Several months ago, I reported on Veracity about Reza Aslan’s controversial yet popular book, Jesus the Zealot. Several waves of biblical scholars mostly panned the book, citing that despite a few thoughtful ideas here and there and some very engaging storytelling, Aslan fails to contribute anything substantially new to the discussion regarding our understanding of the historical Jesus. Now, just a few months later, conservative news commentator Bill O’Reilly has made his stab at writing a biography of Jesus of Nazareth, Killing Jesus.
Over at Anthony Le Donne’s scholarly Jesus Blog, we find an initial take on O’Reilly’s (with co-author Martin Dugard) latest blockbuster, following on the heels of other popular subjects, such as Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. Sadly, Le Donne is not impressed so far. At best, Le Donne finds O’Reilly’s use of biblical and historical sources to be inconsistent. But here, Le Donne quotes one of O’Reilly’s leading statements at the beginning of the book:
“Jesus was executed. But the incredible story behind the lethal struggle between good and evil has not been fully told. Until now. At least, that is the goal of this book.” (page 4)
Wow. Such hubris. Despite the thousands and thousands of pages already printed investigating the historical identity of Jesus of Nazareth, O’Reilly is telling us that only now will he begin to tell us the full story.
That is simply incredible.
Just think about this for a moment. Here are two books by Aslan and O’Reilly that have rocketed to the top of the New York Times best seller lists. The folks at the apologetics website Stand to Reason appear to be some of the few Christians who generously find O’Reilly to be somewhat helpful, but even they stop short of a full endorsement. Furthermore, even Ken Ham at Answers in Genesis finds something to disapprove of regarding Killing Jesus. In some cases, O’Reilly takes the New Testament accounts at face value for being historical. At other times, he dismisses key aspects of the Gospels as historically valid. In the reviews I have seen, it does not seem at all clear what O’Reilly’s method is for making his historical judgments.
I wonder why you do not see books by top-notch evangelical New Testament scholars like N.T. Wright, Craig Blomberg, Ben Witherington, Craig Evans, Gregory Boyd, Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, D. A. Carson, Gregory Beale or Darrell Bock at the top of the New York Times Best Seller lists? On the positive side, both Aslan and O’Reilly show that people are still fascinated with the person of Jesus Christ, which provides a very natural opportunity for the believer to start up spiritual conversations with their neighbor. However, it is difficult to restrain myself from thinking that politics might be part of the reason for Aslan’s and O’Reilly’s success with their books. I do not mean to step on anyone’s toes, but it would concern me if the story of Jesus is getting manipulated here to support some different agendas. I suppose that if Reza Aslan writes something that appeals to so-called “liberals” that O’Reilly feels compelled to write something appealing to so-called “conservatives”. I guess it all evens out perhaps?
Just a Few Weeks Away!!
Come join the Veracity community at the Facts & Faith Symposium, to be held at the Williamsburg Community Chapel, on several Sundays in November, 2013 (the 10th, 17th and 24th) at 6:30pm.
November 11th, 2013 at 1:57 am
I found O’Reilly’s “Killiing Lincoln” a compelling read. I don’t listen to him on TV (no TV in my house), but when he was on the radio, I found some of his “understandings” of scripture to be half-baked or slanted to support his particular agenda.
Thus, it doesn’t surprise me that his “Killing Jesus” would labor under the same inaccuracies. He’s not a theologian (nor am I) and unless he’s accurately and consistently using reputable resources, he’d be little better than other pop commentators. Thanks for your comments.
November 11th, 2013 at 4:26 am
Like you, we do not watch much TV in our home, so my exposure to O’Reilly is limited. But when I see popular books that come out like this, I think we should take a more critical reading posture, even if a good chunk of the material is basically correct. Better yet, folks should invest themselves in other books written by professional and evangelical New Testament scholars that would be more consistently reliable.
Thanks for stopping by Veracity!
December 19th, 2013 at 2:36 pm
UPDATE: December 19, 2013
John Ankerberg hosted a discussion with Gary Habermas of Liberty University and Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary regarding O’Reilly’s book. I was actually a bit surprised that Habermas and Bock generally liked O’Reilly’s book (with a few noted caveats). Though I think that this is partly the case since O’Reilly favorably mentions Habermas and Bock in their books.
On the other side, I did hear a debate with Reza Aslan about his book, and it sounds like he is improving (somewhat) over time as he continues to get battered around by serious critics.
But if you listen carefully to the Ankerberg interviews, you will find a certain nuance to Habermas and Bock that I find extremely helpful. If someone has read O’Reilly can offer comment, I would be curious to know if O’Reilly brings out the issues that Habermas and Bock do so well here with John Ankerberg. Given the one interview I saw with O’Reilly, I am a bit skeptical.
I highly recommend these interviews. Save yourself a few dollars from buying O’Reilly’s book and just listen to what these guys have to say. Here is the first segment: