Perhaps thrice a year, when I am feeling particularly perverse, I tune into Fox and Bill O’Reilly to see how long I can tolerate the bizarre combination of arrogance, venom, paranoia, and rage which characterize Fox in general and O’Reilly in particular. These experiments usually last for only a few minutes. After being slimed by streams of fearful non sequiturs, I frantically turn the channel and ask myself unsettling questions about the people who watch this stuff. There’s an illness about the land.
Other than my thrice yearly contact with this contagion, I do my best to avoid unnecessary exposure. But sometimes even the best avoidance plans go awry. This happened the other day while I was perusing the Los Angeles Review of Books. There, I learned that O’Reilly the author has taken on yet another subject near and dear to his heart: Jesus. In Anthony Le Donne’s exasperated yet patient review of Killing Jesus: A History, we learn that Jesus’ death and redeeming power has been widely misunderstood:
How do we explain Jesus’s death? The answer according to Bill O’Reilly is simple: big-government Jews and Roman taxes. O’Reilly and Martin Dugard title their book Killing Jesus: A History. But there are more references to taxation in this book than there are to crucifixion. Indeed, the authors seem so preoccupied with taxes that the symbolic importance of the cross — a form of execution reserved for political sedition — is neglected. According to O’Reilly, Jesus’s story is a “lethal struggle between good and evil.” From this simplistic perspective — the whole book more a Tea Party fantasy than a “fact-based” history — the “evil” powers are represented by puppet politicians in Judea who enable the Roman tax chokehold on working people.
The authors clumsily attempt to harmonize the four canonical Gospels while inserting psychological profiles of politicians who “tax the Jews blind.” The working class is “levied with tax after tax after tax.” Jesus is a simple carpenter who has memorized Scripture and “pays his taxes.” Peter is tired after a long day of work. “He needs a drink of water and a meal. He needs a soft bed. But most of all, he needs to pay his taxes.” Dugard and O’Reilly would have us believe that Peter’s concerns about taxation outweigh his needs for basic nourishment! Mary Magdalene is driven into prostitution due to poverty in this government-dominated society. The authors acknowledge that this detail about Mary as a prostitute is not supported by any source material, but they appeal to long held assumptions in order to propel the cliché. More importantly, they tell us that “prostitution is legal and even taxed.”
The climate that leads to Jesus’s rise and eventual death is clear:
“Whether or not they believe Jesus is the Christ, Jews everywhere long for the coming of a messiah. When that moment arrives, Rome will be defeated and their lives will be free of taxation and want.”
Good Lord. I’m wondering whether it would be best to get my copy of Killing Jesus from Amazon, which doesn’t collect sales tax, or Wal-Mart which does. Either way, I’ll be damned.