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Professor contests O’ Reilly’s portrayal

Meghan Thomassen | Tuesday, October 8, 2013

On the Oct. 2 show of “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News, host Bill O’Reilly butted heads with Notre Dame theology professor Candida Moss over her critical review of his bestselling book, “Killing Jesus,” in The Daily Beast.

The segment introduced Moss as a theology professor who argued that Jesus was a socialist.

“But here’s the thing: I’ve never argued that Jesus was a socialist,” Moss told The Observer earlier this week. “Then they pulled this tweet that I had re-tweeted from someone else, and they wanted me to defend it.”

Moss said she regularly writes for The Daily Beast, using humor to “inject humility into the conversation.” She said her review of “Killing Jesus” mostly criticized O’Reilly’s historical methodology.

“He does a really fantastic job of incorporating details from Roman history and contemporaneous events into his account, but it’s really a novel,” Moss said. “He doesn’t know what Herod is thinking when Herod is looking through a window. And he doesn’t really take a critical view of the gospels.”

Moss said she also criticized some smaller factual errors, such as misinformation about the ancient Palestinian tax structure and Jesus’ position towards caring for the poor.

The content of the pre-interview in preparation for the segment didn’t relate to the content of the actual interview, Moss said.

“They asked me what I thought about Bill [O’Reilly] and the Holy Spirit, they asked me some of the details of the review about the book, they asked me about ObamaCare,” she said. “Then they did mention that they would ask me about the sentence [in my review] about Jesus providing free healthcare. that did make it into the televised interview.”

This was the sentence: “There’s no mention of the free health care offered by Jesus and his followers or the insistence that the wealthy give away their possessions.”

This wasn’t Moss’ first foray into television, having worked on segments for CBS News and National Geographic, but it was the first time she met O’Reilly.

“It was an intimidating situation, and it didn’t help that I had written a critical review. I would say I have seen him be more antagonistic,” she said. “For Bill O’Reilly audiences, once you put the word ‘socialist’ on the screen, I probably didn’t have much of a shot.”

Moss said she has received mixed reviews of her performance on the show.

“I’ve gotten a lot of strongly-worded emails, and I think that’s evidence that a lot of people care about this subject,” she said. “I’ve gotten some supportive emails, though, and seeing what people are saying tol[O’Reilly], I can’t really complain about the things they are saying about it.

“It’s not just me; it’s insight into what’s it like if you have a public voice on something as controversial as religion” I try not to Google myself.”

Moss, who studied at the University of Oxford for her undergraduate years and did her graduate studies at Yale University, will fly back to New York today to continue coverage with Fox News.

“[O’Reilly] did give me the last word. And he doesn’t always do that,” she said. “I think that if someone had written a negative review of my book, I would have been more antagonistic toward them.”

Moss said a lot of her criticism would not have been necessary if O’Reilly had categorized his book as a historical fiction novel.

“It’s really well-written, it’s really an engaging read,” she said.

“If you wanted someone who has a right-wing political figure to write you a historical imagination of Jesus, this would be the book to read. If you wanted to read about the historical Jesus, I would recommend John Meier’s ‘A Marginal Jew.'”

Contact Meghan Thomassen at mthomass@nd.edu