Bill O’Reilly Kills Jesus

Killing JesusIf there is one man alive who I associate with the Prince of Peace, it is Bill O’Reilly. But I associate him as more the anti-Christ. I don’t say that because he is such a bad guy, even though he is. It is just that he is the most prominent rageaholic in America. At the same time, I know he considers himself a good Catholic. So I was very interested to hear that he was writing a book on the life of Jesus. What would his take on the subject be?

For those who do not spend much time thinking about Christianity, a book on the life of Jesus probably sounds strange. After all, isn’t that what the Bible is all about? Well, not really. First, there are only four books of the Bible that specifically talk about Jesus’ life—the four Gospels: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. And they aren’t exactly what you would call histories. To begin with, they build on each other. First came Mark, then Matthew rewrote Mark. Increasingly, it looks like the theoretical Q document that Matthew and Luke supposedly used in combination with Mark didn’t exist after all. Instead, it looks like Luke is just a rewrite of Matthew. John, is mostly independent of those Gospels and comes out of the ongoing fight of the early Christian church to separate itself from the Jewish church. It is also the antisemitic Gospel, much beloved by Mel Gibson.

What’s also true is that like most of the rest of the Bible, the Gospels contradict each other. For example, in one, Jesus was crucified next to two thieves. In another, it was one thief. In the other two, it was none of them. What’s more, almost all of the stories in the Gospels are clearly didactic. They are little narrative designed to teach a lesson. This is why, for example, the apostles are such idiots. They never learn from one story to the next. As a result of this, there really is a need to have one story of the life of Jesus. The problem is, as Albert Schweitzer noted, pretty much everyone comes up with a “historical Jesus” that just so happens to be the Jesus they want.

So what would a truly awful person like Bill O’Reilly come up with in his new book, Killing Jesus: a History? I have no intention of reading the book, of course. I actually like these kinds of books. For example, The Historical Jesus: Five Views is an exceptional book, which presents views from the most liberal to the most conservative. But O’Reilly is no scholar and his book never would have been published if he weren’t a famous guy with a lot of fans who will buy any nonsense he sells. Still, I wanted to know, even if I suspected that I had a good take on what he would have to say. O’Reilly wasn’t going to present a hippy “love thy neighbor” Jesus; that was for sure.

Luckily, New Testament scholar Candida Moss, in an act similar to that of Jesus, suffered for the good of all of us: she read the book. Her review can be summed up in one sentence, “The single most consistent social teaching in the New Testament is that Christians must support the poor, widows, and orphans, but this hardly gets a mention in Killing Jesus.” But the truth is even more amusing. O’Reilly thinks that Jesus’ mission was to save the people from the evils of high taxes:

The basic argument of the book is that Jesus died because he interfered with the taxation-heavy Roman revenue stream. The reason the Jews eagerly anticipated the Messiah, writes O’Reilly, is, “When that moment arrives, Rome will be defeated and their lives will be free of taxation and want.” …

O’Reilly argues that Temple taxes and profits from the moneychangers were back-channeled to Rome. Thus when Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers he “interrupted the flow of funds from the Temple to Rome.” …

Even if Jesus’ actions had been all about taxes, he died protesting a skeletal taxation system that privileged the rich. Wealthy citizens were exempt from most taxes altogether, non-citizens paid a flat-rate poll tax regardless of income, the property tax was 1 percent, and the money from taxes was used to build roads and fund the military. It’s not like the Romans did anything obscene like tend to the poor.

Moss discusses other things that O’Reilly gets wrong. She notes how he uses very late Christian traditions where it suits him. I recommend reading the whole article. But this bit about Mary Magdalene is particularly great:

Women do less well in O’Reilly’s Biblical world. Following Sunday-school tradition, Mary Magdalene is identified as the prostitute who anointed the feet of Jesus with oil. That’s not in the Bible. This is a fifth-century error that originates with Gregory the Great.

Unfortunate, especially considering that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ patron. Imagine opening your home and checkbook to support a fledging religious group only to have history remember you as a prostitute. Slut shaming: it’s not just a modern phenomenon.

O’Reilly has done the world a great favor with this book. A lot of liberals I know don’t understand how it is that supposed Christians can be conservative when Jesus was all about helping the poor. The answer is in this book. Any text can be read in countless ways. So people like O’Reilly just minimize anything that goes against what they want to hear. And then they focus on what they do want to hear. In O’Reilly’s case, he not only focuses on the moneychangers; he creates a back story out of whole cloth to turn the Prince of Peace into “Grover Norquist: Tax Reformer.”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Bill O’Reilly Kills Jesus

  1. Ian Murphy did an even better review in April’s "The Progressive." You’ll have to get that at the library, if you’re curious, because it’s not online. But looking for a link, I found this fun Ian Murphy bit, "Five Atheists Who Ruin It For Everybody Else":

    Any enemy of Sam Harris is a friend of mine.

    I read Grayling’s "The God Argument," and it was redundant, as you described (but library books are free, so why not?) I did like the second half, pimping for humanism, more than the first half, arguing with theologians. You can’t argue with theologians. If someone says the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true, that’s an unbreakable logical loop.

    Pimping for humanism is more interesting, since my definition and Grayling’s definition (or anyone’s) are different, and it’s like having a debate in your mind with the author. I liked much of what he wrote, disagreed with other bits. (At one point he lists what he considers to be "humanist" writers and he includes Harris in the same list with Bertrand Russell. Really, A.C.? Really?)

    I did like how he emphasized that the teachings of the New Testament are specifically about expecting the world to end, quite soon. That’s all over the New Testament; you’d have to be cross-eyed to miss it. The Old Testament has the guidelines for everyday living, which most Christians and Jews very reasonably ignore. The New Testament is cult literature, Jonestown stuff (much nicer, of course.)

    It’s interesting that modern Bible-bullshitters ignore that book’s many, many, MANY exhortations against greed and financial exploitation. They focus instead on Leviticus, which hates any sex that doesn’t increase Israeli population numbers (wisely enough), Paul, who hates sex, period, and abortion. Which, in Exodus 21: 22-25, is described as a fineable offense. If, in a fight, a pregnant woman is injured and miscarries, the aggressor should pay a fine.

    Capitalism has some good qualities. Religion has some good qualities. The marriage of one to the other has brought out the worst in each, and will probably end up destroying civilization, if not all mammalian life on the planet. Hopefully alien observers ten million years from now will pick up transmissions of garbage like "The O’Reilly Factor" and learn a little something from it.

  2. @JMF – I wrote about the 5 atheists article:

    [url=]The Atheist Libertarian Connection[/url]

    As I recall, Grayling started the book with an introduction about Hitchens. But maybe it was a different book. Regardless, atheists tend to admire other really awful people just because they are atheists. Just when I got used to hearing Sam Harris rant about Islam, now I have to hear him rant about gun rights.

    I think if it weren’t for Paul, Christianity wouldn’t be so sexually immature. After all, Jews are not generally (Roth and Allen excluded).

    I’m not so sure that "capitalism" has good qualities. I think it may be better to think in terms of markets, which are quite good. But you can have markets in all kinds of systems. People tend to think that markets [i]are[/i] capitalism, but that’s not really true.

  3. Any one digging through these . . . it’s late, I have to go to bed so I can see "Gravity" at somewhat less-inflated prices tomorrow (but I MUST see it! Cuaron’s a visual genius) and just randomly typing shit into the ether . . .

    Brandt — "guarding the inhabitants of bullsh*t mountain from" etc. is a great phrase. Keep using it, wherever you post. There’s nothing wrong with propaganda, really, as long as there’s a LOT of it from all sides. All news is propaganda. Even if you don’t lie, as Fox often does, just what you select to include and omit reflects a bias. Fox is scary because Murodch and people who think like him own so much, monopolize the attention of so many, and aspire for more. Who was it that said freedom of the press only matters if you own the press?

    Mr. Frank — yup, that was the Grayling book with that introduction. And public atheists do stick together, and do tend to be dogmatic. You nailed it with that earlier post.

    Like any creative contributors, however, I try to judge them on their best qualities, not their worst. Grayling’s argument for assisted suicide was wonderful. Hirsi Ali has sided with the wrong people, but she’s certainly gone through a lot and her descriptions of fundamentalist treatment of women in Somalia and Saudi Arabia are harrowing. Maher can be a ferocious ass, but also quite funny and useful at times. Even Hitchens had his moments before he went Dark Side, and a few passages in his "God Is Not Great" were personal and compelling.

    Harris, though, is a fool. Through and through. His books do have one up on Thomas Friedman’s; he can sustain an argument for slightly more than two sentences before it becomes incoherent. Friedman is only funny in very small doses, his thought process is impossible to follow. It’s goofy but unreadable.

    Harris builds maniacal consistency through his chapters. I remember reading one of his books in a long car drive with friends and quoting out loud the key phrases when they came up, as Harris assembled his pyramid of looney-tune logic. The money-shot sentences just got funnier and funnier. We had to pull over into a truck stop so I could finish quoting from the chapter, the driver was losing ability to concentrate on the road . . .

  4. @JMF – I value them all. But there is a dickishness about them that really does hurt the movement. I like Harris more than you do. I think he is very blind at times, but I usually enjoy him as long as he isn’t talking politics. The funny thing about Hitchens is that even though he became a conservative, he never recanted his previous socialism. So right up to the end, if you mentioned Reagan, Hitchens would rant on about him. The man had a greater acceptance of cognitive dissonance than any man alive. You’ve got to admire that! And I would like Hirsi Ali a lot more if it weren’t for her husband who I hate with an unusual (for me) intensity.

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