I told my NCR readers that it's a compelling read but that the authors -- not surprisingly to me -- tend to write with dead-on certainty about matters that scholars and historians suggest are unsettled.
But today I want to share another complaint about what O'Reilly and his co-author do in this book. They fall into an old anti-Jewish trap that is embarrassingly common in Christianity, one you often hear coming from pulpits. They slam the Pharisees mercilessly.
I was so struck by this that I sent off an offending section to a great New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt, author of The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, and asked her to help me put into words what O'Reilly got wrong. (By the way, if you haven't read Levine's book, get it today, not tomorrow.)
O'Reilly-Dugard: For as much as the Pharisees say they love God, most of them are arrogant, self-righteous men who love their exalted class status far more than any religious belief system.
So, although someone like the supremely self-confident O'Reilly can write books of alleged history that read like action novels, if you want more accurate and careful history, you'd do well to stick with people like Amy-Jill Levine and, as I mentioned in my NCR column, the fabulous 20th Century Catholic New Testament scholar, Raymond E. Brown, and especially his two-volume work called The Death of the Messiah.
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HITCHHIKING WITH FRANCIS
Now Pope Francis is picking up hitchhikers and letting them ride in his popemobile. Well, sort of. At any rate, the pope told the priest to whom he gave a lift that the photo of the event would make it around the world. He's a pope who knows p.r.
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THE BOOK CORNER
A Big Heart Open to God: A Conversation with Pope Francis, by Antonio Spadaro. Several months after the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope last year, Spadaro, a Jesuit priest, conducted an interview with him that was published in Jesuit journals. It received lots of attention worldwide and helped to introduce Francis as a humble man of peace and simplicity. Now that interview -- along with a series of responses to it from several people and a reflection by Fr. James Martin -- is available in book form. It's a revealing read.
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P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read it, click here.