Thomas Cahill in his book, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, paints a very human picture of the culture into which Jesus was born and into which Christianity took root. We usually make the very human mistake of assuming that the world of an earlier era, any particular era, was just like ours and try to impose our values and belief system on that era. Cahill, if you will use your imagination, will help you get a very grasp, a very human grasp, of what the world was like in the time of Jesus.
Cahill gives us a feel for the world of that day–politically, spiritually, and socially, and it often was not pretty! And Jesus deigned to question most of his world’s fundamental values, synthesizing various and sundry “heresies” that were being bruited about the Mediterranean world at the time. And, of course the most basic “value system” he assailed was religion and anytime one questions that he/she is volunteering for crucifixion! (I remember an old bromide from my youth, “Remember, if Jesus came back today, it would be the Christians who would nail him to the cross.”)
Do not assume that with Cahill you will get the definitive view of the worldview of Jesus’s day. Remember, he was not there! But we have a lot of information about that world and if one is willing to approach that information intelligently and imaginatively one can get that “feel” for that world by reading Cahill. We often forget that Jesus was human; or, better yet, we choose to neglect his humanity, preferring to “glorify” him in such a lame, immature manner that we do him no Glory at all. Remember, we purport to teach that in addition to being transcendent, He was immanent! “The Incarnation” literally meant “the enfleshment.”