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Bill O’Reilly’s Jesus

Several people have (urgently) asked me to write up a review of the new blockbuster hit, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus.   So, my short answer to the request is that, well, I haven’t read it.   It did just come out after all!   But I see it is – from the get-go – the #1 book (in the world!) on Amazon.  I will obviously have to read it:  just as I have to read Reza Aslan’s Zealot.   The latter I will be reading over the next month or so in conjunction with my course on “Jesus in Scholarship and Film,” since otherwise I won’t be able to grade my students’ book reviews of it!   But I will not be assigning O’Reilly, since it just came out and I won’t be changing my syllabus.

I’ve ordered the O’Reilly book (against my wishes; I really don’t want to “contribute  to the cause.”  But I obviously have to read it) and will be able to give an evaluation soon enough.   For now I should make just a couple of comments.

First, O’Reilly “wrote” the book with the assistance of an author named Martin Dugard, as he has done before with his other massively popular books.  I take this to mean that O’Reilly himself did not actually do much of the writing.  Did he do any of it?  Maybe someone on the blog knows.  More important, did he do any of the “research”?  I put research in quotation marks because it is not clear to me at this point how much research was done.

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Killing Jesus is Killing Me….
Jesus Position Papers

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    letteney  October 2, 2013

    For further reading, might I suggest Candida Moss’ excellent review over at The Daily Beast?

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/27/the-gospel-according-to-bill-o-reilly-s-new-book-killing-jesus.html

    • Avatar
      David Chumney  October 5, 2013

      I’m a couple of days behind; thanks for the link to Moss’ review.

  2. Avatar
    toddfrederick  October 2, 2013

    I won’t read it. First because of the reasons you stated and second because O’Reilly has an agenda in almost everything he says or does. His positions are not objective; they are apologetic.

    I did read Zealot. I thought it was well written, based on the scholarship of others, and gave me a bit different perspective on Jesus’ motives as well as much cultural background that i did not know. I am glad i read it.

    I have one other issue that I think is far more important: I think that it is not possible to write a truly objective biography of Jesus….ever. this is because the information about Jesus that we have also carries an agenda…it is the agenda of the early Christian movement to promote Jesus as Messiah.

    Also, in this same vein, there is the issue of the sources for information about Jesus life. For example, let us look at the trial of Jesus before the Jewish leaders and Pilate. ***Who was there to take notes or even listen to what was said*** yet the story contains huge amounts of detail and dialog. It was fabricated based on the event, not written as though there were eyewitnesses. So, in my opinion, we can probably be assured that Jesus was accused of sedition and executed but the details are invented by the writers.

    How can O’Reilly, or anyone, write a truly objective and verified biography of Jesus?

    IMO, the biographies of Jesus are matters of faith and not scholarship. For me, faith comes through the spirit, not from a book.

    O’Reilly can not write an accurate objective account of Jesus’ death…no one can.

    Sometime I would like your thoughts on the sources for the information we have on Jesus….such as, the sayings, the events in Jesus’ life (birth, trial, temptation, crucifixion, etc) early church documents, oral tradition, eyewitnesses, etc).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2013

      OK, thanks. I do discuss what I think we can know about the historical Jesus, and how we can know it, in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

  3. gmatthews
    gmatthews  October 2, 2013

    O’Reilly says he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write his book. He doesn’t need any book learnin’ an’ such if he’s got God on his side! Maybe the ghost of Mary Todd Lincoln inspired him to write his book on Abe.

  4. Avatar
    stephena  October 2, 2013

    While at Barnes & Noble, I opened the book at random and O’Reilly (or his ghost writer) was saying that “most scholars” accept that the Gospels were written by the people whose names are attached to them. I put it down immediately. So my first instinct is: Nonsense. And he told a TV interviewer that the “holy spirit” urged him to write this. Too bad the HS didn’t get his facts straight.

    That said, this may be a wonderful illustration of how the Gospels we have came to be. Clearly, they were written to appeal to a specific audience (be they Greeks, Jews, Romans or, in this case, conservative American Christians) and involved weaving in the details from previous versions of the story, adding more to make certain theological points.

    Actually, we may want to read HIS version, the Gospel According to Bill, just to see what sources he draws from. Couldn’t this be a “teaching moment” to teach that Gospels are targeted to different audiences and obviously draw from previous versions to portray theological Truths to those audiences?

  5. Avatar
    lifeiznuts  October 2, 2013

    The name, Bill O’Reilly sends chills up my spine because so many people watch him and think everything he says should be made into another gospel. Of course he didn’t do any research. Does he ever?

  6. Avatar
    Jeff  October 2, 2013

    One of their statements, taken from a Huffington Post review, was this:

    “Many today challenge these writings, but thanks to scholarship and archaeology, there is growing acceptance of their overall historicity and authenticity.”

    Having just finished John Crossan’s “Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography,” as well as a plethora of other works, I found this quite arrogant for a couple of authors with no formal training in the field. While I like O’Reilly, he overstepped his literary boundaries with this book, at least in terms of presenting it as a legitimate historical piece.

    While on the subject of New Testament-related books, I am curious as to your opinion regarding NT Wright’s book on the resurrection; although, that may take up a separate post.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2013

      Tom Wright is a highly erudite scholar, a brilliant public speaker, and an excellent writer. And I disagree with him on most important things. 🙂 (I don’t think we can “demonstrate” that Jesus was raised from the dead on historical grounds, for example)

  7. Avatar
    FrancisDunn  October 2, 2013

    Well! I have read most of your books and been following your work for many years now. I purchased a copy of “Killing Jesus”, (just for laughs). According to Bill O’Reilley he was awaken in the middle of the night and came up with the title of this book (claims the holy spirit told him to write it, he is Catholic). I would suggest you NOT read it. You will pull out your hair and scream your lungs out. He actually has dates and times of the events..He claims the co-writer did the investigation and he did the writing. If you don’t want to lose any more hair, don’t read it.

  8. Avatar
    EricBrown  October 2, 2013

    Look on the brightside. Given the demographics of his audience, he is actually taking a rather bold stance in treating Jesus as a “man” throughout, apparently never calling him “christ” nor asserting any kind of divinity. This has gotten him some angry heckling fromn conservative Christians.

  9. Avatar
    toejam  October 2, 2013

    You should post this on Amazon.com’s review section. Well put.

  10. Avatar
    nichael  October 2, 2013

    One additional point (I’ll let the individual reader decide whether or not not this is a reason to be optimistic about O’Reilly’s book) but during his interview earlier this week O’Reilly told “60 Minutes” that the Holy Spirit directed him to write his book.

    (Clip available here:
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ULtR_IzWBUg )

  11. Avatar
    JoshuaGordon  October 2, 2013

    Saw ol Bill on 60 minutes. What a travesty of a book this must be. Thanks for taking the burden of reading it, I’m not going to. I’d rather watch the Passion of Christ by Mel if I’m looking for imagination…….

  12. Avatar
    Mikail78  October 2, 2013

    Bart, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us on this. I, and am sure others, look forward to your review. Here is a question(s) that I hope you will answer. It’s beyond obvious that you are a public figure. You are a famous dude. You’ve been on Colbert. You’ve been on the Daily Show. You’ve made numerous other public appearances. The big question is this: Would you be willing to go on to Bill O’Reilly’s show, “The O’Reilly Factor” and kindly and respectfully put Bill in his place? Personally, I’d love to see you go on Bill’s show. It would be funny, entertaining, and even informative. Don’t you think this would be a good opportunity to reach out to Bill and his audience about the numerous problems in his book and why someone like O’Reilly may not be the best source of info about the historical Jesus? Would you consider having your people contact his people and seeing if this can be arranged? What do you think? I’m asking these questions in all seriousness.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2013

      I don’t think Bill O’Reilly wants an expert on his show to explain why he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. 🙂

  13. cheito
    cheito  October 2, 2013

    WOW! Can’t wait till you read the entire book and write your review Dr Ehrman. Blessings!

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 3, 2013

    Thanks so very much for all of your replies to my recent and past comments. They have been quite helpful to me.

  15. Avatar
    Matt7  October 3, 2013

    This is no more elitist than an MD saying that anyone writing books for the public about medicine should be an MD.

  16. Avatar
    haoleboy26  October 3, 2013

    “Would anyone trust Bill O’Reilly to give us new insights into astrophysics?” I have to share your skepticism about O’Reilly’s expertise for things related to religion and things related to astronomy. In an interview with an atheist, David Silverman, O’Reilly explained his reasons for believing in God:” Tide goes in, tide goes out; never a miscommunication. You [Silverman] can’t explain that. You can’t explain why the tide goes in.” He seemed to be unaware of the well-established role of the moon’s gravitational force in causing the tides. In the brief excerpt I read, the authors went into a good bit of detail about Herod, including a physical description (he’s fat) and an extensive list of health problems including gout, lung disease, kidney problems, a heart condition, and STDs. Are there any historical basis for such claims? I look forward to reading your review of his book.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2013

      STDs? Good grief. I guess condoms were hard to come by. I wonder if they talk about that as well….

  17. Avatar
    DMiller5842  October 3, 2013

    I agree with your not wanting to contribute to the cause. I was about to order it too, and just couldn’t make myself click on that pay button. 🙂

  18. Avatar
    DMiller5842  October 3, 2013

    I saw an interview about the book and he said that the Roman soldiers removed a “seat” that was normally on crosses so that Jesus would die faster. He also claimed that the Romans wanted Jesus to die faster and be taken away so as not to cause any extended disturbance within the Jewish population. Any comments on those 2 ideas.

  19. Avatar
    DMiller5842  October 3, 2013

    I saw an interview about the book in which he said that the Roman soldiers removed a “seat” that was normally on crosses so that Jesus would die faster. He also claimed that the Romans wanted Jesus to die faster and be taken away so as not to cause any extended disturbance within the Jewish population. Also he said he and his “researcher” took 8 months to write the book – if memory serves me that included the trip to “do the research”. I thought of you immediately when he said that – what an insult to real scholar. Oh and he claims he was called by God to write this book.

  20. Avatar
    ktn3654  October 3, 2013

    It’s not clear to me why following a star would lead you in a circle. For example, if you followed the North Star you’d just keep heading due north. Anyway, as I’m sure you’re aware, there are all sorts of theories that the “star” wasn’t an ordinary star at all. Just offering up a little quibble here….

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2013

      It’s because the earth is not fixed but moving — both in rotation and in orbit around the sun. So the stars move around (that’s why they’re not in the same place every night)

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