The Gifts of the Jews

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The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels
by Thomas Cahill


This is the Paperback edition. Other editions:


Audio Cassette (abridged)


Book Description

Second of a projected 7 volume series called Hinges of History, the bestselling Gifts of the Jews follows the first volume, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. The third and fourth, also bestsellers, are The Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus and Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter.

The author of the runaway bestseller How the Irish Saved Civilization has done it again. In The Gifts of the Jews Thomas Cahill takes us on another enchanting journey into history, once again recreating a time when the actions of a small band of people had repercussions that are still felt today.

The Gifts of the Jews reveals the critical change that made western civilization possible. Within the matrix of ancient religions and philosophies, life was seen as part of an endless cycle of birth and death; time was like a wheel, spinning ceaselessly. Yet somehow, the ancient Jews began to see time differently. For them, time had a beginning and an end; it was a narrative, whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future. From this insight came a new conception of men and women as individuals with unique destinies--a conception that would inform the Declaration of Independence--and our hopeful belief in progress and the sense that tomorrow can be better than today. As Thomas Cahill narrates this momentous shift, he also explains the real significance of such Biblical figures as Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Pharaoh, Joshua, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.

Full of compelling stories, insights and humor, The Gifts of the Jews is an irresistible exploration of history as fascinating and fun as How the Irish Saved Civilization. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

THOMAS CAHILL is the author of the best-selling books, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland 's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, and Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus. These books comprise the first three volumes of a prospective seven-volume series entitled "The Hinges of History," in which Cahill recounts formative moments in Western civilization. In "The Hinges of History," Thomas Cahill endeavors to retell the story of the Western World through little-known stories of the great gift-givers, people who contributed immensely to Western, culture and the evolution of Western sensibility, thus revealing how we have become the people we are and why we think and feel the way we do today.

Thomas Cahill is best known, in his books and lectures, for taking on a broad scope of complex history and distilling it into accessible, instructive, and entertaining narrative. His lively, engaging writing animates cultures that existed up to five millennia ago, revealing the lives of his principal characters with refreshing insight and joy. He writes history, not in its usual terms of war and catastrophe, but as "narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance." Unlike all too many history lessons, a Thomas Cahill history book or speech is impossible to forget.

He has taught at Queens College, Fordham University and Seton Hall University, served as the North American education correspondent for the Times of London, and was for many years a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Prior to retiring recently to write full-time, he was director of religious publishing at Doubleday for six years. He and his wife, Susan, also an author, founded the now legendary Cahill & Company Catalogue, much beloved by readers. They divide their time between New York and Rome.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Back Cover
1st Chapter
Editorial Reviews

World Religions Books

HistoryWiz World Religions

From Library Journal
Cahill argues that the greatest gifts of the Jews are the linear theory of history (vs. the cyclical theory of other ancients), with its implication that life can get better and avoid decline and the idea of the equality and dignity of each individual that culminated in the declaration that "All men are created equal." Other gifts include the concepts of universal brotherhood, peace, and justice. (LJ 3/15/97)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The New York Times Book Review, Susan Shapiro
He stumbles on the odd aside and occasionally is surprisingly insensitive.... Still, his passion and breadth of knowledge are admirable. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
...he writes in an easy, relaxed vernacular. And he enjoys himself.... the reader enjoys himself, too, happy to have gaps filled in, amused to read the author's snappy summaries of obscure occurrences, edified by his straightforward interpretations of much-debated episodes. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From AudioFile
Cahill's historical studies enthrall us as, reaching back in time, he introduces an ancient Semitic race of nomads and relates their saga, which we then recognize as the Old Testament. This audio representation is blessed with the voice and talent of Bloom. The biblical stories are ever dramatic, humorous and instructive, and Bloom enhances them with her own passion, wit and seriousness. Her reading conveys the lovely sense of each word, and she renders Cahill's witty commentary with wry humor. Isaac's obedient sacrifice becomes almost excruciating. David's lament for Jonathan confounds any common pity. Have we really heard all this before? Old stories, old words--many known by rote--impose their marvels on us anew. S.B.S. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

From Booklist
Cahill, the author of How the Irish Saved Civilization (1995), turns his attention to how the Jews' concept of one God changed world culture forever. Setting the scene, he offers an extended tour of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), looking at the stories and characters found there with a keen and often-amusing eye. He begins with Avraham (Abraham), who heard a voice and was willing to follow it, and explores how that voice made Avraham's descendants think and believe in ways that were so radically different as to change even the concept of time. When Cahill directly addresses the thesis of his subtitle--the Jews' contributions to the evolution of society--his book is at its most interesting. Particularly insightful is his discussion of the Ten Commandments and how they changed the hearts as well as the behavior of humankind. Although there are numerous points here with which readers may disagree, they will enjoy the thought-provoking and spirited (in both senses of the word) discourse. Ilene Cooper --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews
An engrossing overview of the values and sensibilities of the Hebrew Bible, and of how decisively they have influenced our own. The second (after the bestselling How the Irish Saved Civilization, 1995) of a projected seven-volume series on the evolution of human sensibility shows how the ancient Israelites transformed the idea of religion by gradually introducing monotheism, and equally transformed our sense of time and history. Beginning with Abraham's departure from his Sumerian homeland, the ancient Hebrews broke with the repetitive cyclical image of history assumed by most ancient religions to forge what Cahill terms the ``processive'' worldview. In this perspective, the present and future become more important than the past, for they are open to change, progress, and hope. Cahill also credits the Hebrew Bible with bequeathing to Western civilization such seminal ideas as the interior self (e.g. in David's Psalms), the universal commonalities of all peoples, and, more dubiously, a focus on interpersonal relationships (e.g. in the Song of Songs). He often manages to turn many a beautiful phrase while being forthrightly colloquial. Occasionally, however, he overdoes the plain talk, missing more profound dynamics, as in noting that he's willing to give God ``the benefit of the doubt'' for commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22) because ``He had to jump-start this new religion and he didn't always have the best material to work with.'' But he occasionally overstates his case--surely the ancient Greeks were as significant an influence on our values and worldview as the ancient Israelites. Nonetheless, in an age crowded with bloated, pedantic tomes, Cahill offers a refreshingly succinct, illuminating, and readable summary of the Hebrew Bible's enduring wisdom and influence. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Thomas Cahill, author of the bestselling How the Irish Saved Civilization, continues his Hinges of History series with The Gifts of the Jews, a light-handed, popular account of ancient Jewish culture, the culture of the Bible. The book is written from a decidedly modern point of view. Cahill notes, for instance, that Abraham moved the Jews from Ur to the land of Canaan "to improve their prospects," and that the leering inhabitants of Sodom surrounded Lot's lodging "like the ghouls in Night of the Living Dead." The Gifts of the Jews nonetheless encourages us to see the Old Testament through ancient eyes--to see its characters not as our contemporaries but as those of Gilgamesh and Amenhotep. Cahill also lingers on often-overlooked books of the Bible, such as Ruth, to discuss changes in ancient sensibility. The result is a fine, speculative, eminently readable work of history. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Commentary, Yossi Prager
A lively and idiosyncratic tour of the Hebrew Bible, The Gifts of the Jews is written with humor, whimsy, and an engaging sensitivity to literary nuance. But the book aims for more than entertainment. Taking us from pre-biblical civilization through Abraham, Moses, the Ten Commandments, David and his Psalms, the Prophets, and Ruth and Naomi, Cahill drives home a central point: the Jews introduced to the world a radically new conception of reality. Supplanting the ancient view that man's life on earth is cyclical and predetermined (except for the occasional intervention of capricious gods), the Bible teaches that the future is determined by our present actions. This being the case, human behavior is morally significant, man is free, and progress is possible.

In making his points, Cahill shows a remarkable sensitivity to the biblical text, and his enthusiasm for the Bible as a whole is quite contagious. As for his contention that the Bible introduces the "modern" sense of time, history, and the nature of human relationships, that, too, seems persuasive, at least to a lay reader. Still, for all its virtues, The Gifts of the Jews is a troubling book.

Time and again, Cahill's reading of the Bible eviscerates the essence of Judaism: the rules, traditions, and practices that for thousands of years have made concrete the otherwise quite generic values he extracts from the text. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Presents a survey of the Jewish contributions to Western civilization, in a work exploring a pivotal period in human history.

Thomas Cahill, the author of the runaway success "How the Irish Saved Civilization", has done it again. In this volume, he takes listeners on another enchanting journey into history, recreating a time when the actions of a small band of people had repercussions that are still felt today. Simultaneous hardcover release from Doubleday. April 1998 Publication date. (Nonfiction--Unabridged) . --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

From the Publisher


Persuasive as well as entertaining...Mr. Cahill's book [is] a gift."--Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

"An outstanding and very readable book...highly recommended."- Library Journal

"A very good read, a dramatically effective, often compelling retelling of the Hebrew Bible."--Charles Gold, Chicago Sun Times --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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