loren Eric Swanson: Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus

I'm going to start posting quotes from books I'm reading. Feel free to use them for you perusal / study.

Cahill, Thomas. Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus. (New York, New York: Random House, Inc., 2001).

Two thousand years ago a man was born into a family of carpenters in occupied Palestine. He was a small-town Jew, born in a bad time for Jews. Their land was no longer their own, and they had been made to bow before a succession of conquerors who had diluted their proud culture and, as many would have said, infected it. His name, as everyone knows, was Jesus of Nazareth—or, as the Jews of his own day called him, Yeshua. As everyone knows, he preached a message of mercy, love, and peace and was crucified for his trouble. This unlikely character has long been accounted the central figure of Western civilization. Even now, as we cross to the beginning of the third millennium since his birth, we count our days by his appearance on earth; and, though our supposedly post-Christian society often ignores and even ridicules him, there are no serious suggestions for replacing him s the Icon of the West. P. 8

And the great question about Jesus must always be: Did he make a difference? Is our world—in the century that began with the Turkish genocide against the Armenians, reached its nadir with the ‘scientific’ holocaust of six million Jews (and five million others), not to speak of the slaughter by their won governments of Russians and Chinese in the scores of millions, and now comes to its end with genocides in central Africa and ‘ethnic cleansings’ in the Balkans that are still, horrible enough, ‘in progress’—is our world any better than the one inhabited by the Celts and Romans of twenty-four centuries ago? P. 8,9

They are invited to shake off their worldly preoccupations and ‘open [their] hearts.’ The reek imperative is metanoeite, which means literally ‘change your minds.’ It is usually translated as ‘repent or ‘convert,’ both more harsh than the Greek. The word certainly refers to a spiritual turnaround, but the change that is looked for here is an openness to something new and unheard of. This ‘something new’ is to euaggelion, not simply ‘good news’ but ‘the good news,” the best news ever. P. 69-70

To his Corinthian converts…Paul sent his most eloquent exposition of the life of a true believer, hoping that with such a detailed description they would finally get things straight. This is Paul’s ‘Hymn to Love,’ a Himalayan peak of world literature. P. 136

Besides their religious seriousness, Jews were unusual in a number of ways that caught the attention of gentiles. They were faithful spouses—no, really—who maintained strong families in which even grown children remained affectively attached and respectful to their parents. Despite Caesar Nero’s shining example, matricide was virtually unknown among them. Despite their growing economic success, they tended to be more scrupulous in business than non-Jews. And they were downright finicky when it came to taking human life, seeing to value even a slave’s or a plebeian’s life as much as anyone else’s. Perhaps in nothing did the gentiles find the Jews so admirable as in their acts of charity. Communities of urban Jews, in addition to opening synagogues, built welfare centers for aiding the poor, the miserable, the sick, the homebound, the imprisoned, and those, such as widows and orphans, who had no family to care for them. P. 174-75

But the ‘ideas and acts’ have been hurled across the centuries; and whenever an individual or gathering has had the courage to confront the Gospel anew, the society of its time has experienced transformation. When the apostles and martyrs were gone and Christianity had compromised itself by becoming part and parcel of the Roman state, some men and women remembered the desert of the Jews and sought it out as the natural place for a meeting with God. These hermits and anchorites became the first Christian monks and nuns, purifying a religion that would otherwise have devolved into mere political appendage and social decoration, not unlike its cultic pagan predecessors. P. 304

When in the late seventeenth century George Fox and his fellow Quakers began to read the gospels, Acts, and the letters of Paul, it seemed to them as if no one had ever read them before, for they rediscovered there the blueprint for Christianity as the radical ‘society of friends’ it had once been and the theological courage to oppose slavery, prisons, capital punishment, war, and even unholy union of church and state. P. 304

Through the history of the West since the time of Jesus, there has remained just enough of the substance of the original Gospel, a residuum, for it to be passed, as it were, from hand to hand and used, like stock to strengthen, flavor, and invigorate new movements that have succeeded again and again—if only for a time—in producing alteri Christi, men and women in danger of crucifixion. It has also produced repeatedly and in the oddest circumstances, the loving-kindness of the first Christians. P. 304-05

The separation of church and state was achieved in the teeth of virulent Christian opposition, as was free speech, universal suffrage, tolerance, and many other values we would not be without. That these values flow from the subterranean river of authentic Christian tradition points up, once more, the paradoxical validity of the distinctions Jeus made between the religious establishment and true religious spirit. P. 305

The earth now holds six billion souls. How many Mother Teresas would it take to succor the abandoned and dying? P. 316


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