I picked up "Killing Jesus" a couple of months ago, but couldn't bring myself to read it. Billo's reputation as a Fox bully and conservative mouthpiece was part of the reason. What if he said really crazy stuff about Jesus and his time? What if his book was a transparent attempt to make money by appealing to the biases of his enormous audience? What if the book was actually good?
With that much baggage, I never managed to crack the cover.
Yesterday, knowing I had an interest in the topic, a coworker buttonholed me to tell me he had read the book. It was eye-opening, he said. Not having done any serious reading about Jesus (aside from hearing the readings at Mass) since 6th grade, he was excited to learn that Jesus was not likely born in the year 0, that he was not a carpenter in the sense we understand the term, and that Jews in the first century, a year after a loved one had died, gathered up the bones and placed them in an ossuary. Hmm. Perhaps Billo is imparting valuable information after all.
Today, I ran across an
titled "The High Cost of Getting Christian History Wrong," by Bill Tammeus. Seems that Billo was slipping some questionable perspectives into the pages of the book. Not wrong necessarily, but he wrote with far more certainty than the sources can support.
Another example of O'Reilly's penchant for stating flatly what is uncertain is his account of King Herod's slaughter of the innocents, the order to murder all boys 2 years of age and under in Bethlehem so as to kill the next "king of the Jews," Jesus.
The estimates of the number of babies killed -- if, indeed, this event ever took place -- have ranged from as many as 64,000 to as few as six or seven. The lower number is more credible, and at least O'Reilly winds up in that range by saying Herod murdered "more than a dozen infants." But he writes as if there's no doubt about the event or the number.
Gone from Billo's account is any discussion of whether Matthew is writing history (no mention of the slaughter is mentioned in other histories of the period) or something else. To Billo, apparently, the story's appearance in the Bible is enough to certify that it is 100% true -- not just symbolically or allegorically, but historically as well.
To give the devil his due, I have decided to read the book after all. If only (given the book's popularity, based on how hard it is to get a copy from my library system, it is wildly popular) to respond intelligently to those who have read it.
There's little harm in increasing the knowledge of people thirsty to learn. But here's what I am afraid of: once certain religious memes get going, it's hard to stop them. The certainty that some people have that Jesus was nailed through the wrists is such one legend that won't die. No matter that there is no archaeological evidence to support it and scant scientific evidence, people continue to believe it wholeheartedly. Even some new crucifixes reflect this historical "fact."
Maybe we'll get lucky, and Billo's certainties won't infect the popular imagination the same way. Expect a review in the nearish future.