Customer Reviews


201 Reviews
5 star:
 (69)
4 star:
 (56)
3 star:
 (26)
2 star:
 (18)
1 star:
 (32)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


94 of 103 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but still well, well worth it
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...
Published on July 18, 2000 by Lee Gruenfeld

versus
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good biblical synopsis, but weak in the thesis
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...
Published on September 27, 2009 by Jean E. Pouliot


‹ Previous | 1 221 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

94 of 103 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but still well, well worth it, July 18, 2000
This review is from: The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History) (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. As an example, jumping directly from the Burning Bush to the conclusion that "God...can burn in us without consuming" is poetic and clever but did this actually occur to the early Israelites?
Overall, there is far too much speculation upon which to hang a serious thesis, and it put me in mind of the classic skit in which one syllable uttered by a diplomat becomes three paragraphs from the translator. However, the book is so full of wonderful nuggets that it is still a delight to read, at least once you get past the overlong and overly-discursive discussion of the Sumerian "Epic of Gilgamesh," and that's why I am recommending it. Cahill's reading of the Abraham and Isaac story is tremendously moving, as is the story of the exodus from Egypt, particularly as concerns the ongoing frustrations of Moses. One of the most soul-stirring sections is the one dealing with the "minor" prophet Amos, who openly scorns the "elegant piety" of the people of Israel and exhorts them to put away the symbolic sacrifices and instead "let justice flow like water."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enough with all the negitivity....., February 24, 2000
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
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


51 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intellectual and Thorough Book, October 31, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History) (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


36 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new look at an old tradition, October 31, 1999
By A Customer
In the past I have never been fond of historical interpretations such as this one. My motivation in reading The Gifts of the Jews was simply to perform another assignment needed to boost my grade in 10th grade religion class. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Thomas Cahill did a masterful job of making the reader, me at least, look at the whole Bible in a different perspective. Cahill presented the Bible not as a boring guidebook on how one should live but as an animated story of the evolution of the Jewish faith. It was interesting to look at faith from a historical perspective rather than a religious one. Though it might be offensive to some readers who interpret the Bible literally, I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the origins of many of our ways of thinking today. This is not just a book for Jews but for anyone, religious or not, who wants to understand the modern Judeo-Christian world we live in.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good biblical synopsis, but weak in the thesis, September 27, 2009
By 
Jean E. Pouliot (Newburyport, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History) (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.

Where Cahill goes wrong, I think is in his thesis that before the Psalms of David, there was no conception of "I" in the human imagination. It is impossible from the distance of 4000 years to know exactly what was in anyone's mind. But to suggest that no human being before Abraham thought of his own feelings, ideas and surroundings seems ludicrous. Not to mention that Cahill made the same claim about 4th-century CE Augustine of Hippo in his book "How the Irish Saved Civilization."

The claim of the book's title -- that the Jews were responsible for the break from cyclical thinking is hardly demonstrated. It begs the question of how human progress before Abraham was possible, given the supposed human propensity to repetition. Surely someone invented the wheel, tamed fire and developed agriculture long before Abram's time. While the patriarch may well have set history on a new course, he didn't do it without some powerful antecedents.

Read "The Gift of the Jews" or its rugged, earthy depictions of biblical characters and history. Leave Cahill's more lofty and less likely conjectures along the side of the road.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Take It For What It Is., December 16, 1999
First off, understand that this book is largely speculative. If the reader has that perspective, they will enjoy this book very much. Having read other, less favorable reviews, I doubt this perspective is commonly shared by other readers. Cahill uses humor, and charming stories that lift historical figures, such as Ruth, Moses and Abraham, from the pages of common historical drudgery. Although he speculates about their personal character, so did I throughout the book. This didn't prevent me from disagreeing with Mr. Cahill. I found it interesting, for example, to hear the Hebrews refered to as the Hapiru during the course of my reading. Although Cahill does little to prove the valididty of this pronunciation, it does make the book fun and thought provoking. Who cares if Cahill lacks scholarly discipline. It is an interestly brief history, not a doctoral dissertation. Read it for fun. The broader view he attempts to convey will have you wondering what next spiritual step Judeo-Christians might take next.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Execellent, informative, a little over my head, November 1, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History) (Paperback)
I am a 15 year old sophomore in high school and I read this book as a project for my religion class. I must admit, I thought this book was going to be boring and just a repeat of all the Jewish history I have learned in my 11 years of attending Catholic schools. I was wrong- this book was informative and interesting; I enjoyed it and finished the book in about a week. Cahill does an excellent job of condensing all the Jewish history into a readable and interesting novel; he touched upon the important facts, sticking to the original translations of the names and places. The section concering the Epic of Gilgamesh was confusing but I managed to get through it. I had a dictionary next to me the entire time, he writes for an older and more verbal audience. I didn't feel he was being condescending, as some suggested. I definitely recommend this for anyone interested in Jewish history- it's a nice overview.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Biblical Studies Lite: Half the calories, Less filling, May 25, 1998
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
It is very obvious upon reading that this is the work of a well-informed amateur and not the work of a professional scholar. For a much more respectable and intellectually stimulating take on the Western migration from pantheism to monotheism, read Karen Armstrong's "History of God". Unlike Armstrong, Cahill resorts to glittering generalities and obtuse simplicities. There is also a disturbing lack of footnotes in most sections. Furthermore, the central hypothesis of "Gift of the Jews", that the Jews invented individuality and historic time, is too over-arching to be taken at face value. What makes this worse is that Cahill's analysis of other, non-Western, cultures is incredibly cursory. Cahill sets up an underfed strawman in the form of the "cyclical worldview", only to lamely knock it down with the Western-centric feather of processivism. Finally, too much of "Gift of the Jews" is dedicated to a paraphrasing of the events of the Torah; there is very little analysis interspersed between the "Movie of the Week" plot summaries. This book feels rushed and half-done, as if the author were behind on a deadline and needed to put in lots of filler material. On the bright side, it is easy to read, simplistic, and approachable. It is also very sensitive to those of Faith. As such, I can really only recommend this work to those who have never read a tome of religious study before and need something that is inoffensive, easy to swallow, mildly informative, and full of lots spiritual good feelings. For a meatier, more challenging, and, ultimately, more satisfying read, see Armstrong's "History of God".
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


48 of 64 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars So bad it's, well...bad!, October 23, 2006
By 
silversurf (Planet of Paint) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History) (Paperback)
Perhaps this book would have seemed less trifling and annoying if I had never read any of the Scriptures, and had no previous knowledge, however slight, of Middle Eastern history or mythology. But since that was not the case, I thought this book was a very poor introduction to this fascinating subject. It begins with a DeMille-like soft porn depiction of an imagined ancient pagan ritual which had me laughing out loud. To be fair, the author doesn't claim to have any historical documentation for the temple scenes he describes. It probably seemed like just the sort of thing that polytheistic goddess-worshipping simpletons were likely to get up to under the influence of hallucinogens and muddled thinking. Perhaps this is a good introduction after all, as muddled thinking plays a major role throughout this book. As long as the reader understands this, there is probably no harm in reading the rest for its entertainment value.

Maybe if you are interested in learning about the ancient world and its religious thought, and don't know where to begin, this is better than nothing. However, please don't let this lightweight feel-good fluff be the only thing you read. If you want to find out what people in the ancient Near East really wrote and thought, you might start by reading primary sources, such as the Bible, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the many other ancient documents which have been translated by scholars who actually care about historical accuracy. Museum websites and publications are another great source of easily accessible information. If you persevere, you will soon know enough to understand why this book seems so silly.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


34 of 45 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Embarrassing and disappointingly low intellectual wattage., May 20, 1998
By A Customer
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 221 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.