From one point-of-view, we see the crucifixion of Christ as the revelation of the unbridled divine love. We see the holy zeal of our heavenly Father for our salvation. Nothing could be more beautiful, to the eyes of faith, than a crucifix.
From another point-of-view, the unjust execution of this innocent and righteous man, brought about by the selfishness, pettiness, malice, and interior weakness of a carnival of mean-spirited dunces: it is as ugly, as horrible, as blood-curdling a spectacle as we could imagine.
Killing Jesus offers this second point-of-view.
Which is what makes the book NC-17. I never thought of Emperor Tiberius as a “good guy.” But O’Reilly and Dugard outline in nightmarish detail just how bad a guy it was whom Pontius Pilate had to find a way to impress.
Killing Jesus deftly helps us to understand the delicate balance of ‘authorities’ that could find themselves scourging and crucifying the most genuinely innocent defendant who ever stood before a judge. What the book does not give us, I don’t think, is Jesus. Even with the welter of details in the book’s first part, and the sympathetic humility before the central subject, Jesus Christ never comes into focus.
O’Reilly/Dugard do not seem to realize that portraying Christ as a man with faith (heroically strong as it may be) and with emotions borne of confusion and ignorance—this does not in fact make Him more humane and believable. The believable Christ is the Christ Who knows the Father’s mysteries and offers Himself for their fulfillment, with genuine human emotion, but without a trace of confusion or ignorance. Panic and self-interest have no place in the soul of Christ.
In the final chapters of Killing Jesus, actually, the enlightening flow of details from the first half of the book turns into a lame trickle. It feels like the “Killing-______” formula playing itself out mechanically, perhaps with a deadline approaching sooner than it should have. O’Reilly/Dugard make no attempt to engage the symphony of crucifixion accounts which the gospels give us. Killing Jesus does not even include all seven of the Lord’s Last Words.
On the other hand: I, for one, admire O’Reilly/Dugard’s dismissive contempt for the ‘findings’ of source- and redaction-criticism. The fantasies of the ‘search for the real Jesus’ go completely unmentioned in Killing Jesus. This is almost reason enough to read it.
Pick it up, if you will. Provided you are prepared to learn things about the depths of cruelty that you probably would have preferred never to have had to imagine in your life.