How in the world did a working class kid from a mediocre town in an obscure corner of the Roman empire end up getting himself executed for treason? In this book, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard look at the historical setting into which Jesus was born, as well as the religious and political climate of the day, and how those aspects played into Jesus’ life and death.
Although the authors are both Catholic, they aren’t trying to prove whether or not Jesus was the promised Messiah; instead they focus on the historical record of his life. And they don’t just tell what happened; they also explain why it happened, how it took place, and often the deeper significance of the event.
They write, for instance, that in Jesus’ day, the High Priest received a cut of all financial transactions that took place in the Temple. So when Jesus cleared out the money changers, he wasn’t just threatening the status quo, but was also hitting the High Priest in the wallet. Likewise, the authors discuss Rome, Caesar, Pilate, and the political structure of the day, which helps to explains Pilate’s dilemma when the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to trial. There are also insights into the disciples, Herod, and what the average man on the street would have thought about some of the things that Jesus said and did.
O’Reilly and Dugard are talented writers. Their book moves quickly and reads easily, but still has depth. They include several maps and frequent footnotes.
You may believe that Jesus was truly the Son of God, or you may believe that he was an influential religious teacher. Either way, he was an important historical figure. This book gives insight into his life and into his death. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
(If you’re interested in reading more about this time period, I also suggest the historical novel I, Claudius by Robert Graves; and Augustus Caesar’s World by Genevieve Foster, a succinct and easy-to-read overview of world history from 44 BC to AD 14.)