by Timothy Lane 10/30/13
Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard have followed up their previous historical accounts of the murders of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy with the ultimate murder case, that of Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth. The cover, with its T-shaped cross showing 3 blood spots and with the label “IESUSNAZARENUSREXIUDAEORUM” atop it, is itself a clever hook for the casual reader, though obviously not necessary for their existing fans.
One minor point I will make is that they pretty consistently write in the present tense, as they did on their previous books, which is a bit of a nuisance since they are dealing with past events. But by now I’ve evidently gotten used to it.
This isn’t simply the story of Jesus, or even Holy Week or the Passion. They discuss the recent history of the Roman empire and the Herodian monarchy (a successor to the Maccabees) to set up the situation in which first Augustus and then Tiberius held power over the area (though not quite total power). They also report on Roman methods – how they governed places such as Judaea, and how the performed the dreaded execution known as crucifixion. And they discuss the Jewish religious authorities of the time (including High Priest Caiaphas as well as the Sadducees and Pharisees). All this is necessary to understand exactly what effect Jesus the Nazarene had. They also cover the story of John the Baptist and his dire fate at the hands of Herodias, Salome, and Herod Antipas.
But, of course, the main story remains that of Jesus. For this they rely heavily on the Gospels to provide the details, since the references to him in non-religious writing are generally quite vague. (We know that there were people who followed someone referred to by Roman writers as Christus, who had been executed, but little more than that.) This runs into the problem that there are contradictions in the gospels, forcing them to make decisions as to which they considered likeliest to be accurate and to let readers know about these disagreements. Given that, they cover his life from birth through his youthful experience in the Temple expounding on the law to those who should theoretically have been instructing him instead, and his religious mission from his baptism through his execution. They leave out a few things they consider doubtful, such as his conversation with the thieves who were crucified with him (they argue that the effect of crucifixion – a severe torture in many respects, but one which ultimately killed by slow strangulation – made such a conservation impossible). They cover each day of Holy Week from Palm Sunday through Easter (an approach I recall encountering once when I was a child).
And they make it quite easy to understand just why Jesus, in his session at Gethsemane (“guarded” by disciples who kept falling asleep), prayed that God would let the cup pass from his lips – though ultimately accepting that it wouldn’t. • (2555 views)