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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 – August 17, 1999

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Product Details

  • Series: Hinges of History (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books/Nan A Talese (August 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385482493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385482493
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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.

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.

More About the Author

Thomas Cahill, former director of religious publishing at Doubleday, is the bestselling author of the Hinges of History series.

Customer Reviews

Quite simply this is a shocker - possibly the worst book I've ever read.
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.
FrKurt Messick
For much of this book, Cahill seems to have merely paraphrased most of the Hebrew scriptures.
A. Nelson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Lee Gruenfeld on July 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Normally, I only include books on this page that I recommended highly and unequivocally. In the case of The Gifts of the Jews, I do recommend it, but with a bit of equivocating.
There's no sense rehashing all the critiquing that has already been done on this short and fascinating volume -- it is truly a quite thought-provoking attempt at some historical paradigm shifting. My question is whether such shifting is warranted in light of the evidence Cahill brings to bear on his thesis.
Like most bible-based historical analyses, Gifts suffers from assumptive leaps often grounded on precious little substance. For example, to claim that our very concept of time evolved from one of cyclical and unbreakable repetition with no end and no beginning to our current "processive" notions of past and future because of the Jews begs more questions than Cahill tackles. Among them are how the Egyptians managed to spend decades building monuments that were intended to last forever if they were convinced it would all be for naught when the next cycle began anew. For that matter, how did the Sumerians ever get around to building cities?
The author also provides mountains of detail regarding the emotional states of biblical figures whose words and behaviors were described in the barest of minimalist proportions, attributing broad and profound meanings to mere handfuls of words. To his credit, Cahill chose for his basis an unconventional translation that hews much closer to the meaning of the original language, and in fact his presentation of that novel interpretation is the best part of this book, but some of those interpretations strain credulity to such an extent that his underlying thesis is too often undermined.
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71 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Reader on February 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
After reading all the negative reviews of this book, I couldn't help but state my piece. Sure, Cahill does try to justify the actions recorded in a literary tradition that he obviously respects a great deal. That makes his telling of the history of the Jewish people and the Hebrew bible INTERESTING. He does not write in a purely objective way and, as far as I am concerned, that is fine. History, despite what some may argue, is always written from someone's viewpoint- it is never totally objective. As for the book itself, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Cahill's writing. It was one of the most enjoyable histories I have read in a while. Furthermore, it is accepted scholarly fact that the Jewish people did invent (or where among the first to use) the linear model of time and among (if not the first) to have a universe in which there was one God. Cahill was also very careful to emphasize that these cultural changes were not instantaneous, but took place over many hundreds of years. So what if Cahill excuses Abraham's use of Sara to get what he wanted. Cahill is looking at history and when looking at history you have to look in the context of the culture at the time the particular history was recorded. In the ancient world, women didn't count for all that much and the original readers of the story of Abraham (and the listeners to the oral tradition before that) would not have exactly been outraged on Sara's account. Overall, though a bit slanted in its interpretations, this book is so full of great storytelling that I would consider it to be well worth a reader's time. (Although I do agree that perhaps the pagan fertility ceremony thing was a bit much.) END
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54 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 31, 1999
Format: Paperback
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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on September 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
In "The Gifts of the Jews," Cahill retells, in his own unique voice, the tales of three of the Bible's greatest heroes -- Abraham, Moses and David. His purpose is to show that these men were almost-singlehandedly responsible for breaking humankind's religious conception of life as a never-ending cycle, making it possible for humans to imagine, first the future, then progress -- a better future. Basing his conjectures rather solidly in archeology and biblical studies, Cahill sketches the religious view of early humans, whose changing and brutal life below was contrasted with the serene and never-changing sky above. This conception allowed humanity to imagine its own most noble elements in the sky, turning these eventually into gods. Cahill gives us an imaginative sketch of a moon cult of ancient Assyria, complete with nubile maids, sacrificial offerings and erotic ceremonial pairings to honor the goddess of fertility.

Along into this world of savage, cyclical ritual comes Abram, given a command to do something completely new and unexpected -- to leave the familiar and to strike out toward an uncertain destination. Cahill sees Abram (later Abraham) as the first human being to break out of the cycle of repetition, futility and fatedness. His was a God of surprises, about-faces and detours, not of regularity and rhythm.

For those unfamiliar with the Bible, Cahill's rendering is unpoetical yet vital. His sketches of the wily desert chieftain Abram, the tongue-tied, reluctant Moses and cockily self-assured David are wonderful antidotes to the tired pieties of Sunday school. If nothing else, Cahill has a gift for bringing alive ancient characters.
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