Summary and book reviews of Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill

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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Book Summary

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.

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 ...

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 ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times Book Review - Paul William Roberts

...a stunning success. In many ways Cahill does a better job than the canonical Gospels of presenting the root mythology of an expansive idea whose time, evidently, is still coming.

The New York Time - Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

...Desire [is] divertingly instructive and imparts gratifying dimension to the beginnings of what later became known as Christianity. Most important, it makes of Jesus a still-living literary presence.

Kirkus Reviews

A middlebrow history of Jesus and the development of the early church, the third of seven projected volumes examining what Cahill (The Gifts of the Jews, 1998, etc.) refers to as the Hinges of History.....A straightforward, unremarkable rehash.

Publishers Weekly

[Cahill] triumphs again with this imaginatively written account of Jesus and the early Christian Church.

Booklist - Michael Spinella

Although what Jesus has taught and said may never be agreed upon, the influence Christianity has had on society, even in these postmodern, secular times, is unquestionable. Cahill delights and fascinates in exposing strange twists of history by engaging new and lively perspectives on ancient debates, and here he does it very well indeed.

Reader Reviews
Carrie

This book was just one in a long list of books on the scholarly study of the texts that have influenced Western thought that I have read recently. Like many other books it starts with the scriptures and compares and contrasts the motivations of the ...   Read More

Anonymous
Cliff of Ft. Myers, Fla.
I am soon to be 62 years old. I have read the New Testament since I was a pre-teen boy. I thought I pretty well knew what I thought about this enigma called Jesus Christ. Wrong! Mr. Cahill has dramatically captured and ...   Read More

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