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The World Before and After Jesus

by Thomas Cahill

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-48251-5
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday

A middlebrow history of Jesus and the development of the early church, the third of seven projected volumes examining what Cahill (The Gifts of the Jews, 1998, etc.) refers to as the —Hinges of History.— Almost every life of Christ since Renan’s has been revisionist as a matter of course and has usually revealed far more about its author than its subject. Cahill writes as a historian, but his is a record of personalities and places rather than events, narrated in a tone of such relentless subjectivity (—In Rome I love to climb the Janiculum, which the ancients called the ‘Golden Mountain’ because of its yellow sand”) that at times it seems more autobiographical travelogue than history. The outlines of the story are well known, to say the least. The ancient world, which elevated the personal daring and civil conquest exemplified by Alexander the Great and the Caesars above every other virtue, became in the early years of the Roman Empire increasingly intrigued by a new philosophy that preached humility and restraint and the immortality of each individual soul. Although the author of this philosophy was killed by the authorities while his movement was still a tiny cult, it continued to grow prodigiously after his death, until it became the dominant religion of the Empire. Cahill’s introduction to the world of late antiquity will be interesting to most lay readers, but even they may be put off by his annoyingly offhand characterizations (—Jesus was a first-century Jew, a rural rabbi from Galilee, the Bumblefuck of its day—) and his cheap reductionism (—An intellectual overachiever, pushed repeatedly to success by a keenly competitive father, Paul had no time for ordinary social niceties and neither gave nor expected to receive normal social comforts—). A straightforward, unremarkable rehash. (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection)