Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus
I have completed approximately half of this well-researched and written book by Thomas Cahill and I cannot recommend it enough.
The book is incredibly easy to read and does two things I feel would well-serve anyone interested in learning more about the bible and Jesus’ life:
1. Historical Context: Cahill is primarily an historian. Whether he is a “believer” is not apparent (although reading his portrait of Jesus, it would be hard to understand how he could not have been personally moved by what he has written). He has exquisitely painted a picture of Judea from the time of Alexander the Great through the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and beyond. Also woven in are details of Jewish ancient history (which I believe may be better explained in another of his books in this “The Hinges of History” series titled “The Gifts of the Jews”), which provide an ancient background as well.
His historical narrative is both obviously well-informed and highly “imaginative”, allowing readers to feel part of history and follow the trail of history as it affects the world before and after Jesus.
If nothing more – although I would suggest much more is available to the interested reader – this historical overview allows us to better understand the motivations lying just behind the texts we have in front of us today.
2. Big Picture: Cahill does an excellent job of providing a 30,000 foot view of what is going on throughout the New Testament. He shows why books were written, what the overarching themes are and what each author’s primary concern(s) and message(s) are.
This is not a forum for nitpicking specifics and deeper theological meaning, but a great place to view the plain meaning of the text and how it would have been received by its original readers. In fact many connections that are drawn I feel are often missed by our tendency to focus closely on individual sections, letters or books. The simple message can be seen like thread running through the various authors, motivations and intentions of each author.
And now, back to my reading …
** UPDATE ** – I’ve now finished reading and while I still believe this is an incredible book for people to read and opened my eyes to some things I hadn’t considered before, there are some sections of the book that could be difficult for Christians. Because Cahill is not a “believer” per se, he does eventually trip up on claims of Jesus’ divinity – especially as found in John’s writings. (Oddly, he has no such qualms with Jesus’ resurrection). Regardless, the book is a great work of historical narrative and provides an overview of the basic impact Jesus continues to have on our world … not just on Christianity.