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The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History) Paperback – 1 Sep 1999

3.4 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 291 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group (1 Sept. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385482493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385482493
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 761,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Thomas Cahill, author of the best-selling 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. --Ali Perry-Gallagher --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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 is a valuable book, of interest to everyone, religious or not."
--"Washington Times"
"A highly readable, entrancing journey."
--"San Francisco Chronicle"

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Why is 'Western' culture so unlike that of the majority of other societies in the world? Cahill identifies the sources of our culture in ancient Judaism and relates the revolutionary changes introduced by the Jews. In a conceptual rather than detailed treatise, he explains how a small band of people departed from their neighbours by revising their view of the universe and themselves. This feat was accomplished by viewing time as linear instead of cyclical, introducing monotheism to replace a pantheon of deities, and enhancing individuality. These facets of our culture are in direct contrast with those who view Nature as the basis of belief rather than detaching themselves from it. Cahill opens with a quote from Black Elk reflecting the respect for Nature non-Western cultures can sustain. What Cahill leaves out, of course, is the global impact the new ideas have had even on cultures which don't openly subscribe to them. This book is an invitation to reflect on who it is that we really are. That's a question we should ask ourselves from time to time. Gifts doesn't make that query directly, but the implication is as strong as it was in his book on Irish culture. .
What is the impact of this novel way of thinking about ourselves? ... For one thing, the linear view of time is the basis for all Western scientific thought. Without such a concept we could never recognize how evolution controls the flow of life. Seeking the mechanics of the Big Bang wouldn't be among our enquiries. We would never have sought an answer to our origins either cosmic or biological. Cahill contends that adopting the new view of time imparted the concept of free will, which allowed us the freedom to pursue such inquiries.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is by no means a highly detailed, scholarly history. However, it is a great introduction to many aspects of history and religion -- ancient Mideast history, Jewish history, the Old Testament, Judeo/Christian philosophy. The book focuses on the author's interpretation of historical events, an analysis of the bible from both a sociological and literary perspective, and presents some thought-provoking ideas.
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Format: Hardcover
I could not enjoy this book because I could not escape the nagging suspicion that Cahill was just parroting the people he studied with when researching this book. I thought he was doing this because of the few really interesting insights he makes. I don't trust what he tells me is true since he seems so intellectually sloppy. He mentions briefly that, and the dust jacket announces, that this book is a celebration of the innovation of change and free will by Abraham. Yet Cahill lets that famous event (God's saying "Go forth" to Abe) pass dull-y. I was reading it and suddenly realized, "Wait, when did God make that famous announcement?" For all its supposed importance as the heart of the "gift of the Jews", Cahill has absolutely no buildup to it. The book then plunges into a rather insipid and schoolboy synopsis of the Bible. I found myself distrusting everything he writes because I don't trust Cahill's intellectual credentials for this topic; he seems to meander so (about some poorly strung-together ancient myths that have NOTHING to do with his thesis, but which pad the page length of this waste of paper) and never to offer references and footnotes. He seems to be blithely repeating his professors remarks in lecture, hoping their profundity and brilliance will come across in his writing. They don't. As far as a synopsis of the change from pantheism to monotheism, read the bestselling A History of God by Karen? Armstrong, from 1992, I think. This book really is disappointing--a senior editor at a major publishing house thinks this is good? There is very little worthwhile content here, which is almost immediately recognizable from the enormous type and margins. At most Cahill's thesis, if done well, would be 30-50 pages for anyone with more interest in publishing something of substance. Do not buy this book. Stick to real scholars for your intellectual reading.
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