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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Killing Jesus" - A Commentary on the book co-authored by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

In the book “Killing Jesus” the authors invest a great deal of effort into separating Jesus’ divinity from His humanity in an attempt to come up with an account of the events and issues leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and the motivation of those who took His human life. Though other reviews of this book are available including the one posted previously by adjunct professor of theology, David G. Bonagura, Jr., this commentary is intended to offer a brief but critical observation that can not be overlooked when it comes to the methodology used by the authors in presenting their opinions in the book, “Killing Jesus”.

In fact, separating Jesus Divinity from His humanity only creates a distorted account of Jesus as to who He was on earth; His life, His death, and His resurrection.

St. Jerome once said, "I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: 'Search the Scriptures,' and 'Seek and you shall find.' For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."

The attempt to remove the Divine being of Jesus from His human form leaves only a human body without the principle attributes that make up each person for who they are. Without our minds or our spirits, we are a dead carcass. It is the mind and the spirit of each individual that motivates the body. A person’s choices are made through consciousness based in thought and rooted in knowledge. Jesus possessed the mind of God and He clearly knew who He was and His intent. His human body was motivated by His divinity and therefore His divinity can not be separated from His humanity. In these motivating factors rests the reasons for all He did and said during His human life. Without acknowledging who He was there is no factual way of analyzing or depicting Him, all that remains is a human body. Ignorance to scripture is in fact ignorance of who Jesus Christ was and is and no factual account can be made without knowing the subject as completely as possible.

Christians know throughout scripture that from the very moment Jesus was born, there were those such as Herod who sought to have Him executed. The reasons for His enemies wanting to kill Jesus varied slightly throughout His life but centered on the pride and power each of His adversaries attempted to retain. They did not believe He could be the Messiah, He did not fit the preconceived idea of how the Messiah would appear or the power He would project to gain for them the freedom they desired. Since infancy He would require protection from those who would have Him killed.  But to suggest His crucifixion was motivated primarily as a result of His overturning the tax tables in the temple is a drastic misconception ignoring many facts rooted in the records of both the Old And New Testaments pertinent to the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is True God and true man. We know this from the gospels:  “…though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians CH2: vs6-11)

 As an example of the lack of scriptural knowledge needed to understand who Jesus was while on this earth we can consider a recent airing of Bill O'Reilly's program, "The Factor". Recently a controversy arose that probably everyone has become familiar with to some degree; That is the controversy over the statements of Phil Robertson of the show “Duck Dynasty”. Although Mr. Robertson's presentation was crude to say the least, he expressed his Christian faith and referred to scripture when he mentioned certain life styles as being sinful and living such life styles would according to scripture result in a person’s loss of salvation and their damnation. The actual verse Phil Robertson was referring to in his scriptural reference was the following: “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians CH6: vs9-10)

During the same comments, Mr. Robertson also referenced partial quotes from another passage being Romans CH1: vs20-32: “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they (sinners) have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper. They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know the just decree of God that all who practice such things deserve death, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

 During the airing of his program, Mr. O’Reilly chose to do a segment on this controversy but with great caution, seemingly in opposition to Phil Robertson’s scripture references and chose to quote one biblical verse for his audience. That being; "Stop judging, that you may not be judged. 2 For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” (Matthew CH1: vs1-2)

This contradiction created by one person (in this case Bill O’Reilly) trying to contradict or disprove a scripture verse that another person (in this case Phil Robertson) has made reference to is a common error of those who are not as familiar with scripture as they should be, and quoting scripture out of context. Scripture does not conflict with itself, but all scripture works together to teach the word of God. Therefore someone has to be misunderstanding the verses they are quoting. How do these passages interrelate in their teachings? The passage telling one not to judge others does not mean we are not to judge the actions of others whether sinful or not as Bill O’Reilly implied. It is a warning against passing judgment in a spirit of arrogance, forgetful of one's own faults. What we are not to do is judge the soul of anyone personally which Mr. Robertson did not do. He spoke of the sinful acts of others in general as is stated in scripture. The further proof of possessing a proper judgment is in the following final passage:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people, not at all referring to the immoral of this world or the greedy and robbers or idolaters; for you would then have to leave the world. But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person. For why should I be judging outsiders? Is it not your business to judge those within? God will judge those outside. "Purge the evil person from your midst." (1 Corinthians CH5: vs9-13)

Why the authors of “Killing Jesus” chose to ignore the divinity and mind of Jesus for who He was according to all the historic content of scripture, I can not say. I can not say why Bill O’Reilly chose to present himself as having worthy knowledge of scripture to take a position quoting scripture to contradict scripture during his coverage of the controversy that arose from the comments of Phil Robertson. What I can say is, it would have been more advantageous and accurate to refer to the full person of Jesus Christ in his book "Killing Jesus", and also to invite theologians on his program to discuss the Phil Robertson controversy rather than present his illinformed position by attempting to invalidate scripture with scripture.

Of course, these are my opinions, but for those who do not like what scripture has to say in regard to today's social permissiveness but realize scripture is the inspired word of God, realize the following; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews CH13: v8) He does not change to suite the popular opinions of any era in society.

Speaking of "Killing Jesus"

A Review by David G. Bonagura, Jr. Adjunct Professor of theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York.
The quest for the “historical Jesus” – the supposed man beneath the accouterments of faith – rages unabated today, three centuries after the first of these now countless attempts appeared in book form. Since then, volumes have come and gone, all claiming to have found the “real Jesus,” through each author’s supposedly objective and faith-free interpretation of the epic events that occurred in Palestine two millennia ago. Yet this Jesus has still not been found. Instead, in these volumes, as Pope Benedict XVI explained in his own book about Jesus, we find “photographs of their authors and the ideals they hold.”
"Killing Jesus", by cable-news anchorman Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, is the latest such book to land on the best-seller lists. The authors explain that theirs “is not a religious book.” It is rather “an accurate account of not only how Jesus died, but also the way he lived and how his message has affected the world.” But in pushing the “Christ of faith” to the margins along with faith-conscious interpretations of Jesus’ words and deeds, we are left with the Gospel according to Bill O’Reilly – a dramatic political conflict between the leading religious and civic authorities of the first century, which had consequences for the whole world.
The greatest strength of Killing Jesus is its vivid descriptions of the physical and social backdrop to the stories told in the canonical Gospels. The landscapes of Nazareth, Capernaum, Jerusalem and its Temple are colorfully depicted, as are the complex social and political relationships between leading personalities and groups. The practical elements of domestic and ritual lifestyles underlying the Biblical accounts are also explained in detail, including the preparations for Passover in Jerusalem, where Jesus “sees the hundreds of temporary clay ovens that have been constructed in order that each pilgrim will have a place to roast his Passover sacrifice. . . .He hears the bleat of sheep as shepherds and their flocks clog the narrow streets, just down from the hills after lambing season.”
O’Reilly and Dugard thus provide a composition of place for all the major events in Jesus’ life: his baptism in the Jordan, his overturning of the money tables in the Temple, and above all, the intricate details of his Passion, from the type of flagellates with which Jesus was scourged to the “pleural and pericardial fluid. . .mixed with a torrent of blood,” that flowed from Jesus’ pierced side on the cross.
But if the book excels in physical and political descriptions, it’s wanting in historical interpretation. Time and again O’Reilly and Dugard present conjectures as facts and perform psychoanalysis on men whose motives remain unknown. The interpretation of ancient history, even after you’ve looked at the primary sources, requires careful discernment and reconstruction. Yet in Killing Jesus historical circumspection is often sacrificed in favor of a more sensational narrative.
Historical indiscretions appear in two forms. First, there are oversimplifications or even distortions of complicated facts, generally relegated to footnotes, including the dating and naming of Christmas and the timing of Jesus’ final Passover celebration. Second, unknown attitudes and motives are presented as facts without qualification in the narrative. At the last supper, for example, the authors declare that “Jesus is having trouble focusing on his final message to the disciples.” Really?
The greatest overreach, however, comes in the overly long account of the life of Julius Caesar, which outdoes the already garnished account by Plutarch, where Brutus’ stabbing of Caesar is deemed “an act of emasculation” against the dictator who refused to acknowledge Brutus as his progeny.
Fortunately, the account of the deeds and travels of Jesus of Nazareth is more reliable. O’Reilly and Dugard’s narrative closely follows St. John’s chronology of a ministry spanning three years, interspersed with certain events told by the Synoptics. The dialogues recounted between Jesus and his contemporaries are taken directly from the Bible with little embellishment, with the impassioned exchanges between Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Jewish Temple authorities featured as the heart of the narrative, which leads ultimately to Jesus’ death.
But here the authors’ disavowal of faith leads them to conclude that money – not claims about God or Judaism – is the real reason the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus killed. In interrupting the money flow by overturning the tables in the Temple, “Jesus has committed a grave offense,” and Annas, father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas, desires to eliminate Jesus as “a cautionary tale for anyone who considers challenging the authority of the Temple courts.”
In the Gospel according to Bill O’Reilly, then, the trial of Jesus for blasphemy – a religious charge if there ever was one – is ultimately a front for protecting the position of the high priest’s family and the Temple’s money supply from a God-centered rabbi who spent three years preaching the Kingdom of God while insinuating that he was God’s Son. 
The historical Jesus remains undiscovered in Killing Jesus, and for good reason. By removing faith from the history, the authors have also removed much of the evidence for a comprehensive understanding of Jesus. O’Reilly notes that “[t]he Pharisees believe in miracles but not in Jesus.” Perhaps someday history will believe in faith and not only in itself.
 David G. Bonagura, Jr. Adjunct Professor of theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York.