ZEUS: The case of the gods is extremely critical, Hera, and it is being fought, as the saying goes, at the cutting edge whether we should still receive honor in the future and retain the honorary gifts we enjoy on earth, or whether we should be completely out of the game, indeed no longer even in the game at all.
“And finally, my son, this further warning: there is no end to the number of books that are written, and much reading dulls the body,” so Ecclesiastes warns his readers. On the other hand, it did not stop him from writing a little book himself anyway; it was even included in the Bible. But from the looks of it, other Jews never took much notice of Preacher’s heartfelt advice. It is amazing the enormous amount of religious literature a small nation like Israel has written together, in ancient times alone.
In the early 2e century AD, the Christian Aristides wrote his apology, a defense speech addressed to Emperor Hadrian. Whether then his august highness did not know that humanity was made up of three classes of people? “For it is clear to us, Sire, that there are three classes of men in this world: namely, those who worship the gods, which are in honor with you, and Jews and Christians.” Pagans believed in numerous gods, though some tended toward a form of monotheism in which one God ruled over lesser gods, Jews and Christians accepted only one God, with Christians, of course, also paying due homage to the Son of God. Those Christians, that was something new. In one of his sermons, Peter is reported to have said, “Everything Greek and Jewish is old; we are the Christians who worship Him as a third generation in a new way.”
The New Testament seems quite accessible. Yet that New Testament was written in a culture profoundly different from our modern world. A book like Revelation perplexes us, what is written in Hebrews is utterly foreign to us, but neither are Paul’s letters particularly clear even on repeated reading. Even the better-known gospels, when read attentively, still prove to possess their own strangeness and raise the necessary questions. The book you now have in your hands aims to lead you into the world of the New Testament writings.
Turning the other cheek to someone who slaps you in the face, not getting angry with someone who treats you unfairly or unseemly but forgiving him or her, not looking at someone else’s seductively beautiful wife (or handsome husband), not divorcing your partner, speaking the truth always and everywhere, and finally: loving your enemy wholeheartedly, that’s what Jesus apparently expects from his followers.