James Kirk Wall reviews Killing Jesus


I enjoyed Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy. I favored Lincoln as I believe him to be the better man of the two. Anyone who doesn't have a passion for history doesn't know history, the real history that includes the uncomfortable parts. I was curious about Killing Jesus. Unlike the other two books, a story on Jesus would be mostly hearsay instead of well documented history from reputable sources such as known historians during the time. I was curious as to how honest O’Reilly would be in this endeavor.

There is a reason why these books have been best sellers. Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard don’t simply discuss these historical figures, they take you there. The important related events of the time period, the other related characters in the story, the detail of the physical surroundings and the culture are described very well. I hope their next book is Killing Socrates.

My critique of Killing Jesus will include the following sections:
Hearsay vs. History
Bill’s Bias
Was Jesus all about Peace and Love?
How do we explain the popularity of Christianity?
The story of Jesus in a nutshell

Hearsay vs. History

The best source for history is what’s known as a primary source. Original documentation of people who wrote about the event immediately as it happened is ideal. Newspapers existed during the time of Abraham Lincoln and since he was an important man during much of his life there is an abundance of primary sources including the first hand written recordings of letters (by his own hand), speeches and countless interviews with family and friends.

With Kennedy there is greater information available as the technology of video recording allows young people today to see actual video footage of speeches and interviews of a famous man who died many years before they were born. With Jesus the main sources of information are not in original documentation.

The Biblical writings are copies of copies and translations of translations of a mound of various texts where some portions were edited and entered into what we know as the New Testament long after Jesus died. Even the sources of many of these writings are in question, they may not be written by the people that they are attributed to.

What happens when we don’t have primary sources of information? We lose accuracy of data. For example, Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15th, 44 B.C. We know the year and the day. In regards to Jesus Christ the best estimates are that he was born in the spring of either 6 or 5 B.C. and died around the start of Passover (exact day has inconsistent accounts) around 27-30 A.D. Clearly we have greater historical records of Julius Caesar than Jesus.

Killing Jesus is a mix of history and hearsay. The detail around the actual practice of crucifixion is good history based on solid research. A lot of review was done through ancient but still primary sources to provide detail on this brutal Roman practice of torture and death. Details included the well-organized executioners who had various positions, roles and responsibilities. In contrast, everything in Killing Jesus on the conversations that took place between Jesus and Pontius Pilate are completely hearsay. It’s arguable that these conversations were invented by people who weren't there, have no idea what actually transpired and wanted to add their own twist to the story.

For example, this passage from Matthew 27:24-25 has caused historical hatred and persecution of Jews and most likely never happened. The Bible is big on punishing children for the so called sins of the parents.
“When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people (Jews) answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!””

Bill’s Bias

Bill O’Reilly is upfront in the beginning of the book in regards to the historical challenges of this work compared to his other endeavors. He fully admits to contradictions in the scripture which was refreshing considering the amount of Christians who deny that there are any contradictions from cover to cover. But O’Reilly does partake in picking and choosing what versions of stories are in Killing Jesus and which ones are not. There is also constant mentioning of the love and peace of Jesus Christ that “changed the world.”

For one example of selective text, the book puts the last words of Jesus Christ as “it is finished” and does not mention Matthew 27:46 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why would god who sent himself to sacrifice himself to himself in order to save us from himself, but only if you believe it, cry out to himself to ask himself why has he forsaken himself? It’s not surprising that Bill would want to conceal this verse that adds crazy on top of crazy, but that doesn't make it go away.

It would be a little less crazy if god and Jesus were separate deities, but that would mean polytheism and we certainly can’t have that.

And in regards to the love and peace of Jesus, the following scripture also fails to make it in Bill’s book.
Luke 19:27 (Jesus speaking in parable) “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and kill them in front of me.”
Does this meld with “love thy enemy” or “love thy neighbor as you love thyself?”

And as for the constant rhetoric of Jesus changing the world and being the most influential man who ever lived, this statement is made repeatedly without any actual examples. It is obvious that millions of people would call themselves Christian instead of some pagan religion or other name because of the Christian movement that apparently did begin by a man named Jesus who was crucified. But aside from labels, what has really changed?

It is said that Jesus turned over tables of corrupt money changers who were Jewish. Have the money changers who were Christian been any less corrupt? Did the Roman Empire become less oppressive with the adoption of Christianity? Or did religion fuel the egos of dictators giving them not only authority by name but by claiming authority by god? Is not monotheism ideal for the dictator? Less priests and gods to deal with in claiming divine authority.

Was Jesus all about Peace and Love?

There are absolutely loving and tolerant passages claimed to be attributed to Jesus. The problem is Jesus never aggressively denounces or condemns the horrendous hatred and brutality of the Old Testament. In fact it is stated that he is there to enforce the laws of the old prophets.

Matthew 5:17 (Jesus speaking) "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

Mark 7:9-10 (Jesus Speaking) “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’”

Does Jesus transform the Bible into a guide of true morality, or does he simply offer a pretty mask to the ugly god of Abraham? Many argue that the New Testament holds even greater cruelty than the old.

“In the Old Testament, they said. God is the judge -- but in the New, Christ is the merciful. As a matter of fact, the New Testament is infinitely worse than the Old. In the Old there is no threat of eternal pain. Jehovah had no eternal prison -- no everlasting fire. His hatred ended at the grave. His revenge was satisfied when his enemy was dead.
In the New Testament, death is not the end, but the beginning of punishment that has no end. In the New Testament the malice of God is infinite and the hunger of his revenge eternal.” – Robert Green Ingersoll

How do we explain the popularity of Christianity?

If Jesus was a historical nobody, how does one account for the popularity? How does one account for the dedication of early Christians who were persecuted and murdered before Rome adopted the Christian faith? When people are willing to face torture and death for what they believe in, that truly is a remarkable kind of loyalty. But it doesn't prove divinity and Christianity certainly does not hold the monopoly of such loyalty. In fact, there are people who chose brutal torture and death rather than convert to Christianity under the Spanish Inquisition.

Bill appears to insinuate that it is the love and peace of Jesus Christ that accounts for the grand 2.2 billion strong following. I can think of seven reasons that would account for the popularity.
1. The words, as cherry picked as they are, or love and tolerance attributed to Jesus attract many followers.
2. The church (when under good leadership) provides social support, traditions, customs, brotherhood and other commonalities that have served to strengthen communities.
3. Any religion that promotes large families has Darwinian advantages in survival.
4. Nomadic religions have Darwinian advantages over local gods that are immobile.
5. The ruling class found the religion useful to subjugate the peasants and therefore promoted it. Turn the other cheek and don’t worry about subjugation in this life because there will be pie in the sky when you die is just the philosophy that rulers want for their subjects. Christianity allows the establishment of a priesthood and church that will grant tyrants divine approval. Christianity and political power have walked hand in hand for many centuries.
6. The religion was spread throughout the world by powerful nations. In my own area of the world millions of South Americans and African Americans call themselves Christian. But in examining history, was this due to the words of a book or the blood of a sword?
7. Heaven and Hell. The great promise and the great threat. Love Jesus and you exist forever without fear of death. Don’t love Jesus and burn for all eternity. Now that’s one hell of a marketing campaign.

The story of Jesus in a nutshell

At birth born of a virgin and recognized as the fulfiller of a prophecy and given lots of gold and other gifts by wondering wise men.

At twelve impresses people because he was well-spoken and has learned much Jewish law.

As an adult declared Son of God by John the Baptist and a dove lands on his shoulder which was perceived to be some kind of sign. At the time before visiting John the Baptist he has no reverence among the people as the fulfiller of a prophecy, born a virgin, or wealthy from all the gold that was given to him by the wise men. He’s just known as a working class carpenter. It’s exactly as if those stories were told later to make him fit some prophecy rather than events that actually happened during his life.

Jesus flips over some money changer tables at the temple. Later he declares himself Son of God among people who know him and members of his own family. No one believes him, not even his own brothers. Once again, if the virgin and wise men thing happened, why would no one believe him?

Jesus begins a ministry and draws people to him.

Jesus gets crucified.


Killing Jesus is a book far more interested in glorifying Jesus than presenting honest history. It’s a book attempting to proselytize more than educate. The surrounding history is done well. When the book isn't covering Jesus, it provides great information and detail on fascinating characters such as Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. When it comes to other characters, nothing is held back. The uncomfortable details are shared. But with Jesus he is protected.

It’s hard to recommend a book that’s so biased in its portrayal of history. For anyone who decides to read Killing Jesus, my advice is to be aware of what are true accounts of history and what is selective and sugar coated hearsay.

-James Kirk Wall

"And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter" -- Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, April 11, 1823

For an audio sample of Killing Jesus, click this Macmillan Audio link.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Leave a comment