Book Review: Killing Jesus

Killing Jesus: A History, by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard

One of the occupational hazards of being a prolific book reviewer is that one gets random books to review. This is not a book that I would have automatically gravitated to on my own, but a fellow member of my congregation loaned it to me after services this past Sabbath and wanted to read the review. I am generally happy to oblige when a book is as easy to read as this one was. I would not be as amused or pleased to be offered a mid-Victorian novel to read, but a book that is under 300 pages and that is a compelling narrative read is always going to be appreciated. Judging from what I saw in this book, the other two books by this particular pair of authors is likely to be a gripping historical narrative about a famous murder that aims at bestseller status. Of course, where these two authors go from here is also an open question, considering there is not exactly a large number of situations that combine bestseller potential with the sort of narrow focus that this series appears to have. It is a good problem after three bestsellers, though, to figure out where one is going next. There are far more serious problems authors can have.

This book is a very straightforward read, far less of a challenge than most of the books I tackle. It basically is divided among mostly short chapters that tell the narrative of the life and death of Jesus Christ looking particularly at the sociopolitical context. This context includes some areas that are likely to be familiar to those who are avid students of the historiography of the period [1], including the rampant sexual immorality of the period (this book is keen to discuss such unpleasant matters as the pedophilia of Tiberias Caesar in grim detail, as well as the more prosaic immorality of others), but there are likely to be some elements of the context that will be unfamiliar to many readers, which means that for many readers this book is likely to be as informative as it is excellent. It is a work that combines narrative skill along with sober history (with a very excellent list of sources at the end for those who wish to read more), and this particular skill is sufficiently rare to make this book a worthwhile read even for those who are familiar with the material that is inside.

This is not to say that this book is perfect, for it definitely has its flaws. The authors approach the subject matter from a clear Roman Catholic perspective, and at least they are open and honest about their bias from the start, which accounts for the way in which the book pays a great deal of attention to completely irrelevant ex cathedra pronouncements of the pope on such matters as Mary’s perpetual virginity and absence of original sin and other related concerns. Likewise, it is only at the very end of the book when the mentions of Jesus Christ in the contemporary historiography is mentioned, which is a common focus of those authors who are interested in apologetics. There are also some quibbles I have about the way that this book transliterates YHWH as Jehovah, although these quibbles are fairly minor. The only substantial issue I have with this book is its chronology, both dealing with the birth and death of the Messiah, although in fairness the authors at least attempt to justify their particular choices in chronology, even if these arguments are not sufficient nor particularly accurate.

Despite these flaws, though, this is a very excellent work. Although there is no shortage of books that deal with the subject of the death of Jesus Christ from a historical perspective, there is always room for more books if they are sufficiently well-written and well-researched. If one is going to tread the well-trod ground of examining the life of our Lord and Savior, to do with a mix of biblical faith and sober historicity is a very worthy way to go about it. For those who are not deterred by the name of the lead author of this book, or by the frankly traditionalist subject matter of the material, this is a work that rewards the reader with both style and content. That is sufficient cause for me to enjoy such a work, and to be interested in reading the rest of the body of work of this paring of authors, to see if Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy match this work’s general excellence. Any time a work rewards the time spent reading and also sparks curiosity in the rest of the author’s body of work, it can be said that this book is a success. And so it is, despite its flaws.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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11 Responses to Book Review: Killing Jesus

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