killing_jesusFollowing the engaging style of their previous books in the “Killing” series, O’Reilly and Dugard turn their attention to arguably the most influential man in history. They certainly succeed in dispelling the flannel graph view of Jesus’ death through colorful portrayals of powerful personalities of the day (both Jewish and Roman authorities receive in depth character sketches), Jewish customs, and geographical features that provide additional insight. In a lot of ways, the book reads like a month of sermons your pastor might preach after returning from a trip to the Holy Land.

As it relates to the events of Jesus’ life, O’Reilly shows a pretty solid commitment to the 4 gospels, as would be expected given his much publicized Catholicism. I was reading through the book of Mark as I read this book, which made for interesting comparisons as I went. There are times when Jesus is portrayed as more human than I tend to think of him, particularly in regards to his motivation and rationale for certain comments, but perhaps I have been wrong in my thinking. If you come to this book looking for a shocking revelation about Jesus, you have come to the wrong place. It really is a colorful portrayal of the gospel accounts prior to the Resurrection narratives fused with an interesting political sketch of the relationship between the Roman Empire and Jewish subculture in the 1st century.

The sources follow a surprisingly conservative tint. If you have done any historical Jesus research, you will be pleased to see O’Reilly’s use of works by Mike Licona, N. T. Wright, Craig Evans, J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Paul Copan, Craig Keener, and Darrell Bock. The use of 1st century Roman sources in Killing Jesus has been criticized by some coming from a more liberal vantage point, but this criticism is tough to swallow given normal practice in determining history. For example, Candida Moss of CNN claims that Roman historians were, “propagandistic … more Buzzfeed than Wall Street Journal.”[1] Yet we are talking about testimony written by those who lived in the same lifetime as Jesus. To have record of these events from sources so close to them is exceptionally rare. Consider Alexander the Great – our first written accounts of anything concerning his life come from roughly 400 years after his death. This isn’t to say that everything written by Roman historians is bona fide fact. I’m merely suggesting that applying the same standard of skepticism toward other historical figures results in dismissing great quantities of history that are taken to be fact by the vast majority of the known world.

My biggest issue with Killing Jesus is it’s stark avoidance of any serious investigation of Jesus’ resurrection. O’Reilly bluntly states, “Whether or not one believes that Jesus rose from the dead, the story of his life and message achieved much greater status after his crucifixion.”[2] If you are going to give an entire book to his life, why not at least touch on the climax of his message? I know this isn’t the sort of discussion that sells books, which is the purpose of writing one, but still, could we get a page in the afterword? It just seems a little hollow to declare the importance of Jesus’ life and message without considering his resurrection when, according to his followers, His life, message, and death only find significance in His resurrection.

All in all, Killing Jesus was a good read. It’s nothing groundbreaking, yet it sheds light on just how unique Jesus of Nazareth really was. It will help bring to life some of the stories that may have been old hand to those raised in a church setting. It also may provide an in-road for conversations on faith and life with those who have not really considered Christianity, but love to read. Whether you don’t know Jesus or you’ve known him for years, this is an insightful book that will make you think. Thus, it is well worth your time.

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