For those who haven't seen Dr. Candida Moss (Notre Dame) on The O'Reilly Factor, here's the video. In an earlier post, Anthony pointed readers of the Jesus Blog to it but refrained from comment because he's actively writing a review of O'Reilly's Killing Jesus. I thought I'd throw out a few of my thoughts in the meantime.
First, let me say that, in contrast to my hippy tree hugger partner in crime Dr. Le Donne, I'm not a particularly political person. I never have been. I don't love to hate Bill O'Reilly and I don't love to support him. I usually pay no attention whatsoever, especially since I moved to London. Also, I haven't read Killing Jesus and don't plan to do so; again, not because I hate or love O'Reilly but because there's a pile of about ten books on my desk by actual New Testament scholars.
Nevertheless, a couple things about this interview are noteworthy. First, O'Reilly starts off saying that Jesus "stayed out of politics." This surprised me. We can (and have) debate(d) for a very long time about the precise ways in which Jesus was political, but whether he was is not really up for debate. For goodness gracious, the man died in a manner reserved for political threats to the Roman empire. Regardless of whether he was (in some existential way) political, he was definitely regarded as political by important authories around him. Just looking at NT scholarship, though, Jesus scholars across the board agree that Jesus occupied an important place in the sociopolitical structure of Palestinian Judaism; it's a major feature of, for example, the work of Marcus Borg and NT Wright. (As a plug, this is also an important theme in my forthcoming Jesus against the Scribal Elite.) Just taking a guess here, I think O'Reilly seems to mean that Jesus wasn't interested in Roman politics, presumably because of the way he answers the question about paying taxes to Caesar. But the Roman political structure was hardly the only political structure and, arguably, not even the most important one for Jesus' life, at least for every period of his life other than that last Passover. Publicly debating groups like Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, etc., as well as a public demonstration in the Temple during Passover were all political acts at their very core in the Jewish context. There's really no way around this.
I was also intrigued by the way in which one of Jesus' "hard sayings" played out in this interview. In addition to citing the Lukan beatitude "Blessed are the poor" (which differs from the Matthean "Blessed are the poor in spirt"), Dr. Moss points out that Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to give away all his possessions in order to enter the kingdom (Mark 10//Matt. 19//Luke 18). O'Reilly accuses her of reading this parable literally, and I couldn't help but think of the crowd listening to Jesus in Life of Brian ("What's so special about the cheesemakers?"). But the Gospels never present this story of Jesus as a parable; they present it as an event from his life. O'Reilly responds the way almost all readers of this story tend to respond--surely that's not what he really meant. But the text is on Dr. Moss's side here (assuming the text cares for a second about sides in this debate, which I doubt it does). The Gospel authors sure seem to think that Jesus meant just what he said, as does the young man who walks away, regardless of how hard that is for us to swallow. The very point is that this is impossible, which is why the disciples, who are also befuddled at who in the world, then, can be saved, get some further teaching from Jesus. It's in this context that Jesus claims, "With God, all things are possible" (Mark 10.27//Matt. 10.26//Luke 10.27). (So no, despite my pious expectations as a sixth-grader, it doesn't mean that if I pray hard enough I can have any girlfriend I want and will grow to 6'4" and play in the NBA.) Any interpretation of this text that removes the impossible nature of Jesus' demand has a hard time squaring with the text itself because it was meant to point toward an impossibility. What we do with this theologically and practically is a separate issue, and I'll be the first to own up to having a bank account and failing to give away everything I have, despite calling myself a follower. But Jesus never said, "Well, of course, I don't really mean that."
Lastly, having watched The O'Reilly Factor who-knows-how-many-times at my parents' house, I was surprised also by how cordial the interview as a whole was. I thought Dr. Moss did a marvelous job at keeping her cool and staying on the facts. She represented us Neutestamentlers well and I offer my gratitude. I think we should give credit to O'Reilly, too, for allowing her the last word. From what I've seen, he doesn't always do that. Hey, Jesus scholarship was on one of the most watched shows on television. That's a good thing for all of us interested in this discussion. Congrats, Dr. Moss!