Bill O’Reilly was recently dropped by the the Fox News Network for allegations of sexual harassment.
Whatever the merits of the allegations of sexual harassment leveled against O’Reilly, he could only have flourished as a "news" commentator on a news organization such as Fox, which places more emphasis on conservative bombast than serious news analysis.
O’Reilly appears incapable of a reasoned, evidence-based analysis of factual events. This, of course, has not stopped him from having one of the largest viewing audiences on cable TV —some 4 million viewers per episode.
O’Reilly’s blatant political and ideological bias and his complete inability to distinguish between his personal beliefs and objective reality, or to even understand the difference, together with his complete lack of understanding as to what is required in order to undertake serious research seems to inform whatever he does.
O’Reilly (and Martin Dugard) recently wrote a book (later made into a TV movie) titled, Killing Jesus: A History.
The book is so bad --so based on O’Reilly’s conservative political ideology, and so completely lacking anything that could be called serious scholarship-- that it has been scorned, derided and laughed at by serious biblical scholars. O’Reilly, using no evidence to support his fantasies, presents Jesus as an ancient "Tea-Partier" rebelling against the Roman Empire because of its oppressive bureaucracy and high taxes. O’Reilly’s book is as fanciful as Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code; the difference, however, is that Brown understood he was writing fiction; O’Reilly does not.
Below are a few comments made by serious biblical scholars on the merits ofKilling Jesus.
Bart Ehrman has written three blogs that specifically address Killing Jesus. Ehrman is John Jay Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,. He is one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars and has written some 30 scholarly books on Jesus and the New Testament, including one of the most widely-used textbooks on the New Testament. (The following quotes by Bart Ehrman can be can be found on The Bart Ehrman Blog, which contains a wealth of information on the study of Jesus and the Bible.)
Ehrman aptly expresses his exasperation at having to review O'Reilly's book in one of his blogs:, "Killing Jesus is Killing Me".
I received my copy of Killing Jesus in the mail today and started to glance at it. I know I said I would read it, but I’m just not sure I can bring myself to do it.
He then illustrates the cause of his frustration.
The opening "Note to Readers" makes one’s heart sink. We are told that this will be a "fact-based book." Oh, that’s good, the reader thinks: it won’t be biased but will be objective, based only on facts. Until you begin to read the opening page of ch. 1.
"Heavily armed soldiers from the capital city of Jerusalem are marching to this small town, intent on finding and killing the baby boy. They are a mixed-race group of foreign mercenaries from Greece, Gaul, and Syria…." (Killing Jesus, p.??)
Oh dear. So, for our FOX historian of antiquity writing this account – the Gospel according to Bill – who is giving us only "facts," it turns out that the "slaughter of the innocents" in Bethlehem, taken from Matthew’s infancy narrative, is a factual, historical account. We not only know it happened, we know which soldiers Herod sent forth for killing the Christ-child (foreign mercenaries), and we know which countries they came from! (I’m surprised he doesn’t tell us how many there were and what their names, ranks, serial numbers, and dates of birth were!)
Anyway, back to the "Note to the Readers." We are assured that Bill-and-buddy-co-"author" have based their information "on classical works." That sounds good –no modern, biased accounts, but only ancient accounts will be used. And then we are told how that is possible. This is an actual quote (. . . this one is so hard to believe that I have to assure you, they say it!):
"The Romans kept incredible records of the time, and a few Jewish historians in Palestine also wrote down the events of the day." (Killing Jesus)
This last quote raises two issue:
(1) Exactly which Roman records did O’Reilly use as a basis for his description of the "Slaughter of the Innocent"? Ehrman makes it quite clear which ones O’Reilly must have relied on.
let’s think about those "incredible records" that the "Romans kept" at the time. What are Bill-and-buddy talking about? They’re talking about incredible records that no one has ever seen –because they don’t exist.
(2) What about all those Jewish historians that O’Reilly relied on for his information? Ehrman comments on this claim as well.
How many "Jewish historians…of the day" do we actually have that they can base their narrative on? Well, unfortunately not many. In fact not two or three. The reality is that we have one. Josephus. And how much does he tell us about Jesus? Assuming that the so-called Testimonium Flavianum in Book 20 of his 20-volume Antiquities of the Jews is authentic (I think the core of it is, at least), he gives us a paragraph. And one other partial sentence in book 18. If that is the "classical source" they rely on for this "fact-based" book – how is it that the book is 280 pages long???
The paragraph that Ehrman refers to is contained in a Greek translation of Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews (18.3.3). Its authenticity, as Ehrman indicates, is highly suspect. It is generally considered by biblical scholars to have been inserted later by an early Christian scribe. The paragraph states:
At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.
This paragraph is considered inauthentic (either wholly or in part) for several reasons. First of all, it differs sharply in its writing style and in the tone of its commentary from the surrounding narrative. It is contained in a section that describes the various bandits, prophets, terrorists, and messianic pretenders that arose during Pontius Pilate's administration. While Josephus depicts most of the other individuals in largely negative terms, the above paragraph provides an uncharacteristically glowing portrait of Jesus. Josephus was an upper-class Pharisee, who had nothing but disdain and contempt for those who claimed to be either prophets or messiahs --of which there were many during the first century CE (see Horsley and Hanson 1985). He, in fact, blamed them and their actions for the eventual destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 CE. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that Josephus would have presented a glowing description of Jesus. In addition, Josephus' quote about Jesus does not appear until the fourth century. No church leaders prior to this time mention Josephus' quote, even though the existence of such a quote would clearly have served their purposes.
Furthermore, as those portions of the quote highlighted in lavender indicate, the description of Jesus contained in the above paragraph was written by someone who clearly believed: (1) that Jesus was a god; (2) that Jesus arose from the dead; and (3) that Jesus was predicted by several Old Testament prophets. These were the beliefs of those individuals who eventually came to be known as Christians. Josephus was an Orthodox Jew, not a Christian. He never converted to Christianity. He, therefore, would not have made statements that would only be made by a Christian. The paragraph also states that the Jews instigated Jesus' crucifixion. This was also a specifically Christian idea. Since Josephus was not a Christian, it is unlikely that he would have made this statement either. (see Zeitlin 1928: The Christ Passage in Josephus) One unlikely alternative would be to accept the paragraph as authentic minus, of course, the lavender text.
And, of course, what happens if one goes back to those "incredible" Roman records; what do they say about Jesus? Ehrman suggests that nothing would be found.
Let’s think for a second about how many times those incredible Roman records mention Josephus. Josephus is arguably the single most important figure of Palestinian Judaism of the first century. An upper-crust elite aristocrat; general of Jewish armies; eventually court historian for the Roman emperor; author of our most important books on Jewish history, politics, and culture of the first century. And among those "incredible records" that Romans "of that time" kept, what do we learn about this man of paramount importance to the day and age? Nothing. Josephus is never mentioned in any contemporary Roman record. Period.
Let's take another prominent individual, someone who actually lived in Palestine at the time of Jesus —Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea from 26-36 CE who ordered Jesus’ execution. Pilate was arguably the most significant person in the political and historical life of Palestine during the time Jesus lived. What do Roman records say about Pilate?
We know about Pilate from the Gospels, from Josephus, from Philo of Alexandria, and from a few material remains – some coins produced during his reign and a brief inscription discovered in modern times. And what do our "incredible records" of the Romans at the time say about him. Nothing. Nada. Not a thing. Pilate is *never mentioned* in *any* Roman source of the first century. At all.
In other words, if available Roman records say absolutely nothing about Josephus, the most prominent Jewish historian of the day, who moved to Rome and who, as a protégé of three Roman emperors, wrote the two most important ancient histories of the Jews, (including their war of rebellion against Rome), or about Pontius Pilate, the infamous Governor of Judea responsible for the execution of Jesus, what is the likelihood that the Romans wrote anything about Jesus? Obviously, none.
So, clearly, nothing in O’Reilly’s 280-page book can be based on either Roman records or the writings of Jewish historians. The entire book is based, in fact, on two sources: Bill O'Reilly's naive acceptance of the gospels as historical accounts rather than as professions of faith, and his own imagination influenced by his conservative political ideology.
Indeed! How could O’Reilly possibly have consulted any historical source when writing the following paragraph about Herod’s actions while awaiting the return of his soldiers? This entire paragraph is a figment of his imagination.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, King Herod gazes out a palace window toward Bethlehem, anxiously awaiting confirmation of the slaughter…. Herod sighs. Back in his youth, he would never have stood in a window and worried about the future. A great king and warrior such as he would have ordered that a bridle be thrown over his favorite white charger so that he might gallop to Bethlehem and murder the child himself. But Herod is not a man of sixty-nine. His massive girth and incessant medical problems make it physically impossible for him to leave his palace, let alone mount a horse. His bloated face is wreathed in a beard that extends from the bottom of his chin to just below his Adam’s apple. On this day, he wears a royal purple Roman-style mantle over a short-sleeved white silk tunic. Normally Herod prefers soft leather leggings that have been stained purple,. But today even the gentlest bristle of fabric against his inflamed big toe is enough to make him cry out in pain. So it is that Herod, the most powerful man in Judea, hobbles through the palace barefoot. But gout is the least of Herod’s ailments. the king of the Jews…is also suffering from lung disease, kidney problems, worms, a heart condition, sexually transmitted diseases, and a horrible version of gangrene that has caused his genitals to rot, turn black, and become infested with maggots – thus the inability to sit astride, let alone ride, a horse…. (Killing Jesus)
Where, then, did O’Reilly and his co-author get their information? Thousands of scholarly books based on serious and meticulous research have been written about Jesus and the New Testament. In addition, hundreds of scholarly journals, some of which have been in existence for over 100 years, collectively contain thousands of detailed, research-based articles on a variety of topics concerned with an exegesis of the gospels, of various books contained within the Old and New Testaments, and of apocryphal writings. However, in their bibliography, O’Reilly and Dugard include a mere 10 books. Moreover, only 4 of these books deal with the execution of Jesus, the very subject of their book! In other words, O’Reilly and his co-author had no interest in obtaining the best information available on the subject of their book. Also, given the fact that the book contains no references or footnotes, it is impossible to know where (if at all) the authors actually relied on these sources for their "historical" claims. I suspect that some books were likely included in their bibliography to give the impression that they had actually read something on the subject of Jesus, much like students who "pad" their bibliographies to make their teachers think they consulted many sources for their research papers.. One of the primary characteristics of the poorest students in my classes was their reliance only on books (and usually just a few easily available books) to write their term papers, ignoring the wealth of information available in professional journals. Such students ALWAYS received an F-grade on their papers —and they were generally writing c. 20--page term papers, not a 280-page book!!
So, if Bill O’Reilly (and his co-author) relied exclusively on an uncritical use of the gospels and his own imagination, what kind of Jesus did he produce? In 1906, Albert Schweitzer wrote in his famous book, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, that each generation of biblical historians painted Jesus in their own image, and this is exactly what Bill O’Reilly has done. O’Reilly’s Jesus is a first-century "Tea-Partier" fighting against high taxes and big government in the form of the Roman Empire (a stand-in for contemporary Washington). This point is expressed quite well by Selina O’Grady, author ofAnd Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus (2014) in her review of Killing Jesus in The Guardian (Dec. 18, 2016).
Everyone creates God in their own image, so it's not surprising that Fox television's aggressively conservative down-home-let's-hear-it-for-the-ordinary-guy talk show host should have created a Tea Party son of God. Jesus, the little guy, is an enemy of the big corrupt tax-oppressing Roman empire, which is itself just a version of Washington, only even more venal and sexually depraved. This Jesus is a tax-liberating rebel who incurs the wrath of the Jewish and Roman powers by threatening their joint fleecing of the people. As a member of the populist right, he is not, of course, in favour of redistribution: Bill O’Reilly’s Jesus does not tell the rich to give away their money to the poor. . . .
Indeed, O’Reilly repeatedly emphasizesTAXES so frequently as the central issue of the day that Ehrman states,
"I can’t read this without thinking of Monty Python’s "Life of Brian": "What have the Romans ever done for us*????"
What have the Romans ever done for us?
When someone limits the number of sources they consult, they are inevitably going to miss information that is central to their argument. For example, Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, points out that O’Reilly repeatedly leaves out information that contradicts his "Tea-Party" Jesus. For example, Roman taxes were not the only payments Jews had to make to authorities. Religious obligations required that they pay tithes to support the Temple.
The basic argument of the book is that Jesus died because he interfered with the taxation-heavy Roman revenue stream. The reason the Jews eagerly anticipated the Messiah, writes O’Reilly, is, "When that moment arrives, Rome will be defeated and their lives will be free of taxation and want." It’s true that the people did long for the Messiah, that the majority of them were poor and oppressed, and that very few benefited from Roman occupation. But even if the Romans had been overthrown the people would have still been paying tithes to Jewish authorities to sustain the Temple, as Biblical and Jewish laws demand. . . .
And, of course, if your goal is to present a Jesus you want to believe in, leaving out contradictory evidence is a must. As Moss notes,
The most striking part of O’Reilly’s biography is what is left out. When O’Reilly tells Luke’s story of John the Baptist, he includes the Baptist’s insistence that tax collectors stop overcharging and that soldiers stop extorting the poor, but casually omits the instruction to everyone (the crowds) that "whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."
In other words, O’Reilly. like others who want to protect and promote their beliefs rather than objectively and rigorously investigate evidence,"cherrypicks" his facts.
Robert M. Price, an adjunct professor of theology and scriptural studies at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary and a member of theJesus Seminar, wrote a book titled Killing History: Jesus in the No-Spin Zone (2014), a critical commentary on Killing Jesus. The following statement is Penguin Random House's promotional description for Price's book:
Killing Jesus, the bestselling blockbuster by Bill O'Reilly, claims to be a purely historical account of the events in the life of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion. New Testament scholar Robert M. Price (a member of the Jesus Seminar) shows how unfounded this claim is in this critical review of O'Reilly's work. In fact, he judges the book to be the number one source of misinformation on Jesus today. Ignoring over one hundred years of New Testament scholarship, O'Reilly and his coauthor, Martin Dugard, have produced what Price describes as a Christian historical thriller that plays fast and loose with the facts.
Price goes through the key events of Jesus’ later life as described in the gospels and retold in Killing Jesus, painstakingly showing in each case what scholars know and don’t know. Using humor, down-to-earth analogies, and witty sarcasm—not unlike O’Reilly’s own interview style—Price makes it clear that O’Reilly’s book is more historical novel than a work of serious history. By cobbling together the four gospel stories, ignoring the contradictions, and adding plenty of quasi-historical background embellishments, O’Reilly and Dugard have created a good narrative that resonates with a lot of Christians. Entertaining reading this may be, but history it is not.
Bart Ehrman provides the following endorsement to Price’sKilling History: Jesus in the No-Spin Zone.
Even though serious and hard-hitting scholarship on the historical Jesus has been available for over three hundred years, modern writers continue to publish ‘popular’ accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds, blithely ignorant of what we actually know. In Killing History, New Testament scholar Robert Price shows that among the worst of sinners is Bill O’Reilly and his bestselling but ill-conceived book Killing Jesus. In point after point, Price convincingly and authoritatively argues that O’Reilly has produced a Jesus of his own imagination, rather than the Jesus who emerges from a historically informed study of the gospels."
In concluding her article, Moss provides an equally negative assessment of O’Reilly’s book.
Killing Jesus has all the critical rigor of your local church’s Nativity play. . . . The methodology of this book is impossible to divine. O’Reilly says he wants "to separate fact from myth" but then never tells us how he does this. We hear the Sunday-school story that Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he was unworthy to die like Christ. Nope: that’s a fifth-century interpretation. . . . Mary Magdalene is identified as the prostitute who anointed the feet of Jesus with oil. That’s not in the Bible. This is a much later error that was formalized by Pope Gregory the Great.
Ehrman offers a similar assessment.
If this were something other than a historical novel (a work of fiction) – that is, if it was anything like a book on Jesus written by someone with historical interest – the authors would provide *evidence* for their claims, at least in footnotes. They would indicate that this is what our sources indicate about taxes on Jews in Galilee. This is how they compare with taxes elsewhere. This is the percentage of income that went into taxes as a rule. Here are some examples of public protests against them, as documented in this source or that source. Here is some actual *evidence* that Joseph and Mary were concerned about taxes. Or that Jesus was. Or that this concern had anything to do with his message. That it had anything to do with his death. But no, there is no evidence cited here. So how Is a person supposed to evaluate these claims that the big problem Jesus had to deal with was –like our republican House of Representatives– TAXES THAT WERE TOO HIGH? Well, there’s no way to evaluate the claim unless you happen to be an expert in the period and know the sources yourself. If you want to read a portrayal of Jesus as a card-carrying member of the Tea Party, this is the book for you. If, on the other hand, you want a serious historical treatment of Jesus –and of Palestine in his time– I would suggest you read the books about Jesus by scholars who actually know what they’re talking about.
He then adds,
So here’s the reality. I have spent forty years of my life –full time, virtually every week of it– studying the historical Jesus, the New Testament, and the early Christian movement. There are lots of people like me. They are the ones who have grounds for what they think. They disagree with one another, to be sure. But they understand the issues and have views about how to deal with the problems. My guess is that O’Reilly doesn’t even *know* the issues, let alone have a view about them, or a sense of how to deal with them.
To be a real scholar of the historical Jesus you need to be able to read the New Testament in Greek; you need to be able to read Jesus’ own scriptures, the Hebrew Bible, in Hebrew. You need to be able to read all the sources about Jesus, which requires Latin and Coptic. You need to delve deeply into scholarly research, which has been going on, at intense levels, since the 1770’s. And then you’re ready to say something to the world at large. You can’t just read the Bible, take it to be historical, fill out the details with your imagination, and imagine you’ve written something that people should buy into.
It is clear that O’Reilly was not inspired to write his book from having read serious scholarly studies of Jesus. Where then did Bill O’Reilly get his inspiration to write Killing Jesus? He revealed his source of inspiration during an interview onCBS' 60 Minutes.
The Fox News anchor explains in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" that one night he awoke with the title of the book in his head. He says he believes he got that message from the Holy Spirit.
O'Reilly says the book is a researched, historic account. Despite its de-emphasis of religion, he is using his special gifts from God in a positive way.
He says it's all part of God's plan for him.
(Sept. 26, 2013)
The Canadian Press
I suspect, however, that much of O’Reilly’s inspiration came from a more mundane source. Killing Jesus has been a #1 New York Times and Amazon best seller. It followed two previous best sellers: Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy. According to one source, O’Reilly has earned an estimated $24 million from his "Killing" books.
It sounds a bit cliche at this point to say O’Reilly is making a "killing" off of his Killing book series, but it’s true. Forbes reports that O’Reilly earns $24 million from the books alone. By March 2015, Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus and Killing Patton had sold a combined 6.8 million copies, according to CNNMoney. The fifth book in the series is Killing Reagan and every book is co-written with Martin Dugard. Publisher Henry Holt said in April 2016 that the total number of copies sold had climbed to 14.5 million.
Add this to the $18 million he earned per year at Fox and the $25 million severance payment he has purportedly received, and it is clear that O’Reilly has been makingbig bucks off of the average American's ignorance and desire to read and listen to someone who tells them what they want to hear rather than to someone who wants to educate and inform them.
And it looks as though O'Reilly will continue to earn big bucks and tell people what they want to hear for some time.
Bill O'Reilly to return with new podcast
Subscription fee: $4.95 per month; $49.95 per year.
It all reminds me of a favorite phrases used by one of my college professors:
"The masses are asses."
Or stated somewhat more eloquently by H.L. Menken,
"No one in this world, so far as I know . . . has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."
The Daily Show
Trevor Noah gives a deserving farewell to Bill O'Reilly
if only it were truly a farewell.
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