Review

Killing Jesus: A History

by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

From the chilling artwork on the book’s jacket to the verbal depiction in its final pages, KILLING JESUS is exactly what the title infers. Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard have put together a history of Jesus’ death --- from the instance of his birth, to stories from His early years, ministry and final days. Readers familiar with the Bible will recognize the accounts, most of which are told in chronological order. But the authors have given us a deeply researched work in which facts are taken from a wide range of sources. Biblical scholars, historical students of the Roman Empire, the Four Gospels, extensive research on the act of crucifixion, studies of Roman soldiers, personal observation, and reliance on experts in Hebrew and Roman history provided the base used in KILLING JESUS. 

Lack of specific details in Jesus’ life frustrated the authors, allowing for major gaps in the storytelling. They are up front with readers when details become fuzzy but honestly state that deductions are based on the best available evidence. Roman historians kept impeccable records of events during his lifetime, but Jesus’ closest friends are the best recorders of his last few years. KILLING JESUS is not a religious book, but rather the story of a Hebrew man who preached a philosophy of peace and love in a violent society of Roman rule. Largely, the Roman rulers paid little attention to the everyday activities of their Jewish populace, allowing them to observe their own holy days and feasts, so long as tribute was paid to Rome in the form of taxes. 

"O’Reilly and Dugard have produced a historical treatment, well-documented by research, that will impress both Christian and non-Christian readers alike."

The first chapter, following an extensive introduction to the reader, begins in Bethlehem, Judea, in March, 5 B.C. The current monarch Herod, half-Jewish and half-Arab, believes that a baby has been born, reputed to be the next King of the Jewish people. Soldiers march with orders to kill all Hebrew baby boys born in Bethlehem. Herod has survived numerous plots to overthrow his brutal reign but is obsessed by the prophecy of a new King. Five specific occurrences are purported to be fulfilled: 1) a great star will rise; 2) a baby will be born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of the great King David; 3) the baby will be a direct descendant of David; 4) powerful men will travel from afar to worship him; and 5) the child’s mother must be a virgin. Herod knows that the first two are true and is unaware that all have come to pass. The child has been named “Yeshua ben Joseph,” or Jesus, meaning “the Lord is salvation.”

Herod receives the Magi, three diviners (astronomers) who carry a treasure chest filled with gold and sweet spices to honor the newly born King of the Jews. He decrees that they locate the infant and then return to Jerusalem so he can venture to see him. They never come back. Herod has ordered the slaughter of more than a dozen innocent babies, but Joseph, Jesus’ father, awakes from a terrifying dream, a vision of the slaughter. In the dead of night, the family escapes. Footnotes reveal that the most insightful facts regarding Jesus’ birth and early ministry history come from the Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, forming the Synoptic Gospels. 

KILLING JESUS contains more than 18 maps, illustrations and drawings, placed precisely in the chapters where they expand the information given. Views of Jerusalem, the Jewish temple, drawings of the Temple complex, and artists’ renderings of John the Baptist and Jesus as a boy, teaching his elders in the Temple, lend credibility to the histories told. A Last Supper painting gives focus to Jesus’ ministry and the impact He had on all who followed Him. 

Paranoia, greed, lust for power and worldly status fill the pages with depictions of both the Roman officials ruling Judea at the time and the Hebrew leaders who served to please them. Sacrifice of ordinary Hebrews, by both taxation and obligatory laws, formed the society they oversaw. Sadducees and Pharisees were as corrupt as the Roman leaders they pleased. 

Pilgrimages to Jerusalem formed a large part of the worship that engaged ordinary Jews. Moneychangers sat in the temple, gathering the coins for taxation and purchase of animal sacrifice during these feast times. During the feast at Passover, the newly baptized Jesus confronts the moneychangers by overturning their tables, throwing coins on the floors. He next releases sacrificial animals from their cages, raging that his father’s house had been turned into a market. Now challenged by Temple officials to show more miracles, Jesus replies, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days.” He leaves, with many thinking him insane and others revering him for the stand against Temple officials. His notoriety has begun. 

The following chapters detail the prophecy that John the Baptist has fulfilled, the growing celebrity of Jesus as he preaches to the masses, the increasing unrest among Temple priests who see him as a threat to their powers, further goading by the Pharisees to trap him into avowing himself as King of the Jews. KILLING JESUS shows a well-researched scenario of the events leading directly to his trial, both by Jewish leaders and the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate. Graphic details of the crucifixion, Jesus’ removal from the cross, his entombment and disappearance round out the final chapters. 

Extensive credits, thanks and follow-up by historical references finish the story. O’Reilly and Dugard have produced a historical treatment, well-documented by research, that will impress both Christian and non-Christian readers alike. I highly recommend KILLING JESUS.

Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on October 25, 2013

Killing Jesus: A History
by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

  • Publication Date: September 24, 2013
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 0805098542
  • ISBN-13: 9780805098549