Q. What do I look for in a Bible for a Catholic boy who will be making his Confirmation in the spring? What Catholic Bible should I purchase? — E.C., via e-mail.
A. We would recommend The Catholic Teen Bible, which is published by the St. Jerome Press. It retails for $9.95 and is available from www.saintjeromepress.com or by calling 800-845-2648. In addition to the Bible content, the book also features short articles about many teachings of the Catholic faith. We would also recommend the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, popularly known as Youcat, which features an easy question-and-answer format. It retails for $19.95 and is available from www.ignatius.com or by calling 800-651-1531. If you have a local Catholic bookstore, visit there first.
Q. I have read your book about Jesus (“Who Do You Say That I Am?”) and wondered what you think about Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus: A History. — T.L.H., Massachusetts.
A. Actually, we thought it was quite good as a historical account of the life and death of Jesus, and we have decided to offer a lengthy review of the book in case some of our readers might consider giving copies to people who ordinarily would not read a religious book, but might read one on the best-seller lists that is not overtly religious. Killing Jesus really does make a strong case for what we believe about the God-man.
Although both O’Reilly and his co-author, Martin Dugard, are Catholics, they made it clear that their intention was not to write a religious book, but rather “an accurate account of not only how Jesus died, but also the way he lived and how his message has affected the world.” They summarized His impact on the world on page one:
“To say that Jesus of Nazareth was the most influential man who ever lived is almost trite. Nearly two thousand years after he was brutally executed by Roman soldiers, more than 2.2 billion human beings attempt to follow his teachings and believe he is God. That includes 77 percent of the U.S. population, according to a Gallup Poll. The teachings of Jesus have shaped the entire world and continue to do so.”
Relying on the four Gospels (about which they say “there is growing acceptance of their overall historicity and authenticity”), as well as books on Roman history, the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, and visits to the places where Jesus lived and taught, the authors were mostly successful in accurately presenting the life of Christ. They also provided the context for His life by giving a brief history of some Roman emperors, including the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. and the reign of Caesar Augustus, who ordered the census that caused Jesus to be born in Bethlehem instead of Nazareth. The text was enhanced by the inclusion of many maps and illustrations.
Of interest, too, were the biographical sketches of key figures at the time of Jesus, including Herod the Great, his son Herod Antipas, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, and Caiaphas and Annas, the two high priests who instigated and directed the plot to kill Christ. Even those who know how the story ends will be able to feel the tension building as the plot unfolds and the authors say, “Jesus of Nazareth has six days to live.”
O’Reilly and Dugard tried to stay away from a religious life of Christ by the way they phrased things, but at the same time they offered evidence that Jesus was more than just a man. For example, in discussing the 12-year-old Jesus’ exchange with the rabbis in the Temple, the authors wrote, “Meanwhile, the Son of God, as Jesus will refer to himself for the first time this very day, listens with rapt fascination as a group of Jewish scholars shares insights about their common faith.”
Later, as Jesus was preparing to enter Jerusalem on a donkey on what we now call Palm Sunday, O’Reilly and Dugard said that “Jesus has led a life that is a continual fulfillment of Jewish prophecy,” and they proceeded to list a dozen prophecies from the Old Testament that were fulfilled only by Jesus. They also gave some credence to Jesus’ miracles by saying that “stories of Jesus turning water into wine and making the lame walk and the blind see have so electrified the region that it is now commonplace for almost anyone with an ailment to seek him out.”
They came close to endorsing miracles directly by writing, “Witnesses say he is performing miracles once again. In one startling account out of the town of Bethany, a man named Lazarus came back from the dead. And Lazarus was not recently deceased. He was four days dead and already laid in the tomb when Jesus is said to have healed him before a great crowd. Lazarus’s body already reeked of decomposition when Jesus ordered that the stone covering the tomb entrance be rolled away. This was not just an act of healing but a display of powers far beyond those of a normal human being.”
That last sentence could have been written by Archbishop Fulton Sheen in his book-length Life of Christ.
On page 259, O’Reilly and Dugard reported on Mary Magdalene’s arrival at the tomb on Easter morning only to find the tomb empty. “To this day,” they wrote, “the body of Jesus of Nazareth has never been found.” We turned the page expecting that the book had ended. But instead, we found the authors noting that “Scripture puts forth that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. After his body was found missing, the Gospels state that Jesus appeared twelve times on earth over a forty-day period. These apparitions range from a single individual to groups of more than five hundred on a mountain in Galilee. Some in that large crowd would speak vividly of the event for years to come. A quarter-century later, the disciple Paul included the mountain appearance in a letter to the Corinthians.”
O’Reilly and Dugard said that Jesus “would go down in history not just as Jesus or Jesus of Nazareth, but as Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.” They went on to describe His influential role in history down to the present time, noting that this role had been cited approvingly by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.
The authors finished the book by summarizing the fate of the apostles, as well as that of Pilate, Caiaphas, and Herod Antipas, and they chronicled the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD 70, just as Jesus had predicted forty years earlier. “It is interesting to note,” they said, “that in many parables, Jesus of Nazareth predicted harsh things for the city of Jerusalem. There is no question those things came true.”
About the only thing in the book that we would take issue with was the statement that the Virgin Mary “was pregnant out of wedlock.” This of course is not true, as we have mentioned many times in the past, but it is the conventional wisdom. Perhaps in future editions of the book, which has sold well over a million copies in a short time, O’Reilly and Dugard will take note of the fact that “betrothal” in the Jewish tradition meant that a couple was married. They might also pay closer attention to Matt. 1:19, where it says that Joseph, on learning that Mary was with child, “decided to divorce her quietly,” something he could hardly do unless they were married.
The authors also gave the correct interpretation of the Gospel references to the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus by saying that “the Catholic Church believes that Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life” and that “the Church considers the siblings mentioned in the Gospels to be Jesus’ cousins,” although the authors added that other “Christian sects” disagree with this interpretation. They further noted that Pope Pius XII in 1950 issued an infallible pronouncement that the final moments of the Virgin Mary’s life “were not marred by the grave,” which is another way of saying that she was taken up to Heaven body and soul, a dogma that Catholics refer to as her Assumption.
We would also suggest that the authors quote more of Jesus’ sayings on the cross. They only quoted our Lord twice (“I thirst” and “It is finished”). We would have thought that they might have at least mentioned His astonishing statement about His brutal tormenters: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Or His fascinating colloquy with the Good Thief, who asked to be remembered “when you come into your kingdom” and heard the consoling words, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This dramatic scene of repentance and forgiveness ought to have been included.
(Editor’s Note: James Likoudis is also reviewing this book for The Wanderer.)