without those vital elements, Jesus of Nazareth seems more like some unlucky political martyr who died unjustly at the hands of fanatics and political hacks. That’s tragic, but certainly not earthshaking. Historically, Christ’s death on the cross was a pivotal moment in history only because it brought fulfillment to his revolutionary life and teachings, and paved the way for his resurrection, a once in history event! So authors O’Reilly and Dugard capture the violence but miss the point.
Here’s how Killing Jesus describes the arrival of the women at Christ’s tomb on Easter Sunday morning: “Mary Magadalene cautiously steps forward and looks inside. She smells the myrrh and aloe in which Jesus’s body was anointed. She clearly sees the linen shroud in which the body was wrapped. But there is nothing there. To this day the body of Jesus of Nazareth has never been found.” That’s it.
To this day, the body of Jimmy Hoffa has never been found either. So what? Significantly, the same four gospels on which O’Reilly has based his new book also describe Christ’s resurrection with the same wealth of detail. Why should we trust what they say about the cross but discount their account of what happened at the tomb? The historical resurrection of Christ was central to the message of his suddenly irrepressible followers who literally risked their lives to spread the Gospel and ultimately change the world.
Ironically, Mr. O’Reilly’s narrative style never rises to the level of inspiration until the very last page when he quotes a politician. President Ronald Reagan once said of the Lord, “He promised there will never be a dark night that does not end. And by dying for us, Jesus showed how far our love should be ready to go- all the way.”
Lift up the Cross!