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Paperback The Gifts of the Jews : How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels Book

ISBN: 0385482493

ISBN13: 9780385482493

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

(Book #2 in the The Hinges of History Series)

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Book Overview

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...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

In the beginning...

Thomas Cahill's second outing as author of the hinge-histories is a worthy follow-up, if a bit more simplistic. This book was a very easy read for me, both in content and in style, and I think the general reader will enjoy this book, too. I am used to, in my seminary training, to having weighty tomes to journey through -- this was a refreshing walk in a park. Unlike his previous subject about the Irish, this book covers a subject on which almost everyone has an opinion, so Cahill's interpretations on the Hebrew Scriptures and history (Old Testament times) will undoubtedly not satisfy everyone. He does a very good job, though, of steering clear of interpretive controversies. He presents this history as a history of what is important in its legacy for us -- no sense in asking questions such as 'Were these really the first monotheists?' & c., because it is a fact that our cultural tendency toward monotheism in the West derives from this band of people. This is the people from whom much of our Western sensibility is derived. 'This gift of the Commandments allows us to live in the present, in the here and now. What I have done in the past is past mending; what I will do in the future is a worry not worth a candle, for there is no way I can know what will happen next. But in this moment--and only in htis moment--I am in control.' The very idea of regulations, justice, and communal living (beyond the whims of the powerful), and of self-discipline exerted from within, rather than from without, derives largely in our society from these writings. Again, it is not worth haggling over who had the earliest codification of regulations and civil laws--those did not get handed down to us as a living, working text. These texts were, in many respects, the informing texts behind much of Western civilisation. He covers the history well, neither discounting the Biblical authority nor assuming that seeming contradictions in archaeological evidence is either right or wrong. Cahill begins with the pre-history of the Jews, talking about the societal, political and geographic realities that would have influenced the ancient Sumerian named Avram, who set out for the land of Canaan. Cahill examines the period in Egypt as being pivotal for societal development, the era of the judges and kings as experimentations with polity, and the diasporic period as one of deepening identity in the face of massive external pressure and, in the end, threat of extermination. This book is a good sequel, and an important work for the non-historian and non-theologian into some aspects of the history of the Jews that are otherwise often overlooked. 'The Jews gave us the Outlook and the Inside--our outlook and our inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact--new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress,

In the beginning...

Thomas Cahill's second outing as author of the hinge-histories is a worthy follow-up, if a bit more simplistic. This book was a very easy read for me, both in content and in style, and I think the general reader will enjoy this book, too. I am used to, in my seminary training, to having weighty tomes to journey through -- this was a refreshing walk in a park. Unlike his previous subject about the Irish, this book covers a subject on which almost everyone has an opinion, so Cahill's interpretations on the Hebrew Scriptures and history (Old Testament times) will undoubtedly not satisfy everyone. He does a very good job, though, of steering clear of interpretive controversies and sticks to his own reading of history (for better or worse). He presents this history as a history of what is important in its legacy for us -- no sense in asking questions such as 'Were these really the first monotheists?' & c., because it is a fact that our cultural tendency toward monotheism in the West derives from this band of people. This is the people from whom much of our Western sensibility is derived. 'This gift of the Commandments allows us to live in the present, in the here and now. What I have done in the past is past mending; what I will do in the future is a worry not worth a candle, for there is no way I can know what will happen next. But in this moment--and only in htis moment--I am in control.' The very idea of regulations, justice, and communal living (beyond the whims of the powerful), and of self-discipline exerted from within, rather than from without, derives largely in our society from these writings. Again, it is not worth haggling over who had the earliest codification of regulations and civil laws--those did not get handed down to us as a living, working text. These texts were, in many respects, the informing texts behind much of Western civilisation. He covers the history well, neither discounting the Biblical authority nor assuming that seeming contradictions in archaeological evidence is either right or wrong. Cahill begins with the pre-history of the Jews, talking about the societal, political and geographic realities that would have influenced the ancient Sumerian named Avram, who set out for the land of Canaan. Cahill examines the period in Egypt as being pivotal for societal development, the era of the judges and kings as experimentations with polity, and the diasporic period as one of deepening identity in the face of massive external pressure and, in the end, threat of extermination. This book is a good sequel, and an important work for the non-historian and non-theologian into some aspects of the history of the Jews that are otherwise often overlooked. 'The Jews gave us the Outlook and the Inside--our outlook and our inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact--new, adventure, surprise; unique, individu

great fun

Thomas Cahill succeeds on a number of levels in this book. First, he succeeds in the primary task of the popular historian, making history compelling, and readable and important to our modern lives. Second, he makes the things we know, and take for granted, seem fresh and marvelous. Finally, he shows us that even more wonderful ideas and themes lurk just beneath the surface of the history that we all think we know. The result is a book that confirms our understanding of the importance of the Jews and makes us appreciate them in ways that many of us may not have before.We well understand the central importance of Judaism to be its monotheism. A world with many gods offers no guidance for human behavior; different gods may demand different behaviors. But a single God can command one set of behaviors from us, and is therefore the source of morality, of the morality which can bind an entire society or civilization, eventually the species, to one coherent set of ethical principles. The one God, a unity Himself, provides Man with the understanding that the Universe is a unity and is governed by a single, unified set of laws and principles. This is a magnificent thing, and by itself would be a sufficient gift to make the Jews a great people.But Cahill only even gets to this part of the story after explicating a prior gift, one that is just as important to Man's development : the idea of progress. Prior to the rise of Judaism, men believed in life as a circularity. We're born. We die. The next generation comes along and repeats the process. Life has no direction, merely keeps reiterating itself. Cahill explains that it is only with Abraham and the command of God that he "Go forth from your land, from your birthplace and from your father's home to the land that I will show you." that the idea of life as a journey of discovery is born. Cahill understands Abraham to be, and makes us understand him to be, our first great explorer, the first human to intentionally set out for the unknown. Further, he demonstrates how this notion of life as a process or a progression created the very idea of history, of a past that was different than the present, and the understanding that the future will be different than the present, that the way things are now will eventually be history. By the time he's done, Cahill may well convince you that "Abraham went" is the most thrilling passage in all of literature.There is much more in the book, as Cahill attempts, largely successfully, to demonstrate that nearly every single facet of our lives has been shaped by Judaism. He throws off ideas like a blacksmith throws off sparks, and if some sputter out, many more of them catch fire. He definitely has some political biases, sometimes welcome, as his determination to show that anti-Semitism is wrongheaded, sometimes less so, as his argument in favor of a kind of gushy social justice. But the fact that he is so opinionated generally serves him well, and if he s

An Intellectual and Thorough Book

I opened Thomas Cahill's The Gift of the Jews and immediately fell into a virtual journey throughout the history of the Jewish faith. Beginning with the origins of Biblical style from ancient civilizations, Cahill establishes the premise of the Bible itself and takes us on a tour of the triumphs and burdens of the Israelites. In explaining and interpreting each major action with commendable knowledge and depth, he builds towards the final, dazzling effect of proving the gifts of the Jews as characteristics we utilize daily but take for granted, including our perception of time, the emphasis on individual actions, and the reliance on God not just because we are told to but because we are His. In retrospect, Cahill did a remarkable job instilling a sense of enthusiasm about the Bible in his readers as he drove home specific points important to him. I found his explanation of the Jewish gift of time to be particularly well written and moving, emphasizing that "in this moment-and only in this moment-I am in control. This is the moment of choice..." (146). Cahill provides us with the inspiration to take control of what we are doing, to take a look at the bigger picture (the history of burdened people), and to thank our Jewish ancestors for handing down the "gifts" that have shaped who we are today.
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