I'm not sure when the idea of "summer book" recommendations began — perhaps when people took more leisurely vacations. Families rented cottages or cabins and spent time visiting or reading. Now we're all more likely to be on the go, seeking new entertainments. That's a shame, really, because there's something special about reading when you're truly relaxed and have enough time to think deeply about a book's meaning.
If you have time for that kind of summer reading, I have a suggestion — the newest book by well-known historical writer Thomas Cahill: Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (Doubleday, 1999; ISBN 0385482515; available from Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, 800-328-4648; www.augsburgfortress.org). Cahill's previous successes include How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews. All three make up the "Hinges of History" series, describing moments in time that radically changed the world. (Gifts makes excellent companion reading for Hills.)
Cahill describes how various groups of Jesus' contemporaries regarded him. He offers new insights into the four Gospels, saying as much about the writers and their perspectives as about the writings. And his treatment of Paul is fascinating.
He points out that the story of Jesus' crucifixion caused such anguish among his followers that artists could not bring themselves to portray it. Not until the 5th century — long after there were any living witnesses — did the Crucifixion become a frequent artistic subject.
One warning: Watch out for (and ignore) a tendency to throw in such contemporary colloquialisms as the salutation "Earth to Jesus," as if Christ were somewhere orbiting in a space ship.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers