📚 The Making of the Christian World - Robert Payne: I picked up this book from a retiring pastor who was paring down his library. From its title and cover, I expected a fairly academic treatment of historical matter. I was surprised by the content I found inside. Instead of a cold and dry recounting of events long past, I found poetry that was warm and inviting. Payne does an admirable job trying to find words to describe the unimaginable and transcendent. His prose brings back a world from which we are so far removed. A world where prophets sprang forth from the arid desert and the Messiah preached encouragement to the broken-hearted. A world teeming with encounters of the spiritual.
When discussing the apocryphal book, The Acts of John, Payne writes:
This account of the first meeting of James and John with Jesus has a hallucinatory quality, as of something seen and remembered with fearful clarity. Whoever wrote those mysterious lines was either a master storyteller, who knew exactly how to achieve his effects, or he was recording a living tradition, as it was once related by James of John. Origen, the most distinguished and influential of all of the Fathers of the ancient church, found no great difficulty in believing that Jesus changed his appearance according to the needs of the onlookers. There is a passage in the Talmud that describes Jesus as “cloudlike.” It is perhaps the best of all adjectives to describe him as he moves silently across the land, belonging more to the sunlit sky than to the earth, shining with a mysterious light. Cloud-like, he eludes us to the end.
In his description of Jerusalem, Payne focuses on an environment ripe for hearing messages that are not of human descent.
But if the stones of the Judaean wilderness break men’s hearts, the pure glinting skies bearing the sands of the Negev and of Arabia uplift their hearts. The sky over Jerusalem is a rich golden-blue, never at rest. It is the color of majesty, so ornate and shimmering that it seems artificial. There is a sense of splendor beyond human comprehension. On a summer’s day, God’s face shines visibly in the heavens. The air breathes and the light glancing off one mountain clashes visibly with the light glancing off another. In the trembling glory of that superb light all things seem possible; and in the presence of that light, one no longer wonders why the prophets entered the Judaean wilderness and came out again with revelations of God’s presence.
Payne immerses you in the ancient world. I have only read through the sections about the Apostle Paul, but I am interested in the author’s treatment of later events in the Christian Church.