Killing Jesus is read very well by the author. He speaks clearly and obviously has a scholarly understanding of the information he is presenting to the reader. However, the book is based a great deal on assumptions, and perhaps presumptions, of a time when there are no living witnesses available to contest any of the statements made and a time in which several versions of events have been previously published and explored. Some of the information could be considered more questionable than others, and some of it depends largely on a belief in Jesus that is based on pure faith. For believers, this book will be an amazing read. For doubters, and perhaps, non Christians, it may be a bit disappointing, because while the church has worked hard at excusing the Jews for the death of Christ, O’Reilly squarely places the blame back on their shoulders, even as he mentions that it was really Pontius Pilate who was the only one with the authority to pass the sentence. He also portrays the Pharisees as greedy moneylenders, flaunting their wealth in the way they comport themselves, and as adversaries and betrayers of Jesus.
The book begins with the story of Herod, the King of the Jews. He has learned of a rumor that tells of a new messiah to be born, who is destined to be the new King of the Jews. The prophecy states that the child will come from the line of David and will be born to a Jew, in the town of Bethlehem, in Judea. His mother will be a virgin and several magi, who are astronomers, will follow a new star to his location. All of this occurs. This new messiah is a threat to his own power, so he orders all babies under the age of two, in Judea, to be murdered. Joseph, Mary and Jesus escape, however.
The book then goes on to outline the history of the time, from Herod to Caesar to Octavian, and on and on until Antipas, a high priest, who is the ruler of Galilee, and the son of Herod. Tiberius is the Emperor of Rome, and Pontius Pilate is the Roman governor. The story also covers the lineage of Mary and Joseph and follows the struggles of the Jews as they try to practice their way of life under the rule of the Roman Empire. The Pharisees, devout teachers, and the Sadducees who are more liberal, confer to make the decisions, and the Sanhedrin, the justices, rule on them. The Jews in the temple are moneychangers, and believers in animal sacrifice. Both practices are unacceptable to Jesus and he overturns their tables in the Temple on more than one occasion, angry that the Temple has become a marketplace rather than a holy place.
John the Baptist is a Jew who predicts the coming of Christ the Messiah, as prophesied, and brings the people to the fold with baptism, which comes from the Jewish ritual bath, the Mikvah. He preaches that those who are not baptized will burn, which means the Jews who do not follow his teaching are condemned. He preaches about a more peaceful, ethical and appropriate behavior of man toward man. John also preaches that the end is near and baptism is necessary to cleanse one’s soul and pass into heaven. It is a powerful message about the possibility of being forgiven for one’s sins, merely by dunking into the water and being blessed. When John sees Jesus, he becomes calm as he claims that the lamb of G- d is approaching. Apparently, G-d told John a dove would come from heaven and land on the son of G-d's shoulder, and that was what he was witnessing. Jesus gets baptized by John and then goes into the desert to be cleansed and to make himself pure for Passover.
Meanwhile, when Antipas, a Jew, the man who currently believes himself to be the King of the Jews, marries his brother's wife, which is against Jewish law, John makes his anger about it known and is soon arrested, chained and thrown into a dungeon where he remains until his death.
As Jesus passes his 30th birthday, he is supposedly unaware of his fate, but when he is 36, at The Last Supper, he is prophesying his demise to all who will listen. Few disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane pay him heed; they are preoccupied with their earthly concerns, all except Judas who will betray him for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus knows he is going to be betrayed and he knows where his death will take place. Jesus of Nazareth, a teacher who lives simply, in desert surroundings, subsisting on locusts and honey, rather than living in the state of luxury like the Pharisees, will be condemned. The Emperor, Tiberius, is a cruel, perverse and barbaric man. He murders children with abandon, after they entertain him sexually. In order to prevent rumors from springing up about him, the witnesses must be destroyed. His own background of abuse, sadness and loss, have destroyed his humanity. He rules his regime with brutality and Jesus will suffer an excruciating death.
Jesus chose twelve disciples to follow him. One is the Pharisee, Simon, whom he calls Peter, who becomes his rock, and another is called Judas, from Iscariot, who becomes his betrayer. Except for Judas, the treasurer, whom he also calls his friend, they are all from Galilee. Jesus is a marked man. The Pharisees refuse to believe in his miracles. He is a threat to their power and privileged class. His coming has been predicted in the scriptures, exactly as it is occurring. Jesus rides a donkey down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem to be crowned King of the Jews. Caiaphas and Pilate know he is coming with hundreds of thousands of followers. They want to avoid the controversy to follow but appear unwilling or helpless to take the steps to do so and lay the responsibility upon the shoulders of the Jews who, to be truthful, seem to want it that way, if the book is accurate.
Parts of Killing Jesus, requires a giant leap of blind faith since little can be truly historically proven or verified. There are parts of the book that are written in such a way that I feel they might encourage the anti-Semitism we have struggled to diminish. He writes that Passover was about money and yet, I never learned that about Passover and I am a Jew. To me Passover is about the miracle of the unleavened bread. He denigrates the Pharisees without explaining they were merely living in the manner of the way of life then. He calls them self-serving rather than men of G-d, teachers or devout believers. One might say that Christmas is only about money, and the Church is self-serving if held to the same standards, but he doesn’t mention that, to soften the blow against Jews. According to O’Reilly, basically, Jesus exposed the debauchery of the high ranking Jews of that time. He is a direct contrast to their unethical, selfishness. He dresses simply and they dress flamboyantly. He preaches poverty and they live by the coin.
The Sanhedrin judges were against Jesus. He threatened their very way of life and existence. He committed Heresy, whether or not they trapped him into it is a question that cannot be proven. However, if someone was going after the Pope in the same way that Jesus went after the so-called “King of the Jews”, what would the expected reaction be then? Does anyone see a comparison in the way the Pope robes himself, except perhaps for the present one who has taken a vow of poverty very seriously and seems to deeply embody the teachings of Christ to love thy neighbor and turn the other cheek, etc.? While the Pharisees and Sadducees came to judge Jesus, so too, was he judging them.
When given the choice, by Caiaphas and Pilate, to pardon one of the criminals from death, the Jews did not choose Jesus. They thought he was a threat to them. Does that excuse what they did? It was a different time, but today, choices are made like that all the time in the Middle East. Jesus’ death was abominable, but it was the brutal, barbaric practice of the times. The Romans enjoyed the blood baths; they were simply the entertainment of the day. In hindsight, it would have been great if none of that took place. But, if it was written that it had to take place that way, according to the scriptures, then G-d was moving them like pawns. Jesus knew he would be in the Garden of Gethsemane, he knew about Judas, and he knew who would sit on his left and right, so, could the results have been any different? If you are a believer, I think not. Like Caesar, who was warned of his impending death, Jesus knew of his. I was left with this question after reading about the awful events leading to the death of The Christ. Are we powerless to change what has been written? Was it written or was that part of history a product of self-determination?
Since some of the dialogue and description of events felt like a stretch, and no one was there to overhear or record what took place, in many cases, blind faith is something the reader will have to accept when they read this book.