As far as the Romans were concerned, Jesus, one of many would-be Messiahs at the time, was therefore a seditious rebel whose crime was punishable by death.
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It's easy to be snooty about this kind of bodice-ripping treatment of history, where a preoccupied Herod sighs and looks anxiously out of the window, where Mary and Joseph "gasp in shock" to see their young son holding his own among the temple elders, the son whose "destiny must be fulfilled, even if his worried parents have no idea how horrific that destiny might be" actually, as the authors themselves make clear, crucifixion was the usual fate of traitors and criminals across the Roman empire.
As a revved-up journalese version of the gospels, plumped up with historical detail — which though not always accurate gives the reader a good sense of what life was like at the end of the first century BC; how soldiers were trained, how taxation worked, what the temple looked like and, of course, how soldiers crucified a man — Killing Jesus is fine.
Indeed the authors used the same stylistic formula for their two previous books Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. Both were bestsellers, and Killing Jesus is already number three on the New York Times bestsellers list.
Because they are fabulously easy to read: Despite the subtitle, Killing Jesus is not "A History". It is a breathy retelling of the gospel stories by two conservative Catholics, one of whom, O'Reilly, believes that he was inspired to write the book by the Holy Ghost. Although the authors proclaim in their introduction that they have manfully succeeded in separating fact from legend and will alert the reader if the evidence is not set in stone, they signally fail to do so.
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Killing Jesus relies almost exclusively on the gospels, discounting two centuries of ongoing scholarly scepticism about their historical accuracy with a breezy footnote that there is "growing acceptance of their overall historicity". Who are the goodies and baddies? The Romans are bad, corrupt and "unrelentingly cruel" — especially in their imposition of taxes, which in the eyes of our authors is a particularly nasty vice.
The Jewish elite is bad, because it is hand in glove with the Romans in brutalising and fleecing the "good people of Galilee".
Ordinary Jews are good. But the Pharisees are very bad. They are arrogant, self-righteous, self-interested and power-hungry. O'Reilly and Dugard have swallowed hook, line and sinker the gospel writers' antipathy to the Pharisees.
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They seem unaware that in Jesus's time the Pharisees were in fact a newish, radicalising group, trying to wrest control of the Jewish religion from the stranglehold of the Sadducees, the aristocratic priestly caste who O'Reilly and Dugard unaccountably characterise as liberals. Jesus's attempt to get round the problem of how to be a good Jew and a good Roman by saying "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" was unhelpful. The problem for the Jews was precisely that they could not divide Caesar from God.
He's been betrayed by a trusted companion, Ahithophel.
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He has to flee Jerusalem, passing through the Mount of Olives as he does so. Those who see him weep. It should be a happy ending, but it isn't. His rebellious son, Absalom, is killed, and David mourns for him: If only I had died instead of you! I was happily reading through this historical account I'm a history geek when the penny dropped: But Jesus could do what David only wished he could: Carl is married to Lizzie and they have two children, Benjamin and Abigail.