Having just finished two back-to-back biographies about Jesus – Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus and the Modern Library classic of 1863 titled The Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan – the books will be reviewed separately, but with several significant comparisons.
Killing Jesus is a concise history of life in the Roman Empire and Judea during the time of Jesus and how that history relates to his birth and crucifixion. The operative word being “concise”. The book is direct and to the point.
The first 63 pages describe social and economical conditions and focus on politics of the time including pertinent details about various leaders: Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar and Tiberius, Herod and Antipas, the head Priest of Judea – Caiaphas, and Pontius Pilate. This is followed by details of the life of Jesus from his birth in Nazareth to the day after his death.
Even if you’ve read the Bible – Old and New Testaments – using the aid of a study guide, seen movies, and listened to sermons, you may still find this book compelling. After all, some sections of the bible are beyond comprehension for the average layman, and even learned scholars are still debating over it’s meaning. Add to that the hundreds of translations that vary in wording and interpretation based on religious faith. O’Reilly uses the English translation of Zondervan’s New International Version Bible Study along with various other sources and tries to present an unbiased account.
The current popularity of Killing Jesus – as opposed to The Life of Jesus – may be primarily a result of four major factors.
Killing Jesus can boast a high profile author and massive marketing effort.
Even if Killing Jesus did not have the large media exposure, it would appeal to people with limited leisure time looking for a quick read.
O’Reilly seems to go out of his way not to offend Christians – skirting any doubt of whether Jesus was in fact from the House of David and born in Bethlehem (prerequisites to being the Messiah… according to prophecy). Not emphasizing that there was no medicine or science in this region during the lifetime of Jesus and miracles (like healing) could well have been illusions. And failing to mention that many people performed “miracles” in those times… among other things, including failing to delve into the history of the writing of the Gospels and their authenticity. All this is explored in depth in Renan’s The Life of Jesus.
Providing vivid descriptions of surroundings, clothing, weapons, and people, O’Reilly takes the liberty of assuming the mannerisms, thoughts, and exact words of conversations in the telling of his historical tale… making it read almost like a novel. “It is a rhythm the child (Jesus) has never before experienced, and he enjoys it immensely.” (Pg. 71) and “John (the Baptist) does not feel the weight of the heavy steel blade as it slices his head from his body.” (Pg. 152) This humanizing of ancient historical figures brings life to the story and creates personal interest. It especially brings Jesus to the human level in the final chapters and creates great sympathy and emotion.
Reading the story of Jesus in the form of a history book was quite fascinating. Despite numerous reviews citing complaints about distortion of historical facts – Renan put it quite eloquently in The Life of Jesus. “Let any one endeavor to get at the truth as to the way in which such or such contemporary fact has happened; he will not succeed. Two accounts of the same event given by different eye-witnesses differ essentially. Must we, therefore, reject all the coloring of the narratives, and limit ourselves to the bare facts only?” (Pg. 57) Enough people were there to witness the facts, and relay the story, and document their beliefs – and yet, there is not even a unanimous consensus historically documented that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. So perhaps the negative reviews of Killing Jesus are being a little too harsh with their criticism.
A final comparison… Killing Jesus definitely evoked more emotion, but The Life of Jesus – discounting all miracles, myths, and suppositions based on religious faith – made me see that Jesus did accomplish a miraculous feat. Through word of mouth – over the course of no more than 10 years – Jesus elevated the concept of “One God” for all people, all lands, all ages, until the end of time.
Killing Jesus is Rated 3 Stars.
as compared to… The Life of Jesus – Rated 5 Stars. (if you are a serious reader – check out this book)
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finish. Books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.