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Saturday, August 19, 2006

 

Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill

Tom Cahill has two classics under his belt: How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews, both of which I have read, so when a friend loaned me her copy of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, (as a writer, of course, I believe someone should buy books, but when someone--or a library--allows my work to be read by passing it along, I make an exception. I'd rather be read than not be read if buying the book is an obstacle.) I was delighted to have an opportunity to read his latest as well.

In his previous books, Cahill has shown that he is a master of writing popular history and his latest is no exception. At the present time Christians and Christianists are shouting at each other over very basic and opposing ideas about the interpretation of the Bible. Cahill, it seems to me, has grasped the way in which the modern world must read scripture if either Christianity or the Bible is to remain relevant. The Bible is the underlying authority of the Christian faith, but that authority is diluted and debased if what the Bible means is restricted to what the Bible says "literally." In the first place, there is no true "literal" version of scripture. Even the most ancient versions in the original languages in which they were written are not authentically literal if one means that they are error free in transcription or translation.

It is a most rediculous position and a somewhat superstitious one (but unfortunately a common one) to believe that the King James' version of the Bible in English speaks with God's true, error free authority because God somehow guided the 15th century fingers that wrote it down. This is not the usual position of the more "enlightened" literalists however. They acknowledge that later translations and more modern exegetes and interpreters are correct, but they are highly selective when it comes to which texts are "literally" true and which are not. As a general rule, you can expect that literal authority will be the one that favors the rights and prejudices of heterosexual, white, males in the northern hemisphere.

The real key to understanding the Bible and applying it to life in the modern world, however, requires that one go beneath the surface of what the text says and try to determine the principal that can be applied in modern life. This means of course that everything has to be stripped away that had meaning only in the social context of the time it was written, especially in terms of race, ethnicity, and sex--by that I mean male and female not sexual practices or orientation.

Secondly one has to evaluate the ancient texts in terms of their knowledge of the natural world--i.e., the age of the earth, the source of thunder; all the natural phenomina that modern science has revealed. That means that much of what the Bible says about the natural world; the sun, stars and planets, the oceans and life; has to be evaluated in a poetical sense, and not in a literal sense. This also applies to what modern science knows in terms of disease and human psychology. People may have had demons in the ancient world and mant still do in the modern world, but that does not necessarily mean the same thing as it did prior to the modern age. This also applies to phenomena such as sexual orientation and gender identity. This is the area where the so-called "enlightened" literalist has the most trouble; having to meet head-on the specific prohibitions in the Bible--homosexuality to be specific--and understand that when the Bible uses homosexuality as an example of "sexual perversion" as Paul does in 1 Corinthians to condemn a man or woman for "turning away from Christl" his premise is right, we do turn away from Christ, but his example is flawed because he did not understand homosexuality as it is understood in the modern world--at least by those who are not invincible ignorant.

So, back to Thomas Cahill's book. He does approach the Bible from a truely enlightened perspective and judges everything he comments on in the Bible in the proper light of modern revelation--under that understanding (correctly I think) that the Holy Spirit has indeed been active in the world for the last 2000 years, and if we ignore what we have learned through the Holy Spirit, we do so at our peril.

The subtitle of Cahill's book is "The World Before and After Jesus" and he uses that perspective for what he has to say. He divides the book into seven parts: 1. Greeks, Jews, and Romans in which he explains each of these cultures and the differences among them and how they interacted during Biblical times; 2. The Last of the Prophets, the age and writings that set the stage and the expectations for the coming of the "Messiah;" 3. The Cosmic Christ, which is an explanation of the mythic Christ of Paul's writings as opposed to the historical Jesus that is sought by modern "Jesus" scholars; 4. The Gentile Messiah portrayed in Luke's Gospel, which separates the Jewishness of Christianity in Mark and Matthew and makes Jesus a figure acceptable to a gentile audience; 5. Drunk in the Morning Light, the record and development of the Post Ressurrection church and the inpouring of influence by the Holy Spirit; 6. The Word Made Flesh the theological development of salvation through Christ of the Eucharist in John's Gospel; and 7. Yesterday, Today, and Forever, a summing up of the meaning of the previous six parts of the book and what they mean in terms of the on-going Church, its practices, its value (and values) and the danger of its becoming irrelevant in a secular world.

Desire of the Everlasting Hills is beautifully written, clear and easy to follow and understand and immanently convincing. Unfortunately I suspect that it will not convince all those who had rather use scripture to further their own selfish interests--but the fact that some will not appreciate Cahill's work does not diminish its importance.

You can order the book from Amazon.com by clicking on the link below.


Comments:
The Bible is under attack from all sides. Satan knows it tells the truth about him, the victory that Jesus had at the cross, and what will happen in the future. As such, Satan has and still is making every attempt to destroy the Word of God. What better way to do this, than to change the meaning of the Bible over time with different bible versions; each version as it comes along claiming it is the truth and the most accurate of all the versions up until that point.
The line must be drawn where we say, "If the King James Bible was good enough for 400 years, then it is still good enough for me." For by it men and women have been saved and the knowledge of God imparted unto them. When new bible versions come along, they always take something away that is never replaced, only to be lost forever. If you believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then stand up for it. Take a stand and speak out against these new bible versions. An objection often raised against the "King James Only Crowd" is that people learn something from the other (modern) versions, too, and that some even get saved: but I dare say that this occurs in spite of these errant versions, not because of them!
The Authorized Version of 1611, or, in other words, the King James Bible, stands alone in its uniqueness, integrity, and fidelity to the truthfulness of God’s Word. Among reasons why this writer holds this conviction is because of the great harm done not only to the Word of God, but the detriment wrought in the local church in its public worship, and, of course, because of the confusion created in countless group and individual Bible studies. After all, it could be said: How do you think your professor would think or feel if all of his students used different textbooks in his class?! In our case, God is our Great Professor! He alone is the one true God, who has walked among us upon this earth and left us the living and enduring legacy of His Word and His Spirit. Until He comes, Amen.
 
Although I wonder at the presumption of someone who would feel entitled to speak for the King James's version of the Bible, I have left his (its?) comments intact. My comment to what he/it has to say is to ask whether he would entrust his physical health to a doctor whose medical education consisted of having read a 17th-century translation of a corrupt 1st-century medical treatise. Would he be willing to accept treatment such as bleeding, the application of leeches, purges with tinctures of mercury, and so forth? If he would, then I admire his consistency if not his judgement. If not, then I wonder why he would entrust his soul to the theological equivalent.
 
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