Est. May 2008

10 October, 2013

On ‘Killing Jesus’

I finished reading Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, and I have to say it’s an entertaining read; it reminds me most of the many historical fiction books I’ve read in the past – just enough ‘real’ history interspersed with a good deal of ‘writer’s license.

As far as the Roman history the authors incorporated into the book, I cannot speak; I am in no way, shape, or form a Roman-era historian.  Nor am I really an ‘expert’ on first-century AD Middle Eastern history.  What I can say with some level of confidence is that I have enough knowledge and access to resources that I can analyze some of the Bible-based claims and information the authors offer.

Now, having established my bona fides (or lack of them), I have to say that there are two parts of this book which greatly disturb me.

Spoiler alert: if you haven't read the book yet, and want to, and don't want to see spoilers, well, don't 'continue reading'.

The first – and, to me, the worst – is found on page 144 of the hardcover edition of Killing Jesus.  In relating the story of Jesus eating at Simon the Pharisee’s home, the authors make two assertions: one, that the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with perfume is, in fact, Mary Magdalene.  The other is that this woman was a prostitute.

The Scripture passage they use is Luke, Chapter 7, verses 36 through 50; here is there assertion of the woman’s identity:
Nevertheless, Mary of Magdala* - or Mary Magdalene, as she will go down in history – now stands behind Jesus.
The footnote that goes with the asterisk is as follows:
Though Mary Magdalene is not mentioned by name in this story (Luke 7:36-50), it has long been the tradition of Christian teaching that it was she. Luke most likely veiled her true identity because she was still alive at the time he wrote his Gospel. He did the same with Matthew, the tax collector and Gospel author whom he refers to as Levi (Luke 5:27). (emphasis mine)
I did a little fact-checking on these claims.

1) In Luke 7, the woman is never identified as a prostitute (Greek porne); she is defined as a ‘sinner’ (Greek hamartolos).  The only translation of this that even comes close to ‘prostitute’ is the New Living Translation, and even that one uses the term ‘immoral woman’ – the NIV, which the authors claim as their source text for the Bible (see page 277 of their book) clearly calls her a ‘sinner’, as does the KJV, NKJV, ESV, RSV, and others (see here).

2) The authors claim Luke does not identify her in order to protect her from possible persecution, yet Luke identifies Mary Magdalene by name immediately following this passage (in Luke 8:2) and later in chapter 24, verse 10; both verses which intimately connect her with Jesus and would be more likely to bring persecution on her.

3) Luke uses the name ‘Levi’ twice in his gospel, both in Chapter 5, verses 27 and 29; he also uses Matthew, in the next chapter (chapter 6, verse 15) and at the very beginning of his second work the book of Acts (chapter 1, verse 13.  Again, if Luke was trying to protect these people, he was doing a very poor job of it.

4) As to Mary Magdalene being a prostitute, yes, the church has a tradition of this being the case; the problem, though is that Luke himself says it’s not true: ‘Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out (emphasis mine)’. 

The whole thing reads as though Luke didn’t know who this female ‘sinner’ was, and that it really didn’t matter to the story; he did know she wasn’t a prostitute, and he obviously did know she wasn’t Mary Magdalene, otherwise he would have named her.

Here’s the reason this troubles me.  The authors admit they used the Bible as a source-text; it’s obvious from the story, as well as from the footnotes, that the Bible figured rather largely in the telling of the tale.  To miss such obvious connections as I’ve pointed out (which, by the way, I put together in less than a half-hour), which are so painfully obvious after a bit of fact-checking, makes me wonder at the thoroughness of the other fact-checking and scholarship they referenced (not the scholarship, but their methods of referring to it)

Now, to the less-troubling (but still troubling) second thing.

On page 184 of the book the authors write:
All the disciples hope they will reap the glory that will come after the new Messiah overthrows the Romans.  Peter is so sure that Jesus is going to use military might that he is making plans to purchase a sword. (emphasis mine)
This is less troubling than the previous trouble, but it still raises a question in my mind of scholarship - there’s nothing in Scripture which tells us Peter was ‘making plans to purchase a sword’ – at least not at this point of the tale. 

No, at this point, Jesus and His disciples haven’t even entered Jerusalem yet; this section of the book relates to events beginning in Luke chapter 19.  It’s not until Luke 22, verse 35, that swords are mentioned – this is after the donkey-colt, after finding a place to eat the Passover, after the Passover, and immediately prior to Jesus’ journey – with His apostles – into the Garden of Gethsemane, where He will be arrested.

To say that Peter was looking to buy a sword is, IMO, artistic license taken with the story; enough artistic license to make me wonder how much other artistic license was taken with the source materials the authors used.

But, again, I am neither a scholar (professional or amateur) on Roman history of that time period or in that region.

Killing Jesus isn’t a religion book – Mr. O’Reilly was right about that.  Nor, really, is it a history book.  For me it rests somewhere in between – a ‘historical fiction’ which will join the other historical fiction books on my bookshelf here at home.  

Oh, and by the way – Mr. O’Reilly said Jesus was killed over a tax revolt.  Didn’t see that anywhere in the book.

1 comment:

Right Truth said...

I have not read it, I wondered how historically accurate it would be.

Debbie
Right Truth
http://www.righttruth.typepad.com