Easter Sunday, 2014

Just finished reading Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus.

 

The title of O’Reilly’s readable and informative tome is a bit misleading, for it’s not simply an Easter tale.  Killing Jesus explores the ancient Biblical world from Jesus’ birth to his horrifying death on a cross some 36 years later.

 

Co-written with author and historian Martin Dugard, O’Reilly describes in page-turning detail that dusty ancient world and its denizens:  the Jews, the Gentiles, Pharisees, Sadduccees, Temple priests, Roman emperors, and Judean tetrarchs.

 

If you don’t recall your Bible school lessons, you’ll be reminded that the Centurion whose servant Jesus healed was a friend of the Jewish people and even helped build their synagogue.  O’Reilly reminds us that Jesus didn’t come, initially, to save the world (that’s in the Bible, too) but his own people, the lost sheep of Israel.

 

Don’t be too put off by that seeming rebuke by Jesus:  the Jews were essentially the only people of the monotheistic God at the time.  One of the Egyptian pharaohs had tried monotheism but his people were none too happy and as soon as they deposed him, went back to their old ways of worship.

 

Before Jesus could send any apostles out to spread the Good News, he first had to convince the Jews, which was a monumental task.  What would it avail him to spread the Good News to the Gentiles who knew nothing of Jehovah or Yahweh (God’s real name)?  First he had to set straight the Jews who would heed him before the Gentiles could be converted from paganism.

 

O’Reilly reminds us of just how much the Jews hated the Romans and their own temple priests.  They were all on the take.  The Romans taxed the farmers so heavily that they were forced off their lands and into the slums of the cities.  Without land, there was no way for them to grow their own food much less make a living.

 

What was left the Jewish peasants had to pay in tribute to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem once a year.  Meanwhile, the Judean ruler, Herod the Great, a nominal Jew made nice with his Roman masters.  Tiberius had set down a ruling that the Jewish people’s religion was not to be interfered with.

 

Meanwhile, Tiberius, O’Reilly and Dugard tell us, went mad with grief over the death of his wife.  He exiled himself on the island of Capris, where he tasked one of his Roman bureaucrats with the task of finding him young sex slaves, both male and female.  After he was through with them, he would hurl them off the island’s 1,000 foot cliff to the north so that they couldn’t carry any tales of his debauchery, drunkenness, and pedophilia back to Rome.

 

For decades, celebrities have raved about the famed “beauty” of Capris.  The island is featured on cruises as an excursion during the main cruise.  Little do people realize or understand its nightmarish history or its fame as a homosexual resort.  Bet the travel guides don’t mention the darker side of this accursed island.

 

Herod was not much better Tiberius.  By the time of Christ’s birth, he was crippled with gangrene and any number of sexually-transmitted diseases.  He sends his Roman troops off to slaughter the innocents of Bethlehem, about five miles outside of Jerusalem.  They dispatch the infants without mercy and probably with some pleasure.

 

O’Reilly and Dugard remind us that Julius Caesar was far worse, murdering 430,000 Germanic tribespeople (men, women and children) without mercy, for the crime of rebelling against the Empire.  In Jesus’ time, though, Tiberius was a much-feared emperor.

 

Details that don’t always come across clearly in the Bible, speak loudly and clearly in O’Reilly’s storytelling style.  Simon Peter begs Jesus to leave him alone, that he’s not a good man, that he’s not up to the task.  Judas Iscariot is restored to his original villainy, stealing from the charity box and balking when Mary Magdalene anoints Jesus’ head with expensive perfume.

 

Killing Jesus gives an excellent geography lesson.  Magdela is where Mary Magdelene came from.  Sephoris was the city Herod Antipas built, giving Joseph the carpenter (and presumably others) plenty of work.  Herod Antipas was a friend of Antony and Cleopatra, which was probably why the Emperor Augustus appointed him to the position.  In gratitude, Antipas builds a fortress city called Antonia in Antony’s honor.

 

Once you understand the grinding poverty of the Jews, it becomes quite clear why Jesus was so beloved of the crowds (in addition to healing the sick).  In the Bible, Jesus wearily says to yet another supplicant, “How long am I to be burdened with you people?” (He heals the woman, though).

 

Jesus makes Capernaum his city and does not wander all about Israel and Judea, as was always supposed.  Staying in Capernaum allows his disciples to stay and provide for their families yet still allows the good news to go forth for Capernaum is a seaport.  He chooses his disciples for their fluency in all the languages of the region:  Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.  Travelers then bring news of the Messiah to their homelands.

 

And the people come flocking by the tens of thousands.  So enormous are the crowds that Jesus has Peter take him out on his fishing boat and preach to the crowds on the shore.  The raising of Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus’, from the dead is the final convincing act for the Jewish peasants.  They’re sold.

 

But not so the priests of Jerusalem.  They send out spies to Galilee, to which Jesus has repaired because it’s beyond their jurisdiction, to trap him into admitting that he’s the Son of God.  Only he never says it and warns all those he heals and teaches not to reveal the truth yet, for if they do, it’s all over for Jesus.

 

They ignore his warnings, though.  He’s barely out of any town before the word is spread that he’s a healer and a miracle worker.  And, as the Sanhedrin discover, a cunning intellectual who not only avoids traps but leaves his interlocutors speechless.

 

Jesus is none too happy to find himself facing the cross.  O’Reilly says that he volunteered for the job.  However, in the English-version Bibles, he’s discovered stating that he did it because God asked him to.  When Killing Jesus comes to its eponymous climax, O’Reilly spares no details.

 

The whip has tentacles that dig into the flesh.  So as painful as the strike is, the drawing back of the whip causes the weights at the end of the rope to dig into the flesh.  The Romans boast that a truly good flaggeler can dig right down to a man’s spine.

 

As is portrayed in the Bible, Pontius Pilate sends Jesus to Herod Antipas because Antipas the actual ruler of the region.  But Antipas, while finding a conversation with Jesus interesting, is haunted by his execution of John the Baptist, and he sends him back to Pilate for final sentencing, clothed in an old purple robe.

 

Pilate himself writes the inscription that’s nailed over Jesus’ head on the cross.  When the Sanhedrin protest, he tells them he’s written what he’s written, like it or not.  O’Reilly assures us that it is a cross upon which Jesus is crucified.  The beam he carries through the streets is the tibulum.  Most accounts says that he was nailed to a tree, although the Greek word xylos can stand for any piece of wood – a stake, a tree, a plank.

 

O’Reilly gets at least one detail wrong – the description of Jesus’ appearance.  He maintains that Jesus would have had the strong bearing of a carpenter, accustomed to lugging heavy trees and stones.  But that’s not how Isaiah prophesized his appearance in Isaiah 53.  There, Jesus is described as being slender and scrawny, and not the least bit majestic-looking.  Just as you would expect.

 

The Bible doesn’t describe Mary Magdalene as a prostitute.  In Luke 7:37, an unnamed woman, whom the Pharisees describe as a “sinner” cries at Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair in the King James version of the Bible.  This occurred in Capernaum, not Magdela.  In other accounts, when Jesus is in Jerusalem for his final Passover, a woman comes in and anoints his head with expensive perfume.  When the disciples and others complain, he tells them to leave her alone.

 

O’Reilly and Dugard explain that Magdalene’s name was omitted for her protection.  Other references in the Bible claim that she was woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons.  Whether Mary Magdalene was a prostitute or a woman possessed, she was forgiven by Christ, and was faithful to him to the end.  For her reward, she was the first person to whom the resurrected Christ appeared.

 

Most accounts outside of the Bible claim that there were few followers at Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  O’Reilly and Dugard tell us this was probably the case, for the Passover sacrifice had begun and the people were at the Temple.  Otherwise, there would have been a riot.

 

Despite its rather grisly title, Killing Jesus is a worthwhile tale, whether you’re a devout or lapsed Christian, or someone from another faith who might be wondering what all the fuss has been about these 2,000 years or so.

 

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Published in: on April 21, 2014 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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