The weather has finally (finally!!) turned a bit cooler here and it feels like autumn rather than late June! I've spent a lot of time enjoying fresh air while reading some Christian fiction books I borrowed a few weeks ago when we ate at my church friend's house. I love sitting out on my porch in my Cracker Barrel rocking chair looking up occasionally to see the lovely sky or the flitting butterflies or fast-moving hummingbird that visits.
Today I went by the library. Yes, despite the fact I have five more books from Cindy sitting in the other room, I was in town, walking my errands while parked at the library and well, it just drew me in! Amber's recent post made me remember Karen Armstrong so I searched the library catalog and saw what books they offered from her. Ended up with the biography of Muhammad and since I was in the area, I thought I'd see if there was a biography about Jesus. There were a couple actually, but I selected Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill. This actually is third in a seven part series of "cultural impact" on Western civilization, but I didn't realize that until I started reading the introduction. Anyway, he declares on page 8 that "this unlikely character has long been accounted the central figure of Western civilization," that is Jesus of course. He reminds us with our calendars "we even count our days by his appearance on earth." It makes me wonder just a bit how a Jewish man became the central figure of the West since, errrr, Palestine is more East than West, isn't it? People do sometimes claim Christianity is a Western religion and I've even heard it's "a white man's religion," but of course I disagree!
Thomas Cahill wants to answer some hard questions: did Jesus make a difference? does he have a right to be at this central place in our culture? is he worthy of his place in history?
Part I in the book deals with "Greeks, Jews, and Romans: The People Jesus Knew." I did not take extensive notes, but decided I did want to record a few notes just for the sake of learning and remembering something from this book. By the way, the book's subtitle is "The World Before and After Jesus," and the first chapter deals briefly with the immediate history leading up the birth of Jesus just to give a little background of what the region was going through at that time, who the national heroes likely were and so forth. Can you imagine Jesus giving his "love your enemies" speech to people not far from societies who revered Alexander the Great? :-)
Just a few things of interest to me from chapter one.
Alexander conquered because he *ahem* wanted to spread Greek culture to the needy world (sounds like some people who go forth and conquer so people can 'enjoy' American democracy).
Romans put "security first, prosperity second, and pleasure far down on the list. They had nothing in common with the sybaritic, effeminate East that had so attracted Alexander...The Greeks thought they were the most intellectually discerning...but the Romans prided themselves on having crucial talents that the Greeks, for all their complexity, lacked: realism and practicality." (pg. 52)
In speaking of Roman expansion the author notes that the Parthians "(today they are Iranians)" and Scots were the only people ever to stop the Romans. (pg. 54)
"Whereas Greeks and Romans and all other ancient peoples tended to see history as an ultimately empty succession of triumphs and tragedies -- and human beings as evanescent phenomena appearing briefly on the surface of historical events -- the Jews believed that history had a beginning (in God's act of Creation) and would have an end and that each human being, created by God, had an individual destiny to fulfill and was not merely a momentary glimmer on the ever-recurring waves of fate. And as in so much material written by Jews in the disappointing centuries after the Babylonian Captivity, there is even in this peculiar collection of oracles the assertion of a promised Messiah, a king sent from God." (pg. 61) -- The author says verses like those he quoted from Isaiah - to a late first century B.C. reader often were thought to refer to Augustus since he brought in the Pax Romana, a time of long-lasting peace.