Desire of the Everlasting Hills; The World before and after Jesus

Overview

Read by Brian O'Byrne
Six Cassettes, Approx. 9 hours
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 ...
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Overview

Read by Brian O'Byrne
Six Cassettes, Approx. 9 hours
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 isintended 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.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Narrator Brian F. O'Byrne, with his soft and mesmerizing Irish voice, captures not only Thomas Cahill's intelligence and humor, but also succeeds in evoking the wide range of emotions of people alive at a pivotal point in history. This is especially effective in this narrative, for as in his previous volumes in the Hinges of History series, HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION and THE GIFTS OF THE JEWS, Cahill seeks to animate the names we know from the pages of history, using what we know of them and their times to present them as real people, each with their own character. Beginning with an account of the period leading up to the life of Jesus, Cahill sets the stage of a realm created by the reign and rampage of Alexander the Great, and leading up to the pax romana of Caesar Augustus. Quoting from letters and writings of the time, he paints a picture of life in the midst of an oppressive Roman political presence, thoroughly saturated by the influence of Greek culture. Most importantly, he depicts the social and religious character of the Judaism in which the man, Jesus, lived and flourished. But the history Cahill details is more than background for a historical narrative. Instead, it brings to life a world, a realistic context, in which to imagine "the people Jesus knew," which helps the listener to understand the extreme reaction they had to him -- either as a savior or a blasphemer.

This history gives way what is a fascinating interpretation and exploration of the New Testament writings, and most importantly, the writers. Based on his own brilliant translations of the ancient Greek, Cahill illuminates narratives populated with people whose concerns would otherwise seem impossibly remote from the modern listener. He brings to life the characters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as authors who, each with his own concerns, style, and often remarkably different levels of linguistic capability, painstakingly struggled to record the details of the life of Jesus. Through their accounts, we are able to develop a context in which to see Jesus as a real, living person: a man of sharp intelligence and enormous kindness, a humorous and affectionate teacher who preached a breed of spiritual morality as yet unheard of by the world, and whose devoted friends were fishermen and fallen women. The portrait also helps to imagine the lives of his followers after his death, persecuted, their memory of Jesus haunted by an unimaginably cruel and painful death. Cahill's account paints a portrait of Mary, long before she became the Virgin Mary of popular faith, but as a woman who had a profoundly important influence on her son, and Simon Peter, Jesus's intimate friend, the "rock" upon whom the Catholic church was built. Brian F. O'Byrne's voice, which expertly flexes between gentle and stern, fearful and forceful, brings to life each of these characters, conveying the subtleties of the emotions of ordinary people alive in extraordinarily wondrous and equally trying times..

But still, what remains most compelling about this account is Thomas Cahill's ability to tie the past to the present, frequently illustrating examples with events from modern times to which the modern listener can relate. From Alexander the Great to Adolf Hitler, from religious and social rifts in at the time of the 1st century a.d., to Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in the 20th century, the question remains: what difference did Jesus of Nazareth make? Ultimately, the key strength of DESIRE OF THE EVERLASTING HILLS is that it creates a rich context in which listeners, regardless of their faith, can ask that question of the world, and also themselves.

--Elise Vogel is a New York-based freelancer.

Library Journal
From the author of How the Irish Saved Civilization: a surprising look at Jesus of Nazareth. A BOMC main selection. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553502381
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Series: The Hinges of History Series
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 6 Cassettes, 9 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 4.16 (w) x 6.16 (h) x 2.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Cahill is the author of How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews. He divides his time between New York City and Rome.
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Read an Excerpt

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 questioning, he straightened up and said, "He among you who is sinless--let him cast the first stone at her." And he bent down again and continued sketching in the sand.
When they heard this, they went away one by one, starting with the oldest, until the last one was gone; and he was left alone with the woman, who still stood where they had made her stand. So Jesus straightened up and said, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," answered she.
"Nor do I condemn you," said Jesus. "You are free to go. But from now on, avoid this sin."
This entire passage sounds like the Synoptics and could easily beslipped into Luke's Gospel at 21:38, where it would make a perfect fit. It was, in fact, excised from Luke, after which it floated around the Christian churches without a proper home, until some scribe squeezed it into a manuscript of John, where he thought it might best belong. But why was it excised in the first place? Because the early Church did not forgive adultery (and other major sins) and did not wish to propagate the contradictory impression that the Lord forgave what the Church refused to forgive.  The Great Church quickly became far more interested in discipline and order than Jesus had ever shown himself to be.  This excision is our first recorded instance of ecclesiastical censorship--only for the best reasons, of course (which is how censors always justify themselves).The anarchic Johannine church had had good reason for its reluctance to attach itself to the Great Church, which it knew would clip its wings; and for all we know, it was a Johannine scribe who crammed the story of the aborted stoning into a copy of John's Gospel, thus saving it for posterity.
The passage itself shows up the tyrannical mindlessness that tradition, custom, and authority can exercise within a society. The text of the Torah that the scribes and Pharisees cite to Jesus is Leviticus 20:10, which reads, "The man who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife will be put to death, he and the woman." Jesus, doodler in the dust and reader of hearts, knows the hard, unjust, and self-deceiving hearts he is dealing with. He does not bother to dispute the text with them, by which he could have asked the obvious question "How can you catch a woman in the act without managing to catch her male partner?" He goes straight to the heart of the matter: the bad conscience of each individual, the ultimate reason no one has the right to judge anyone else.
How marvelous that in the midst of John's sometimes oppressive solemnities, the wry and smiling Jesus of the Synoptic gospels, the Jesus the apostles knew, the holy fool, still plays his holy game, winning his laughing victory over the stunned and stupid forces of evil.  This is the same Jesus who tells us that hell is filled with those who turned their backs on the poor and needy--the very people they were meant to help--but that, no matter what the Church may have taught in the many periods of its long, eventful history, no matter what a given society may deem "sexual transgression," hell is not filled with those who, for whatever reason, awoke in the wrong bed. Nor does he condemn us.
From the Hardcover edition.
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