Desire of the Everlasting Hills

The World Before and After Jesus
Hardcover

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"Cahill is insightful, wry, and highly entertaining as he explores the cultural influences, social expectations, and tricky politics of the day.  He examines the New Testament in this light, yet remains respectful. His goal, he states early, is to ascertain whether Jesus made a difference. His conclusion is unequivocal."
--Christian Science Monitor

In Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Thomas Cahill takes up his most daring and provocative subject yet: Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure of Western civilization.

Introducing us first to "the people Jesus knew," Thomas Cahill describes the oppressive Roman political presence, the pervasive Greek cultural influence, and especially the widely varied social and religious context of the Judaism in which Jesus moved and flourished. These backgrounds, essential to a complete understanding of Jesus, lead to the author's stunningly original interpretation of the New Testament--much of it based on material from the ancient Greek brilliantly translated by the author himself--that will delight readers and surprise even biblical scholars.

Thomas Cahill's most unusual skill may lie in his ability to bring to life people of a faraway world whose concerns seem at first to be utterly removed from the present day. We see Jesus as a real person, sharp-witted and sharp-tongued, but kind, humorous, and affectionate, shadowed by the inevitable climax of crucifixion, the cruelest form of execution ever devised by humankind. Mary, while not quite the "perpetual virgin" of popular piety, is a vivid presence and forceful influence on her son. And the apostle Paul, the carrier of Jesus' message and most important figure in the early Jesus movement (which became Christianity), finds rehabilitation in Cahill's realistic, revealing portrait of him.

The third volume in the Hinges of History series, this unique presentation of Jesus and his times is for believers and nonbelievers alike (for Jews and Christians, it is intended by the author as an act of reconciliation). With the same lively narration and irresistible perceptions that characterize How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill invites readers into an ancient world to commune with some of the most influential people who ever lived.

Praise

"With grace, skill, and erudition, Cahill summarizes obtuse semantic and historical arguments, highlights the findings most relevant to lay readers and draws disparate materials together in his portraits of Jesus, his mother, Mary, and the apostle Paul."
--Washington Post

"Desire of the Everlasting Hills imparts gratifying dimension to the beginnings of what later became known as Christianity. Most important, it makes of Jesus a still-living literary presence."
--New York Times

"Each of his books also offers moments of genuine insight into the workings of culture, literature, and the human heart....For a book about Jesus and the early Christians, Desire of the Everlasting Hills is itself a gift."
--Commonweal

"Cahill's ability to bring life to people of a faraway world ensures that this book will be an interpretive history accessible to believers and non-believers alike."
--Los Angeles Times

Praise for The Gifts of the Jews:

"Captivating...persuasive as well as entertaining...Mr. Cahill's book is a gift."
--Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

"He exalts his ancient subjects; their hearts, minds and experiences resonate in his compelling contemporary narrative."
--Chicago Tribune

"A very good read, a dramatically effective, often compelling retelling of the Hebrew Bible."
--Chicago Sun-Times

"Thomas Cahill looks at history with the rigor of a scholar but explains it simply, with the skill of a gifted teacher...He conveys with a fresh lens a legacy 'so much a part of us' that we scarcely recognize it."
--Jewish Bulletin

Praise for How the Irish Saved Civilization:

"Charming and poetic...an entirely engaging, delectable voyage into the distant past, a small treasure."
--Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

"Cahill's lively prose breathes life into a 1,600-year-old history."
--Boston Globe

"When Cahill shows the splendid results of St. Patrick's mission in Ireland--among them the transmission of classical literature and the evangelization of Europe--he isn't exaggerating. He's rejoicing."
--The New Yorker

"Everything he writes turns to gold."
--Il Mondo

Excerpt

Of the many enigmas of John's Gospel nothing is more mysterious than the story that does not belong there. It interrupts the flow of John's tightly stitched scheme of narration, and though, like many Johannine episodes, it gives a starring role to a woman, its supple Greek has all the characteristics of Luke's pen:

At daybreak, Jesus appeared again in the Temple precincts; and when all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them. Then did the scribes and Pharisees drag a woman forward who had been discovered in adultery and forced her to stand there in the midst of everyone.

"Teacher," said they to him, "this woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. Now, in the Torah Moses ordered us to stone such women. But you--what have you to say about it?" (They posed this question to trap him, so that they might have something to use against him.)

But Jesus just bent down and started doodling in the dust with his finger. When they persisted in their questioning, he straightened up and said, "He among you who is sinless--let him cast the first stone at her." And he bent down again and continued sketching in the sand.

When they heard this, they went away one by one, starting with the oldest, until the last one was gone; and he was left alone with the woman, who still stood where they had made her stand. So Jesus straightened up and said, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," answered she.

"Nor do I condemn you," said Jesus. "You are free to go. But from now on, avoid this sin."
This entire passage sounds like the Synoptics and could easily be slipped into Luke's Gospel at 21:38, where it would make a perfect fit. It was, in fact, excised from Luke, after which it floated around the Christian churches without a proper home, until some scribe squeezed it into a manuscript of John, where he thought it might best belong. But why was it excised in the first place? Because the early Church did not forgive adultery (and other major sins) and did not wish to propagate the contradictory impression that the Lord forgave what the Church refused to forgive.  The Great Church quickly became far more interested in discipline and order than Jesus had ever shown himself to be.  This excision is our first recorded instance of ecclesiastical censorship--only for the best reasons, of course (which is how censors always justify themselves).The anarchic Johannine church had had good reason for its reluctance to attach itself to the Great Church, which it knew would clip its wings; and for all we know, it was a Johannine scribe who crammed the story of the aborted stoning into a copy of John's Gospel, thus saving it for posterity.

The passage itself shows up the tyrannical mindlessness that tradition, custom, and authority can exercise within a society. The text of the Torah that the scribes and Pharisees cite to Jesus is Leviticus 20:10, which reads, "The man who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife will be put to death, he and the woman." Jesus, doodler in the dust and reader of hearts, knows the hard, unjust, and self-deceiving hearts he is dealing with. He does not bother to dispute the text with them, by which he could have asked the obvious question "How can you catch a woman in the act without managing to catch her male partner?" He goes straight to the heart of the matter: the bad conscience of each individual, the ultimate reason no one has the right to judge anyone else.

How marvelous that in the midst of John's sometimes oppressive solemnities, the wry and smiling Jesus of the Synoptic gospels, the Jesus the apostles knew, the holy fool, still plays his holy game, winning his laughing victory over the stunned and stupid forces of evil.  This is the same Jesus who tells us that hell is filled with those who turned their backs on the poor and needy--the very people they were meant to help--but that, no matter what the Church may have taught in the many periods of its long, eventful history, no matter what a given society may deem "sexual transgression," hell is not filled with those who, for whatever reason, awoke in the wrong bed. Nor does he condemn us.

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