Friday, April 3, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: Killing Jesus

Killing Jesus", the movie based on the book by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, debuted on National Geographic channel last Sunday night, and we decided to watch it. Although I had not read the book, I had read the first two books in the series, "Killing Lincoln" and "Killing Kennedy", and had also seen the NatGeo films based on those books.  I thought both the books and the movies were quite good.  However, I went into this one with some apprehension, as I had heard that they were going to be showing the life of Jesus from a "historical" perspective.  This can often mean that the writers or producers of the work are going to disregard the most authoritative and complete source about Jesus, the Bible. Yet, I tried to go into it with an open mind.  I decided to "Live-tweet" my reaction on Twitter and invited my followers to read and react.  

It didn't take long to find out that my apprehensions about the movie were not unfounded. Although a few scenes in the movie were well-done (such as the scene of the woman caught in adultery), I found three huge problems with the Jesus portrayed in "Killing Jesus."

1.  The Jesus in "Killing Jesus" doesn't know who He is - Early in the movie, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is depicted. In this scene, his cousin John the Baptist has to encourage Jesus that He has a calling. Jesus is so taken by this, that He asks John to baptize Him. Jesus doesn't know that He is called and has to be told? At this point I tweeted, "Jesus did not have to grow into His role. He knew who He was from the beginning", and provided this link to John 1:1-4, which describes Jesus as the eternal Word of God, who was with God from the beginning. 

There are so many scriptures that verify that Jesus knew exactly who He was, that I wouldn't have space or time to list them here. I will mention a couple here. The first is Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well:
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us. Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
Pretty plain, isn't it! And note, that this was very early in the ministry of Christ. He didn't discover somewhere along the way that He was the Christ. He knew it from the beginning.

Luke records an event much earlier in the life of Christ, which took place when Jesus was only twelve years old. (You can read the entire passage in Luke here.) In this account, Jesus and His parents have gone to the temple for Passover. His parents make the return journey back to Nazareth, assuming that Jesus is in the crowd with other members of the caravan. When they realize that He is missing, they go back to Jerusalem and find Him teaching in the temple. When they express consternation at Him, He replies "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?" (Luke 2:49)

Now, this might not seem obvious to us now, because we are used to calling Yahweh "Father", but this form of addressing God was certainly not common to Jews before Christ. In fact, God is referred to as a father only fifteen times in the entire Old Testament. In most of those cases, He is described as the Father of people of Israel. In the passage in Luke, the young Jesus was making a statement at only twelve years of age that He had a special Father-Son relationship with God, and that the temple was His Father's house.  In fact, this would be the first of 165 times that Jesus would refer to God as "Father!" (For more on the Fatherhood of God and Jesus' unique relationship with God the Father, see this excellent article.) Bottom line is this: The Jesus of the Bible was far from uncertain about His role.  He knew that He was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God from a very early age.

2.  The Jesus of “Killing Jesus” doesn't perform any miracles – Although miracles occur in “Killing Jesus”, it is not Jesus who actually performs them. The first one is Jesus’ encounter with Peter on the Sea of Galilee. In the Biblical account, Jesus gets in Simon Peter’s boat and begins teaching, after which He tells Peter to “let down your nets into the deep.” Peter argues with Him, saying that they have toiled all night and have caught nothing, yet he reluctantly accedes to Jesus’ request and puts his nets in the water. And then:
When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken… (Luke 5:6-9)
In contrast, the account of this scene in “Killing Jesus” has Jesus’ requesting Peter to go out in his boat. After casting the net, they wait for a while, but nothing happens. Jesus says, “Let’s pray.” After they pray, the fish start swarming up, after which they pull in a boatload of fish. Jesus seems as astonished as Peter at this event. He attributes the miracle to the fact that they prayed and states, “Thank God!” This is obviously a far cry from the biblical account.

In the closest thing to a miracle performed by Jesus in the movie, another scene shows a young boy who has a demonic spirit. Jesus holds him until He convulses and lays as dead, then, after Jesus prays, the boy gets up, astonishing the crowd. No casting out of demons. Perhaps it was just an epileptic fit! 
Now, this is like no other Biblical account that I know of. In every account in which Jesus encountered demons, He spoke to them and ordered them to leave, which they promptly did. (See this account in Matthew, which is the only account in the gospels of Jesus’ encountering a boy with a demon.)

A little later in the movie, a young woman comes to Him with leprosy and He touches her, but there is no healing. He just seems to comfort her. At this point, I tweeted, "Jesus didn't treat lepers, He healed them!" and provided a link to the account in Matthew of one those healings.

3.  The Jesus in “Killing Jesus” does not appear to anyone as the resurrected Christ – The foundation of the Christian faith is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, there is no Christianity, and there are no Christians. As Dr. William Lane Craig stated:

Without the belief in the resurrection, the Christian faith could not have come into being. The disciples would have remained crushed and defeated men. Even had they continued to remember Jesus as their beloved teacher, his crucifixion would have forever silenced any hopes of his being the Messiah. The cross would have remained the sad and shameful end of his career. The origin of Christianity therefore hinges on the belief of the early disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead.
In “Killing Jesus,” after a mostly-correct rendering of the crucifixion (although even here they leave out key elements such as the three hours of darkness) and the burial of Jesus, we are shown the disciples going to the tomb on Sunday morning and finding it empty. Now, I will give them credit for the empty tomb. At least they did show this. However, the scene ends with Mary Magdalene looking to heaven in praise to God. (Contrast this with the biblical account of Mary’s encounter with the risen Christ at the tomb) The movie then cuts to the Sea of Galilee. There, Peter is back on his boat. casting out his net. As he looks at his empty net, he sees the fish swarm into the net. He also looks up to heaven in praise to God. (Contrast this with the biblical account of Jesus’ encounter with Peter after the resurrection.) So, is Jesus really resurrected? We are only left to wonder.

Yet, the bodily resurrection of Christ is one of the most attested to events of ancient history. Ambrose Fleming, who was one of England’s most outstanding scientists and the man considered to be the “Father of modern electronics”, stated of New Testament documents:

We must take this evidence of experts as to the age and authenticity of this writing, just as we take the facts of astronomy on the evidence of astronomers who do not contradict each other. This being so, we can ask ourselves whether it is probable that such a book, describing events that occurred about thirty or forty years previously, could have been accepted and cherished if the stories of abnormal events in it were false or mythical. It is impossible, because the memory of all elderly persons regarding events of thirty or forty years before is perfectly clear.
William Lane Craig states:
The empty tomb story in Mark is based on an earlier source scholars date to within seven years of the crucifixion. Contrast this with sources from Roman and Greek history which are usually one to two generations or even centuries after the events they record. The earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were over four hundred years after his death! Even two generations is too short a time to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts.
(For more on the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Christ, read this booklet by Lee Strobel “The Case for the Resurrection" or watch his equally well-done DVD "The Case for Christ")

We can glean more about the roots of “Killing Jesus” from Mr. O’Reilly’s own words. His is quoted in an interview after the book came out saying a CBS interview, "It's not a religious book. There's no religion in the book, nothing. It's all about history." Really? What is historical about this twisted version of the Biblical account?

As Dan Delzell put it in this Christian Post article written about the book:

To spiritualize the historical Christ means to move the Messiah outside of the "historical" category into the nebulous category of "maybe." While that can be a helpful starting point when engaging in Christian apologetics with skeptics, it falls far short when attempting to write a history book about Jesus Christ. And that is exactly why "Killing Jesus" misses the mark. Bill wanted his book to present accurate history, but he left out way too much…Imagine writing about Babe Ruth but not mentioning baseball. Or writing about Dr. Martin Luther King without addressing racial prejudice. Or what about writing a history of Mormonism while leaving out the founder of their faith, Joseph Smith. Likewise, if you are going to write about the founder of Christianity, it is imperative that you get Him right. Bill got Him half-right…

As far as the movie is concerned, I’m not sure I can go even that far.

My final tweet of the evening sums up my view of “Killing Jesus.”

“Based on #KillingJesus movie, Bill O'Reilly may know Lincoln, Kennedy, and Patton, but He doesn't know Jesus!

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