I was about as disappointed as Bart Ehrman was when I read Killing Jesus, Bill O’Reilly’s newest contribution to historical literature. Like Ehrman, I found the claim that this was a just a well-told version of the life of the historical Jesus to be very problematic. It’s definitely well-told, but historically accurate is a whole different matter. He seemingly uses the New Testament as the only source for recounting the life Jesus and it doesn’t appear he consulted any sources that challenge the NT’s historicity as a whole. He weaves the four Gospels together seamlessly, resolving a number of the contradictions but never explaining the methodology that he used to come to his conclusions other than his own personal judgement, such as the decision not to report anything Jesus said on the cross because he didn’t believe anyone could speak while being crucified. He also unapologetically adds a whole bunch of embellishments and details that I’m not sure where he got them from.
My interest however is not to attack Christianity or the New Testament. My primary beef involves one area that he clearly did not do his due diligence: fact checking as it relates to 2nd Temple Judaism. There are several errors that are just so basic that I have trouble believing that they got passed the editors:
- He claims not coming to Jerusalem on Passover is one of the 36 karet (excision) bearing violations of Torah law. The violation is not to offer it if you are able to. Distance from the Temple is actually an excuse not to (see Nm. 9:9-13).
- He says that a lamb or a dove may be brought as a Passover sacrifice and implies every person must buy their own. Nowhere does it say a dove must be brought, though a kid may be substituted, and it is clear that people shared (see Ex. 12:4).
- He adds a requirement to washing one’s hands before eating bread (a custom Jews still perform) that all of the vessels need to be immersed before eating. I agree with him that would be a major pain but it’s one that Jews have never done or had to do. Only if a vessel is rendered ritually impure and the food being eaten on it has to be maintained in a state of ritual purity must be kept in a state of purity.
- He says that tefillin are made of wood. Tefillin are made of leather. We have 2,000 year old tefillin from Qumran that were constructed basically the same way we do now, with the same materials.
While this may not be fair to say, I’m quite sure there are other errors in this due to a simple lack of fact checking. I pounded through this book in less than two hours and I still have more in my notes. N0 serious academic should ever put their name on anything before a serious fact check, especially things that can be checked out by reading the Bible and Wikipedia. As a piece of historical fiction it reads nicely, but a history book it is not. I seriously hope he didn’t do to Kennedy and Lincoln what he did to Jesus, or we might have to haul him in for historicide.