The best-seller does not attempt to convey any particular
religious message but rather describes the ascendance of Jesus
in the context of a brutal Roman regime.
Reuters spoke with O'Reilly about the book's subject, its
sourcing and why he decided to focus on strong leaders.
Q: What made you decide to choose Jesus after writing
A: The theme among all three books is strong leaders, and I was
looking for a follow-up to Kennedy. It came to me that this was
a good thing to do, and it does not get more complicated than
Q: What criteria do you use in selecting strong leaders
for book subjects?
A: It is basically influence and that is going to change
a little bit in my next book which will be about World War Two.
"Killing" will be in the title, but the first three books are
I believe Lincoln is the best president this country has ever
had. I wanted to write about him so everybody could learn about
him in a very vivid way. Kennedy, certainly for the baby boom
generation of which I am a part, was a life-defining man.
Jesus, especially in the United States, is a colossal influence
not only theologically but also politically.
Q: How did you filter through the sources which you
A: It came down to journalistic detective work. Almost
everyone who writes about Jesus has an agenda, and you have to
sift through print and match the facts.
In (the Gospel of) Matthew, Jesus has a conversation with the
thieves while on the cross. Nobody could have heard that
conversation, except for the Roman centurions, because everyone
else was kept back.
Second, the suffering on the cross precludes one from talking
due to dying from suffocation. The body is lurched forward and
makes a conversation of any volume physically impossible. The
other three gospels do not mention it, so we decided to leave it
We left out the flight to Egypt, which is also mentioned in
Matthew, because we do not believe it was possible that a poor
father, mother and baby could have crossed the Sinai.
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We included material that we believed certainly
happened and would be fairly easy to defend. We tried to do a
methodical job not only in the back of the book but also through the
footnotes in anticipation of dicey situations.
Q: Can describe how your experiences in Jerusalem shaped the
A: I visited Jerusalem in the 1990s as a reporter
covering the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. I actually took a bus
trip from Egypt across the Sinai so I know firsthand that you cannot
walk or camel it, certainly not in April.
Then Dugard went back last year to work with the Israeli
authorities, who were kind enough to open their archives and lead us
around to the archeological projects. He was fortunate to get the
most up-to-date information.
Q: What would you like readers to take away?
A: We want to explain how this man became the most famous
person the world has ever seen. Despite so many messiah pretenders
running around at that time, he transcended everyone.
We wanted to bring him alive, not in a resurrection, but in a
reportorial way. He was a real human being. There are a lot of myths
about him, but here is who he was, what he did, how he lived and how
people responded to him.
This was the most difficult book that I have ever written. We had to
distill so much while bringing readers into what was happening at
that time, which is why we spent so much time describing Rome.
Jesus was preaching the exact opposite message of what was then
accepted. Brutality was accepted at every level in Rome, but not at
his level. People responded to his message in a tremendous way, and
Jesus became even more powerful after he died.
We want readers to think about this and put readers in that world,
as we did for the books about Lincoln and Kennedy.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Jonathan
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