Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 10, 2000
A good overview of Jesus' time
Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, by Thomas Cahill 320 pages, New York: Nan A. Talese, 1999.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
Cahill, author of the best-selling books How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews, has again taken an historical period and outlined its impact on us in the present.
The Desire for the Everlasting Hills is the third in his hinges of history series that chronicles, in his opinion, the most important historical and cultural events of the past.
Having read the previous two books I had found Cahill's writing and history to be interesting but somewhat uneven. Many critics have labeled his previous efforts as "history-lite."
I found the first volume, How the Irish Saved Civilization, quite good, but really struggled with the second, The Gifts of the Jews. However, I have no hesitation in recommending the third installment. Cahill's Desire for the Everlasting Hills is one of the most challenging books I read last year.
The book records the latest scholarly research regarding the historical period leading up to the birth of Jesus, the period of Jesus' life, and the beginnings of the early Church.
Cahill attempts to provide the reader with an ecumenical look at the historical relationship between Christian and Jews, and how Jesus, a first century Jew, has influenced the way in which the world views relations between individuals and groups of people.
Cahill begins with the rise of the Greeks under Phillip and Alexander and the resulting impact on the Jewish community in Israel. He describes the role of the Maccabees and some of the writings pointing to the coming of the messiah, both in the histories of Scripture and the writings of the prophets.
Once the stage for the coming of Jesus is set, Cahill delves into the teachings of the infancy narratives. Using the Gospel narratives and scholarly research he then outlines the message and meaning of Jesus.
Following the crucifixion Cahill provides background on Peter and Paul and undertakes, through the writings of Luke in Acts and the letters of Paul, to state the importance of these two disciples on the teachings of Jesus as presented by the early Christian Church.
Throughout the book Cahill used some of the most distinguished biblical theologians as sources. Fathers Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Jerome Murphy-O'Connor are three of his most quoted sources.
I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent "discovering" Jesus again. However, Cahill does take some liberties that seem somewhat out of place in a book of history.
He implies that he knows emotional and physical attributes of biblical personalities, including psychological evaluations, that are not necessarily that clear in the Bible. He offers personal opinions as fact; many readers who lack background in biblical studies may not realize that at times they are being subjected to Cahill's own theory of events and meanings and not the opinion of accepted traditional or mainline biblical theology.
Despite these flaws I found that in areas of controversy in the interpretation, I tended, through my own studies, to agree with many of the opinions he expressed.
Some critics claim that he avoids presenting biblical opinions contrary to his own and dealing with topics that might contradict various opinions. However, Cahill makes it clear that he recognizes that in a small volume not everything can be presented and not all points of view are realized.
Despite controversy regarding the book, this is a highly worthwhile read. Cahill's interpretation of Jesus' call to social justice and care for the whole of humanity fits well within the jubilee message and is echoed in many Church documents. Theologically and personally, this text challenged me personally to respond to the Church's call to "Proclaim Jubilee!"
(Dean Sarnecki is chaplain and religious studies teacher at Archbishop Jordan High School in Sherwood Park.)