What Bill O’Reilly Got Wrong in “Killing Jesus”

O Reilly Killing JesusBill O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Jesus,” is an undisputed bestseller.

With a $30 list price and more than 1 million hardbacks in circulation, it’s also an undisputed money-maker.

Unfortunately, much of what is presented as “indisputable” in “Killing Jesus” is easily disputed. In fact, a good portion of it is flat-out wrong. This is not surprising. When the Ford Theater in Washington won’t stock “Killing Lincoln,” the red flags on O’Reilly’s history skills should be flying high.

In recent days, O’Reilly has been battling accusations that he can’t even tell his own history without embellishing the facts. Maybe there’s a trend here?

O’Reilly and Martin Dugard boldly stake their very profitable story the week Jesus died on dates that are wrong, historical records that are openly debated, and some statements that are simply inaccurate.

Mary Magdalene was a prostitute? The Bible doesn’t give us that information. Neither does any other source. Can you imagine what would happen to Bill if Mary could go face-to-face with him? Perhaps someone would soon be writing a book called “Killing O’Reilly!”

But the worst mistake is the one that goes cover-to-cover in countless different ways.

Like a lot of people, O’Reilly and Dugard forgot that Jesus was Jewish.

Apparently, none of the editors were Jewish, either. And without a set of Jewish eyes on the events of Jesus’ life, mistakes are guaranteed.

From the confident, “O’Reilly-ish” claim that Paul “converted” to Christianity (he didn’t), to the error-prone dating of the final days of Jesus’ life, whatever this book gets right is overshadowed by what it gets wrong.

Focus for a moment on the final meal Jesus had with his disciples. More than 20 times, the writers of the gospels tell us that this meal was the Passover.

There is no indication – anywhere – that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the meal on a night different from the rest of the Jewish community. O’Reilly has Jerusalem celebrating the Passover after Jesus was crucified.

I’ve heard this before. When people read that Jesus was crucified on “The Day of Preparation” (Luke 23:54), non-Jewish readers might assume people were preparing for the Passover.

They weren’t.

Every Friday is the Day of Preparation in Jewish life. If you’re going to take 24 hours off in the way an observant Jewish family takes the day off, you’ll have a lot of work to do to get ready.

A “Day of Preparation?” Better believe it. Meals are prepared in advance, including the best meal of the week. All work ceases at sunset, when a new day begins. Stores will close mid-afternoon on Friday, so you’ll have to think ahead if you’re preparing a special menu.

Mark 15:42 goes the extra mile and tells us, “This all happened on Friday, the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath.”

Like me, O’Reilly is not Jewish. Like me, he lives 2,000 years after Jesus lived. Like me, O’Reilly is from a Western mindset, while almost everyone in the Bible was immersed in an Eastern mindset.

Westerners want to know exactly what time, what day, and at what location an event happened. We want to compare news details from CNN, Fox and our local media outlets.

Not so people from an Eastern mindset. Questions over all the details would mystify the Gospel writers. “Didn’t you see what happened here?” John might ask us. “Jesus died for the sins of the world. If you miss that, you’ve missed everything. Why are you asking about the details?”

For the record, the best timeline of the last week of Jesus’ life goes something like this:
• Sunday: Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. Thousands cheer while the authorities brace for trouble.
• Monday-Wednesday: Jesus teaches and argues with many in and around Jerusalem.
• Thursday night: Jesus, the disciples and the entire Jewish community celebrate Passover. This evening, of course, is actually Friday in the mind of everyone inside the Jewish community. A new day began at sunset.
• Friday: Jesus dies on the cross, in the same 24-hour period of the actual day of Passover. He is buried just before sunset. Because he is buried before sunset, he gets credit (think Eastern, not Western) for being in the grave “one day.”
• Saturday: All is quiet on the most depressing Sabbath the disciples, family members and followers of Jesus have ever known. This is Day Two in the tomb.
• Sunday: On Day Three of his time in the tomb, the followers of Jesus discover the empty tomb. They later claim to have seen Jesus, who had been raised from the dead.

There is much more, but we should face the obvious facts. If you’re dealing with a world of cultural differences and a 2,000-year gap between the actual events and what we would like to know, we’ll never have all the details nailed down the way we’d like.

No matter how sure of himself Bill O’Reilly wants to be.