Reading guide for Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill

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Desire of the Everlasting Hills

The World Before and After Jesus (Hinges of History Vol. 3)

By Thomas Cahill

Desire of the Everlasting Hills
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  • Hardcover: Nov 1999,
    386 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2001,
    386 pages.

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Talk about the author's choice in structuring the book—how he began generally, filling in essential background and then gave us various portraits of Jesus. How does this winnowing process help you understand Jesus?

  2. Do you feel more drawn to one or the other of the versions of Jesus? Does the Jesus who Mark or Matthew knew ring truer to you than the other portraits of Jesus? What purposes do the non-eyewitness portraits of Jesus (Paul's, Luke's, John's) serve?

  3. Discuss the state of languages—Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic—in the world around the time of Jesus. What role did language play in spreading or slowing the word of Jesus?

  4. The author speaks of the authority of the dispossessed when it comes to writing true history. Discuss this in the light of the Torah, the Synoptic Gospels, Paul's letters, and even more recent historical or literary writing. Do people on the fringe see the truth more clearly than do the people in power?

  5. The Jews of Egypt fought for Caesar, an uneasy partnership that would again come into play during the time immediately preceding Jesus' death. Talk about the strange bedfellows that politics and war can make.

  6. Discuss the contradictions of creating peace through military force. In Jesus' time, prior to that, and today.

  7. Jesus as a gentle prophet is somewhat different from earlier Hebrew prophets. What did Jesus do and say that illustrates this difference?

  8. The author believes that it's urgent that Christians come to understand that Christianity is a form of Judaism "if they are to know who they are" (page 90). Do you agree? Why or why not?

  9. Discuss Jesus' mother. Do you see Mary as a shy child-bride or as a pragmatic, strong, smart Jewish girl? Which way does her Magnificat portray her? In what ways is Mary similar to any fiercely loyal, pushy, loving mother? In what ways is she different?

  10. Can a person have a "Damascus experience" and only gradually realize it? Does it become a conversion moment only if it is acted upon in some external way? Or can the conversion take hold internally and gradually come to fruition?

  11. The author presents Peter and Paul as partners and friends who complement each other. Discuss their friendship, the work they did, and the way they both died. Was Paul's role in the Jesus Movement more important than Peter's?

  12. The author tells us that Paul insists on sexual and economic equality. Discuss the controversial parts of Paul's letters that argue for or against his belief in equality between women and men.

  13. Paul believed that "No one is made righteous by keeping rules" (page 152). Why did so many Gentiles come to Judaism after Jesus' death? Discuss the controversy over the laws of Judaism that the Gentiles didn't abide by as they became part of the Jesus Movement during the first century A.D.

  14. The author speaks of "odium theologicum--hatred for those nearby who are religiously similar to oneself but nonetheless different" (page 184). Do you see this principle at work today? How can we guard against it?

  15. Luke, a Gentile who sat amid the temptation of Greco-Roman society, says that wealth makes a Christlike life impossible. Do you agree? Was Luke more radical than Jesus on this point?

  16. In speaking of Luke's Jesus, the author states that Jesus does not feel compassion, he is compassion. Discuss this difference.

  17. Discuss John's Gospel as the source of hurt feelings and exclusivity that will add to the idea of the Jews as enemies throughout the course of history. Where did John's anti-Semitism come from?

  18. It took early Christians nearly four hundred years before they could bear to depict Jesus' crucifixion—only then had the firsthand memories of this tragedy faded enough to give them some necessary distance. When it comes to images, we no longer receive much or any distance from our tragedies—think of Holocaust images or images from recent ethnic cleansing in the Balkans or genocide in Africa. How does such immediacy help or hurt us and our understanding of tragedy?

  19. The author asks if our spiritual tradition "has become so universalized that it may be claimed by anyone but can no longer boast any characteristic proponents" (page 307). Do you think it has?

  20. The author believes that the teachings of Jesus are responsible for a shift in consciousness toward peace and against the evils of self-interest. Talk about the evidence of such a shift.

  21. Discuss the author's suggestion that Jesus would have supported a separation of church and state.

  22. Currently, some politicians promote "compassionate conservatism" or using faith-based charities as the primary means to help the poor. Based on what you've read in this book, would Jesus and the early members of the People of the Way be likely to support this notion? Would they also have supported compassionate government intervention to help the poor?

  23. What can we do in our churches and synagogues to begin or deepen the process of Jewish-Christian reconciliation?



From the Trade Paperback edition

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Anchor Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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