Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before And After Jesus (Hinges of History)

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Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before And After Jesus (Hinges of History)

  1. Review

    Thomas Cahill has undertaken to write a series of seven books – under the title of The Hinges of History. It is his intent to "retell the story of the Western world as the story of the great gift-givers, those who entrusted to our keeping one or another of the singular treasures that make up the patrimony of the West." Volume 1, How the Irish Saved Civilization, was published in 1995 and became a best seller, as did The Gifts of The Jews, Volume II, published in 1998. This book is Volume III.

    The title is from Jacob’s blessing of his son Joseph, the last of the patriarchs, found in Genesis 49:26 (in his translation from the Latin version). For Cahill, the phrase "is an image of desire beyond articulation, the desire deeper than all (conscious) desiring." He wonders, "Is it not the desire of the everlasting hills to be saved from their everlastingness, that something new happen, that the everlasting cycle of human cruelty, of man’s inhumanity to man, be brought to an end?" In his most audacious and provocative book, Cahill asks if Jesus of Nazareth made a difference in his world and makes a difference in our world now.

    The author recognizes that we cannot understand the Jesus of history apart from the political, socio-economic, and cultural context of first century Palestine. So in his first chapter, he chronicles the military conquests of Alexander the Great and a succession of Roman emperors, which shaped the world of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, he does not follow up with a discussion of the far-reaching consequences of political oppression, economic exploitation, and cultural conflict, resulting from Greek and Roman domination which was the context for the mission and ministry of Jesus.

    Five chapters follow, each presenting a portrait of Jesus and the "Jesus Movement" from a different perspective. Using the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Cahill presents a portrait of the Jesus the apostles knew, a prophet of Israel, the direct inheritor of the mantle of Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and others. For the apostles, according to Cahill, the main thrust of the mission and ministry of Jesus was justice. He then describes the legacy of Paul who saw the crucified, risen and exalted Jesus as a gift of God, not only for the Jewish people but also for all humanity. Cahill writes that this belief "eventually leads Paul to thoughts that no one has ever had before — thoughts about the equality of all human beings before God."

    He then offers a portrait of Jesus by Luke who sees Jesus through a Gentile lens as a prophet of Israel and through the Pauline lens as "the cosmic phenomenon, the ultimate meaning, not only of Judaism but of the universe."These three portraits of Jesus are followed by a chapter of commentary on the Book of Acts and some of Paul’s Epistles, which tell the story of the Jesus movement that was known, Cahill writes, for its "constant focus – on the poor and needy."

    The final portrait is from the Gospel according to John who presents "Jesus himself as the Gospel." John’s portrait is probably the most popular of the four Gospels among Christians today. But it is Cahill’s least favorite, since it presents a radically different portrait of Jesus from that of Mark, Matthew and Luke. He makes the startling statement, "Many who are comfortable with the Synoptic tradition and even with Paul feel that here at the threshold of John’s Gospel they must part company with the New Testament." One can appreciate his point about the differences between the portraits of Jesus without following him to his conclusion.

    In drawing these portraits Cahill uses for his sources, familiar and well-regarded biblical studies, although he dismisses, out-of-hand, scholarship represented by the Jesus Seminar. To this background, he adds his insightful and illuminating commentary. Readers will be dismayed, irritated, and even shocked, from time to time, by statements he makes, and interpretations he offers. But one must admire his courage in undertaking his quest of the historical Jesus. For in his quest, he found the truth Albert Schweitzer discovered long ago, "The critical study of the life of Jesus has been for theology a school of honesty."

    Has Jesus made a difference in our world? He finds that the "image of Jesus haunts our civilization in exceedingly persistent ways." He writes, "whether we are Jew or Christian, believer or atheist, the figure of Jesus – as final Jewish prophet, as innocent and redeeming victim, as ideal human being – is threaded through our society and folded into our imagination in such a way that it cannot be excised."

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