By Jim Moseley
In a recent “Talking Points” broadcast on Phil Robertson, Bill O’Reilly made a number of assertions about Christian theology, which came as a complete surprise to me, a practicing Christian and a teacher of adult Bible studies. O’Reilly cited as his authority the fact that he had written a book about Jesus.
Curious, I reviewed the Kindle edition of “Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Far from establishing O’Reilly’s credentials as an authority on Christianity, I found this popular book contains no fewer than 133 historical errors.
The book also contains multiple internal contradictions. For example, with stimulating originality, the authors contend that the day after Wednesday, April 4, 30 AD is Thursday, also April 4 (sic), 30 AD and that the day after that is Friday, April 7, 30 AD.
O’Reilly and Dugard present an innovative chronology of Jesus’ life without taking any account of the interplay between the Jewish, Julian and Gregorian calendars, which is essential to this task. They fail to get a single date right in the life of Christ. Not one. It is a landmark achievement.
For example, they have Jesus dying in 30 AD on 16 Nisan by the Jewish calendar. Of course, Jesus died on Passover, 14 Nisan, and rose on the First Day of the Omer (First Fruits), 16 Nisan. So the authors have Jesus dying on the day the gospels say He rose. If you want a fresh look at the life of Jesus, this is the book for you.
In another delightful example, they have Jewish leaders brooding on Jesus’ raising Lazarus years before it occurred.
The authors allow themselves total creative freedom when describing the sequence of events surrounding Jesus’ baptism – readers craving the dull, old accurate version must resort to the gospels.
O’Reilly and Dugard do manage to get a few dates in Roman history right, but otherwise, they display refreshing ignorance about the whole history of the region. For example, they say that the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey was the first truly world war, ignoring millennia of massive conflicts. If you were Daniel, for example, you would probably have voted to classify the titanic clashes between Babylon, Media, Scythia, Assyria, Phoenicia and Egypt as a world war, especially if you were kidnapped, made into a eunuch and watched four whole civilizations blow up in a sustained and calculated holocaust.
The authors also vouchsafe all kinds of “facts” that have hitherto been unknown to anyone else.
For example, they state that Joseph of Arimathea was a Sadducee. There is zero evidence of that.
They state that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and that she anointed Jesus’ feet. There is zero evidence of either. All we know is that she was a sinful woman out of whom Jesus cast seven demons.
They claim Peter was Jesus’ first disciple. Of course, Andrew was. The Greek Orthodox Church has, from the beginning of Christianity, nicknamed him protókletos – the “first-called.”
They claim Jesus chose His disciples for their linguistic abilities. There is no evidence of that – in fact, the miracle of Pentecost was that they became empowered to speak languages they otherwise did not know.
The authors claim that Jesus knew next to nothing about fishing. They can’t know this. He certainly managed to get a lot of fishing in for someone who was ignorant of it.
They say that Cleopatra flattered Caesar when she first met him by speaking in Latin. They can’t know what she spoke while seducing him. Plutarch says that Cleopatra spoke the languages of the Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes, Parthians and many others, but he omits any reference to her speaking Latin. The lingua franca of the eastern Roman Empire was Cleopatra’s native Greek, in which she and Caesar were fluent. This is why the whole New Testament is in Greek.
O’Reilly and Dugard say that Julius Caesar remarked “alea iacta est” in Latin when he crossed the Rubicon. Plutarch specifically records that he said, in Greek, ἀνερρίφθω κύβος (anerrhiphtho kybos, “let the die be cast”), quoting the Greek comic playwright, Menander.
The authors say that Herod killed more than a dozen infants in Bethlehem. No one knows this. It was, in fact, probably between nine and 30 infant males, but how can they be dogmatic on a purely speculative number? Who do they think they are – the New York Times?
The authors say that Herod’s soldiers weren’t Jews and didn’t speak a word of Hebrew. No one knows who they were and what they spoke. Have the authors discovered a scroll of the Herodian army list hitherto overlooked by archaeologists?
The authors say that the Roman executioners of Jesus were from Samaria and Caesarea. How do they know they weren’t from Syria, Galatia, Pamphylia, Italy, Britain, Cyrene, Germany or Gaul? Have they dug up their paystubs?
The authors state that Jesus was “having trouble focusing” on His final message to His disciples. No, the Last Supper was a formal, Jewish Seder (Passover meal), and Jesus was deliberately and exquisitely using its symbolism to craft His final message. He was ingeniously focused.
They say that Jesus was wearing just His cloak and a sheer tunic in Gethsemane. How do they know what He was wearing, apart from the seamless garment for which the soldiers gambled? Was His apparel reported in the style section of the Jerusalem Post? Did I miss that?
Why do so many authors try to write about biblical subjects without sufficient knowledge? Probably because the Bible is the best-selling book in history, and authors hope that, by hitching their wagon to the Bethlehem star, their books may become best-sellers, too. But it takes work to understand Scripture. Too many writers are like Alexandre Dumas, who used to dream up his story lines and then hire ghostwriters to fill up the pages; as P.G. Wodehouse said of him, Dumas liked being an author, but he did not like the paperwork.
James 3:1 states that teachers come under a stricter judgment. I applaud O’Reilly and Dugard for wishing to undertake this project. But I wish they had worked harder at it.
O’Reilly has reportedly said that his book differs from the Bible because it is based on history and the Bible is not. No, that excuse just doesn’t cover the bloopers. If you subtract the Bible, O’Reilly hasn’t got a book. Like everybody else, he has to rely 99 percent on the Bible for the historical record of Jesus. Anyone who doesn’t like that needs either to write fiction or write a biography of someone else.
O’Reilly says that both he and Dugard “learned a tremendous amount while researching and writing this book.” Unfortunately, they left their readers with much to unlearn. To be fair, O’Reilly says, “putting together ‘Killing Jesus’ was exceedingly difficult.” Probably. Taking it apart, however, is no trouble at all.
Jim Moseley, president and CEO of TransGuardian Inc., has been a teacher of adult Sunday school at Grace Church of Glendor, Calif., for five years. He has written dozens of books about the Bible that are consistently reviewed by a team of pastors and received high marks for accuracy.