The new old, old story

Arriving in Bethlehem some years ago on a cold, dank Christmas morning, I found it hard to muster the appropriate spirit. The clattery bus had deposited me in a deserted Manger Square, where the glowering skies and shabby stalls did little to evoke the inspiration and joy the day seemed to demand.

Midnight mass on Christmas Eve, I later learned, was the time to join the throngs and watch the candles illumine the dark. I'd missed it by 12 hours.

But being there isn't the only way to experience the old, old story anew. As we approach the second millennium after Jesus' birth, several new books take us back to that period and find fresh insight and understanding.

One in particular, "Desire of the Everlasting Hills," by Thomas Cahill (see page 17), draws us into the social mores, cultural influences, and tricky politics of those ancient days. The scene set, he introduces the ideas of a young carpenter.

"In a world where Alexander the Great was the supreme icon, ideas like 'turn the other cheek' and 'love your enemies' must have struck many as positively hilarious. Certainly, in the atmosphere of first-century Judea, where the brutal examples of the Seleucids, the Caesars, and the Hasmoneans held the cultural spotlight, this advice would have sounded even more unrealistic than it does to us."

And yet, as Cahill goes on, "Christianity's 'initial thrust' has hurled 'acts and ideas' not only 'across the centuries' but around the world."

*Susan Llewelyn Leach is the assistant Ideas editor. Comments? Send E-mail to:

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.