Book Review: Killing Jesus

Cross-posted at The Rediscovered Self

Disclaimer: Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the book I want the readers to know that I am Jewish. (Here, Here, Here) My purpose in reading this book was mainly to see if somehow there was some antisemitic blood libel attached, as there had been in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. I found the book to be fair in that regard. While people can read antisemitism at times into anything, the authors seem to have gone out of their way to make sure that their readers understand the political, economic and military dynamic involved in first century Judea. The ancient concept of collective punishment foisted upon the Jewish people for the death of Jesus is quickly and affirmatively obliterated in the very beginning of the book. The authors place the blame for the death of Jesus where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders of the ruler of Judea, Pontius Pilate.


Review from goodreads

To understand the death of Jesus, the reader needs to understand how the Roman Empire operated in the first century CE. Rome had gone from a dynamic republic to a squalid tyranny. Barbarism, debauchery and complete disregard for human life was rampant throughout the world. Roman leadership had no other thought but to keep itself in power and to destroy anyone that stood in their way.

It is not something we in the modern world can understand really. We acknowledge that there is barbarism in our world. Syria is quite the example. But we as a civilized people see the carnage in Syria as evil and not as the right of the rulers to maintain their control. In the ancient world it was just the opposite. Life had no meaning beyond the need for the average person to serve their betters. And these betters were given the option of doing whatever they needed to in order to realize their aims.

Into this ancient scenario walks a rather rigid and stubborn people, the Judeans. (Yes, the Judeans were actually in the Middle East eons before the assent of Rome, but that is a different story for a different day.) Beholden to their belief in one omnipotent God they presented quite the challenge to Rome. Except initially Rome let them be. There was no demand to change religions as was the usual custom for a conquered people. Rome even let the Judeans be ruled by one of their own, even though the Jews could have done alot better than Herod. Rome understood how to keep a potentially volatile situation at bay…for awhile at least.

But eventually as Rome deteriorated morally so did the rulers of the outlying provinces and Judea was not exception. Graft, corruption, barbarism ruled the day. But more than anything else was the oppressive taxation of the average citizen. When a man can not feed his family it makes for an explosive environment.

Into this world comes Jesus of Nazareth.

Killing Jesus is a good historical read. The authors, both devout Catholics, do look at Jesus as the Messiah and the son of God. They do begin from that perspective. However, they present their readers with extensive historical analysis of what life was like for the average person in the first century. They detail the history of Rome and how the situation in Judea became so explosive. What were the underlying economic realities? The authors discuss the political and selfish motivations of all the actors in the Jesus story from the Roman emperor, to the people of Judea, to each disciple, to Mary Magdalene, the Temple priests and especially Caiaphas, and finally to Pilate himself. The authors discuss what were the facts on the ground that all in Judea had to deal with, examine and balance.

Then comes Jesus’ story.

Taken from many sources, the authors relate the known Jesus. They regale everyone with the stories of miracles and human interaction. They tell of a pious, devote man dedicated merely to the sanctity of life and the hope of humanity. They tell the story of a man who wished to free his people from oppression.

What comes next, the trial, and crucifixion, is well documented in the book. The authors go into quite alot of detail. Extensive research was done about crucifixion and its effects. They detail the horror of this most evil form of capital punishment.  I honestly had to put the book down and regroup for a while during this part of the story. Warning: You will cry.

Finally the authors discuss the aftermath of the death of Jesus. They try to prove, from a completely Catholic perspective, what happened to Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. I will not argue this, merely because you cannot argue with a tenet of faith. In reality there is no proof as to what actually happened to Jesus after his death (if he did in fact die that day 2,013 year ago) beyond sheer faith, no matter how hard the authors try, but if you believe then you believe.

The book ends with a historical recounting of what occurred in Judea in the decades following Jesus’ death. The religious uprisings and attempt to unshackle the Jewish people from Rome. These Jewish revolts culminated in the total destruction of Jerusalem, the Holy Temple and the subjugation for thousands of years of the Jewish people. Rome even tried to obliterate the Jewish people from history by renaming the area Palaestina after the historical enemy of the Jewish people, the Philistines. Later historians anglicized the Latin name to Palestine.(more Here)


Killing Jesus is a well thought out historical accounting of a time in history that literally changed the direction of humanity. It will give the reader an understanding of the dynamics and the intrigues that infected the ancient world. It is a study in the brutality of existence conflicted with the light that can be shed if the majority of people really do stand up for what is right and good.

Without a doubt the reader is left with some questions when the book ends. Did what come after the Roman period mean goodness and light? Did those who purported to follow Jesus through the centuries actually walk in the footsteps of Jesus? Was there terror, hate and evil that obstructed goodness throughout the centuries? Did the Church do as Jesus would have wanted? That of course is many other books for many other days.

About Elise "Ronan"

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