Aside from Kelsey Grammar, the cast of Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Jesus” which aired last night (March 29, 2015), turned in terrible performances not because they’re bad actors, but because they worked off a terrible script. Moreover, whoever had charge of makeup should be drawn and quartered as well. The hair and beards those overly Semitic people sported looked like they were purchased at a Halloween party store.
O’Reilly’s intensely zealous attempt to portray the life and death of Jesus in the context of a historical overview falls off the rails for its injection of conclusions based on interpretations of the historical record, some of which are so fantastic they are caricatures of it.
The fiasco that is “Killing Jesus” the movie should have been expected. it was written by Walon Green, a 78 year old documentary film director. Green did what he does, present a documentary, another one in a long line of them which try to tell a story that cannot be told as a documentary. The Son of God was no more a political threat to the Roman Empire than his mother.
Selling a million copies of a book doesn’t necessarily validate its conclusions. This is especially true when writing about Jesus Christ’s life. To jam the idea that Jesus was a political person intent on making a political statement is to totally ignore the Gospels which are, for all intents and purposes, the only historical records we have of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The whole purpose of Christ in the first place was to foment a spiritual revolution, not a political one. There is no evidence whatsoever aside from his commenting on Roman taxes that Jesus had an interest in generating conflict with the Roman Empire. On the contrary, God picked precisely the right moment in history to send His son to earth. The Roman Empire made it such that Christ could preach in an atmosphere of relative order. To intentionally disturb that order would have interfered in his mission. To suggest otherwise even if your angle is a historical one only, flies in the face of the reality that Jesus was the Son of God and he knew it.
It isn’t history to avoid the known sources only to present what you think should have happened and why. In the scene where Jesus meets John the Baptist at the Jordan, somehow O’Reilly and Green concluded that Jesus had no idea who he himself was, that John had to actually convince him he was the Messiah. How O’Reilly and Green came up with that scene and make the claim it is historically accurate defies credibility. Indeed, John recognized Jesus immediately and declined to baptize Christ, but Christ overrode him and insisted they fulfill all righteousness which included Jesus submitting to being baptized as a signal he was not only the Son of God, but a human being as well. It isn’t clear what Gospel O’Reilly and Green used as their source, perhaps one of the unknown ones, like the Gospel of Randy or something.
Of course Jesus knew he was the Son of God from when he was a boy. We know this from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 41 to 50 where the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem after a Jewish festival. After three days missing, Mary and Joseph found him in the Temple engaged in a question and answer session with “the doctors”, i.e. the most learned Jewish men.
“And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: ‘Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.’ And he said to them: ‘How is it that you sought me? Did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?’” (Luke 2, 47:48) How did O’Reilly miss this?
Others have tried, none have succeeded in presenting the “historical Jesus”. It cannot be done as a dry documentary chronicling the life of a man in the first century whose impact has withstood the test of time for over 2,000 years. Surely there must be more to that man’s story than the conclusion he was a political agitator who threatened the Roman Empire, another conclusion entirely without merit.
By Pilate’s own admission he never heard of Jesus before Caiaphas and his minions brought charges against him. How O’Reilly arrived at Pilate’s being concerned about an itinerant Jewish preacher prior to Jesus’ appearance before him is anyone’s guess, but it isn’t through history. More to the point, Pilate’s response to Caiaphas’ complaint is basic Roman, there was a rule of law in place, Roman law. A man must be judged before he can be convicted, but once convicted, Roman punishment was extremely severe to show others who might consider similar infractions that it would not be worth the transgression.
Pilate’s hesitation to convict Jesus is also firmly within the historical record. We know that Pilate was in disfavor at Tiberius’ court because of his brutal approach to things which tended to end badly for everyone. In a particularly volatile area like Israel at the time, that approach was to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Slaughtering Jews en masse was what created instability, not Jesus’ preaching. Pilate was in a tight spot regarding Jesus however. He was being subtly threatened by the Jewish leaders, if he didn’t have Jesus crucified, he knew they would incite a riot themselves. So he did the expedient thing while publicly washing his hands of responsibility.
As far as the Romans were concerned, Jesus wasn’t even on their radar until the Jewish leaders brought him to their attention. Clearly then, the contemporary effort to portray Jesus as a political lightning rod is specious.
O’Reilly and others who have attempted “documentaries” on the historical Jesus like to justify their “history” of Jesus by removing the religious aspect from his life. That’s like removing Mona Lisa’s smile. He tries desperately to support Jesus’ enormous popularity by saying it was the man’s message that attracted the thousands of people who came to him. It’s truly a ridiculous approach. There were plenty of men before and after Jesus who had “messages” and followers, none as successful as Jesus. The reason is so obvious that to exclude it from the historical Jesus is tantamount to intellectual dishonesty and academic malfeasance.
It was Jesus’ ability to create miracles that separated him from the all others claiming connection to God. They are what made him so popular. The miracles brought thousands upon thousands of people to him, the vehicles by which he could preach to the largest numbers in an age of little or no communication other than word of mouth. It made sense on both the human and spiritual levels. Failure to acknowledge the absolute importance of Jesus’ miracles in generating such enormous crowds is a willful attempt to mislead and yet O’Reilly scrupulously avoids them as if to say, they were ancillary to Jesus’ story, of no real importance.
As if to underscore his disdain for the importance of Christ’s miracles, the one he does include in the movie is entirely inaccurate. He has the mother of a boy seeking out Jesus to help her demon possessed son. In the first place, Mark writes in Chapter 9, 15:28 that it was the boy’s father who asked for Jesus’ help. The importance of the story however did not center around Jesus’ exorcising the demon to show his miraculous abilities and power over them, it was to show how faith in Jesus and his message can overcome all adversity. Mark writes that the father asked Jesus to help “if you can”. Jesus essentially rebuked him by saying, “If I can?” Then he proceeded to call out the demon and order it never to enter the boy again.
O’Reilly’s Jesus never says a word to the demon, presumably because a demon isn’t historically real in O’Reilly’s estimation. We are left with O’Reilly’s Jesus simply holding the boy as if to say all we need is love. John Lennon said that. He was wrong too. Jesus showed power as well as love, the power of faith. St. Paul clarified the foundational character of Christ’s message of faith when he wrote to the Romans, first you have to have faith, then the love of Christ will pour out on you.
Finally, and O’Reilly isn’t the only one to make the mistake although in his case like others it seems to be intentional for purposes of political correctness, the Romans were not responsible for killing Jesus, the Jewish leadership was. In fact, there is evidence to suggest the troops used to crucify Jesus were not Roman regulars, they were most likely auxiliaries pulled from the indigenous population. The closest Roman legion was the XII Fulminata stationed in Raphanae, Syria some hundred plus miles away. It is true Pilate had a contingent with him of about 4,000 at all times, but it is questionable, knowing how volatile the situation would be during Jewish feast days in Jerusalem, that he would march all 4,000 into the city.
In the end, “Killing Jesus” was neither enlightening nor entertaining. In truth, it was just another reworking of Christ’s story from a secular angle which while purporting to be historically accurate leaves out the most essential history so as to make it look like Bill O’Reilly, someone in the middle not taking one side or the other, is being impartial enough to please the harshest skeptics.
Bill O’Reilly is a good man, there should be no doubt about that, but he is also a classic huckster with a giant ego and happy to be that.
One final note to O’Reilly:
The difference between your other “Killing” books and “Killing Jesus” is that you rightfully humanized Lincoln, Kennedy and Patton because they were men, but you failed with Jesus in an attempt to humanize God.