The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (The Hinges of History #2)

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  2,224 ratings  ·  188 reviews
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 civilizati...more
Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published (first published 1998)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Steve Sckenda
Oct 21, 2013 Steve Sckenda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Those Interested in Big-Picture Cultural Trends
Thomas Cahill celebrates Jewish values, which he believes were gifts that helped humans to see the world differently. Two of the most important gifts were that of new concept of time and that of a new concept of the individual.

Cahill believes that the Jews were the first people to see time as linear rather than circular. In contrast, the ancients viewed the cosmos as a cyclical wheel of life that corresponded with what they observed in the natural world (phases of moon, changing of season, cycl...more
Michael Mills
Oct 11, 2007 Michael Mills rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: anyone desiring to know the background of the Hebrew Scriptures
First, I think Cahill writes like no other. His sentences are clean and lucid and his prose simply makes you want to keep reading. This book is about the origins of the people of Israel, but it is not a dry, boring, wake-me-when-it's-over kind of book. Cahill had me hooked from the first page through his wonderful insights into the Bible as story. If you're on the more "conservative side: you might be alarmed at his view of the origins of Scripture, but since I try not to choose "sides" I'll go...more
Rick Ludwig
This is an excellent book and harmonizes well with the other two Cahill's that I have read, "How the Irish Saved Civilization" and "Desire of the Everlasting Hills". The last twelve pages in the book is one of the best summaries I have ever read and comes very close to my own belief system. I especially relate to the fact that in the book he distinguishes an attempt to recount history with the underlying evolution of a belief system. It is refreshing to read someone who recognizes that people ar...more
Shenek
Obviously I was not the right person to read this book. I thought it would be fascinating to see the world of the Old Testament put into the context of reality. Instead I was irritated by the author. He states that hardly anyone ever reads the whole Bible since you get bogged down with all the rules. (I read this as I just finished the OT for the second time.) Most of the time while I read I wondered if the author is an atheist and believes the Bible are only fairy tales. I didn't appreciate his...more
Kathleen
This is book #2 in the Hinges of History series. In The Gift of the Jews, Cahill argues that the Hebrew people introduced critically important concepts to Western Civilization -- and eventually to the world. The "gifts" include the ten commandments, still reflected in legal codes today, hygiene, the written word (along with Phonecians, Greeks, Sumarians, etc), monotheism, and caring for widows and orphans via a tithing system -- much like paying taxes. He also claims that the introduction of mon...more
Michelle
Now I know why Cahill's book on the Irish was so difficult to follow at times. I thought it was just me and my lack of a concept of that particular history. After reading this book I am pretty sure it's Cahill style.

I do in fact have an excellent grasp of Old Testament history and it's a good thing. Cahill's presentation is chronologically convoluted and does more to muddle than to clarify. His tone is incredibly irksome too. He may be aiming for a conversational voice but he just comes across a...more
Heather
I was... less than thrilled with this book. I've read others like it (How the Irish Saved Civilization & How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It) and I really enjoyed them, so I was really hoping for a similar experience with this book. Instead, I thought it was slow moving, difficult to pay attention to, and overall bland. I'm pretty familiar with the Bible, so a fair portion of the book just see...more
Elise
Oct 08, 2007 Elise rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: anyone who wants to understand the cultural/religious heritage of the western hemisphere.
This book, as did all the books in the Hinges of History series, made my God so much bigger! When I read it I realized how much the moral/relational failures particularly in the Old Testament were a picture of how much the Jews were influenced by their culture of sex and violence, but overarching all that was a kind, gentle, personal God of love who was reaching out to the whole world through them. The Jews (just like all peoples) were both exceedingly special and exceedingly ordinary--it was th...more
brook
This actually corrected some of the real-life history of the Israelites (Hebrews, 12 Tribes) that I learned with newer data. An interesting read on how the linear school of thought that the entire western world adheres to (beginning/end, versus circular of eastern belief systems) is due to Abrahamaic/Hebrew thinking. IT also provides additional insight into why the region is as it is today. Overall I recommend this highly as a layman's read on the more ancient history of the people that today ca...more
Renee
Read this while flying across the continent on a recent trip. Fascinating. I love books that put the Bible stories I grew up with in context. Having read the Bible since I was a child I have often applied my own western worldview to understanding the scriptures - no wonder I end up confused at times! Loved how this book opened my eyes to how "out of this world" the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob really is and how the Jewish faith changed history and gave us many of our most deeply held belief...more
John
This is an interesting book that explains how the worldview of the ancient Jews was especially unique when compared to their contemporaries. The Gifts of the Jews follows ancient Jewish history, as recorded in the Tanakh, providing a historian’s insight into the significance of the events and showing the reader how many aspects of our modern culture that we take for granted were so unprecedented and revolutionary back then. Without this unique culture of the Jews, Cahill argues, our tendency to...more
Matt
Reading Cahill puts me in a quiet, gently swaying, sun-drenched countryside dappled with the purple and the perfume of wild lavender. That he proselytizes is so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning, but at the risk of sounding glib he does so in the nicest possible way. If you're willing to tolerate a quiet attempt at conversion, you can bathe in his wonderful meditations on the meaning of life and the God who for him is never very far away. Here he follows the religious and philosophical...more
Megankellie
Not quite as fascinating as "How the Irish Saved Civilization" which is good because I am about to become a social outcast nerd babbling about ancient Sumer in a corner. As is, I just managed to babble about it on a subway platform, how odd that an ancient Sumerian God is always portrayed with a constant boner that ejaculates the Tigris. I know standard-issue, very vague things about the bible and the old testament so to me, this was a very interesting "ooooooh, okay, so that is the deal with Ab...more
John
I've read this book before and decided it was worth listening to during a road trip over the past few days.
What I liked best about it this time around was the narrator, whose name is Richard M. Davidson. If you write a book, I highly recommend you hire him to do the audio version. I especially liked his reading of the passages that came directly from Scripture. It makes me wish he had a recording out of the entire Bible. I wonder how he would do with that massive list of names in 1 Chronicles.
As...more
Kate
Apr 07, 2010 Kate rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kate by: Book Group
". . . the Bible is full of literature's two great themes, love and death (as well as its exciting caricatures, sex and violence) . . . " (7).

I thought this insight that sex and violence are caricatures of the great themes of love and death was really interesting!

"The sky shows itself as it really is: infinite, transcendent . . . . 'Most high' becomes quite naturally an attribute of the divinity" (40).

"We may consider naive the absolute confidence of primitive peoples in the rightness of their i...more
A-ron
This book barely qualifies as history. It is more of a review of the Bible by way of outlining the evolution of Jewish thought. Cahill writes very well and so he kept my interest, but I have to admit that I was not convinced by his argument that Western views are founded on Jewish thought. It is an extremely difficult argument to prove as one can never really know what goes on inside another's head. I also felt that this book relied much too heavily on the Bible. It just didn't sit right with me...more
Carol
I had high expectations for this book, because I LOVED his previous book (the first in the series, "How the Irish Saved Civilization").

Unfortunately, in this book his atheism came through loud and clear from the very beginning. I made it through the first 2 chapters, then looked ahead and saw that his "religion is a fantasy, invented by men" attitude persevered through the book. So I am not going to waste any more time reading it.

In "How the Irish Saved Civilization" his atheism was not blatant...more
§--
Jan 07, 2010 §-- rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Monotheists, ex-Monotheists and any other human
Shelves: religion
An excellent book which explains the often forgotten debt that modernity owes to the Jewish people. Many (even most) ideas that we now take for granted were seen as peculiar to the Hebrews in ancient times (belief in the linearity of time, belief in a universe which had a beginning, identifying God with the moral law, rejection of animism and astrology (and, by implication, belief in physical laws of the universe). We often need to be reminded of what has shaped the way we think. Many people wou...more
William Drysdale
By the author of "How the Irish Saved Civilization," This book shows how the ancient Israelites' monotheistic religion gave rise to a linear as opposed to a cyclic view of time.

The cyclic view of time was shared by polytheistic religions.
Under the polytheistic view, the cycle of life repeats with no possibility of significant change.

The Israelites view of time as linear showed the possibility of progress and individual human destinies, that is, that tomorrow can be better.
Ian
I am a fan of Mr. Cahill's hinges of history series and The Gifts of the Jews provides a nice argument for the pervasiveness of jewish thought in our western mindset. His analysis of the historical view of the Torah was intriguing and he does an excellent job demonstrating how the categorical imperative, coupled with the beginnings of monotheism provided a novel framework in which to view one's place in society and history. As with all the other hinges I recommend this work heartily.
Jann
Faith, hope, imagination, determination - Cahill claims these are some of the gifts of the Jews. I really like these Hinges of History books. They are short, informative and engagingly written. I feel like we are definitely getting a lot of Cahill's opinion, but it helps me form my own opinions too. History is too dry without opinion and almost non-existent without conjecture.
Recommend: adult
Dante
I always knew the stories of the Old Testament - Moses, Abraham, David & Goliath, etc. But here they are presented in order and now I understand how they all link together. There was a bit on Gilgamesh to start the book as well. Flashbacks to 9th grade and Enkidu's man-love. All I have left in the series is the Christians/middle ages and whatever two books he ends up writing.
Valerie
I almost stopped reading this book 4 times in the first section, but I'm glad I stuck with it. While I have read most of the Old Testament at various times over the years, this book gets away from the specific words and instead focuses on the larger meaning of these events and stories in the context of history. Not just the history of the Isrealites, but of the other societies surrounding them. I have taken for granted the idea of progressive history, and through this book I have come to realize...more
Elderberrywine
Second volume of an on-going series by Cahill.

Once again, Cahill is positing that history occurs between the cracks, so to speak, and in this volume, he explores the innovation of the Jews in wrenching the Circle of Life narrative to something entirely different.

So, 'Avram went', two of the boldest words in all literature. They signal a complete departure from everything that has gone before in the long evolution of culture and sensibility. Out of Sumer, civilized repository of the predictable,...more
Thom Foolery
In this, the second volume in his "Hinges of History" series, Thomas Cahill explicates the Torah and finds within it the first inklings of Western ideals (now taken for granted as simply "the way things are").

"Most of our best words, in fact--new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice--are the gifts of the Jews," Cahill concludes on p. 241.

The "gifts of the Jews" that Cahill discusses are limited almost...more
Peter
Another great Cahill book. This book I feel should be required reading in high schools and colleges. So many people think they understand the development of Western civilization, and they don't, especially if they do not appreciate the importance of the history of the Jewish people and their impact on the West - culturally, religiously, and even legally. I have to admit, my knowledge of early Western Civilization was slight, and this book add significantly to it.

Too many people dismiss the esta...more
Catherine
I really enjoyed this book. What I loved most was its premise - the author states as his intent the very same thing that I myself stated I was trying to do when I went to the library and returned home with a stack of books (this one included).

What I liked least was that I wanted this to be a scholarly book and it simply isn't. I have studied enough to know that often when Cahill is not citing sources and research, he HAS done the research and his word is credible. There are other times when I f...more
Michael
I enjoy Thomas Cahill's books. He writes very erudite history, but in a tremendously accessible way. This book is the third that I've read in his Hinges of History series (the others have been How the Irish Saved Civilization and Desire of the Everlasting Hills), and I liked them all.

The Gift of the Jews is about the influence of Judaism on the modern world. Essentially, Cahill's thesis is that the Jews gave the West the idea of progress. Before the Jews, there was no sense of 'history' as we u...more
Rodney Farrell Sr
Cahill provides an insight to the contributions of the Jews to our society, government, religion, and law, just to name a few. Quoting from the book: "Unbelievers might wish to stop for a moment and consider how completely God - this Jewish God of justice and compassion - undergirds all our values and that it is just possible that human effort without this God is doomed to certain failure." Continuing to quote Cahill: "All who share this outrageous dream of universal brotherhood, peace, and just...more
Joel Wentz
I quite enjoyed Cahill's first "Hinges of History" volume, but I flat-out LOVED this second installment. He writes with an almost-novelist flare, but with one foot firmly planted in solid, historical research. Now, I am very familiar with the Old Testament story, but I found myself completely swept up in that narrative once again as I read this book. Cahill's interpretations of familiar characters like Abraham, Moses & David truly makes them feel like REAL PEOPLE (though his interpretations...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • A History of the Jews (Perennial Library)
  • Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations
  • Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages
  • Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths
  • Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul
  • To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking
  • Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe
  • Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History
  • Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History
  • The Seekers: The Story of Man's Continuing Quest to Understand His World
  • God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism
  • The Jewish Book of Why
  • The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 A.D.
  • The Greeks
  • Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends
  • World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made
  • Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America
  • Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections
14055
Born in New York City to Irish-American parents and raised in Queens and the Bronx, Cahill was educated by Jesuits and studied ancient Greek and Latin. He continued his study of Greek and Latin literature, as well as medieval philosophy, scripture and theology, at Fordham University, where he completed a B.A. in classical literature and philosophy in 1964, and a pontifical degree in philosophy in...more
More about Thomas Cahill...
How the Irish Saved Civilization Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (Hinges of History) Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green

Share This Book