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

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,040 Ratings  ·  254 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
Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Michael Mills
Oct 11, 2007 Michael Mills rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jul 15, 2010 Michelle rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 30, 2011 Shenek rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 25, 2014 Kathleen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-quasi
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
Oct 08, 2007 Elise rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Feb 02, 2008 Renee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-adult
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
Sep 16, 2011 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 31, 2008 A-ron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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
Donald Owens II
Rated solely on how interestingly Cahill writes, I would give it a five. This is a very enjoyable read, and may be beneficial to discerning lovers of our story who are able to eat the fish and spit out the bones.

However, Thomas Cahill is thoroughly beholden to our current zeitgeist of secularism, and exhibits all the snobbery of a faithful worshipper of the gods of 'scientism' and 'scholarism'. Because of this, his highest standard for judging historical accuracy was the secular sensibilities of
Jul 02, 2013 Carol rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
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
Jan 28, 2009 brook rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 26, 2010 Susan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was pretty disappointing. I thought he was going to explore all kinds of contributions the Jews have made to Western culture, but he only focused on their trajectory of time and their emphasis on the value of the individual. Everything else was his own retelling of the Bible, complete with the typical scholarly skepticism. He did seem to believe in G-d, but it was basically G-d according to a Jewish humanist.
Apr 20, 2009 Jann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
I was hoping this was going to be a great as the earlier book from the same author: How the Irish Saved Civilization. The premise of this book is interesting. The author points out that ancient civilization viewed time as a wheel. What has happened before will happen again, and again, and again. History was not something important in that world-view. If everyone keeps doing the same things and getting the same results why look back to see exactly has happened in the past as long as everyone know ...more
As a Christian, Jewish history and culture has been of much interest to me, as Christianity grew out of that culture. "The Gifts of the Jews" is a very readable account of ancient Jewish culture, the culture of the Bible. Thomas Cahill's premise is that in other ancient religions, life was seen as an endless cycle. But with the birth of what became the Jewish religion, time becomes linear and through Abraham the individual interaction between human and the divine becomes personal. Cahill set the ...more
Jan 17, 2010 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 20, 2011 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 06, 2012 Elderberrywine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
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,
Oct 21, 2013 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Joel Wentz
Oct 14, 2013 Joel Wentz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 13, 2009 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 07, 2010 Kate rated it liked it  ·  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
Aug 03, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I enjoyed Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization so when I saw this book on sale at a book fair, I figured it was worth the $2. It was a quick read, basically summarizing the story of the Jews from the call of Abraham through the exile, or as Christians call it "the Old Testament." Anyone with a good knowledge of the Bible would probably find it unnecessary to read, though the way Cahill seeks to integrate the ancient cultures in contrast to the Jews is helpful. But for anyone looking for a n ...more
Evan Kostelka
Apr 18, 2016 Evan Kostelka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Wow, this book was awesome. I haven't been this excited to read a book in a while. The author's premise is that the Jews have greatly influenced us modern Westerners in nearly all aspects of life. He describes, in detail, the stories of Abraham, the Exouds, King David, the Babylonian Exile, and the Return to Israel. Through the book, he seeks to make the argument that the Jewish story is one not told before. The dominant ancient mindset saw life as a constant wheel, where life was determined by ...more
Amos Smith
Sep 22, 2015 Amos Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-books-other
Cahill has an exuberant style that makes me excited to read the next line. I love this book. Yes, it is easy to nit-pick about finer points of the book. Yet, in my estimation this is a refreshing change from the adversarial bunk between Christians and Jews to which we are accustomed. Cahill names the amazing legacy of the Jews, which gives Christians and Jews many reasons to be thankful for our Judeo-Christian heritage. I particularly like his words about the gift of the Sabbath, which was creat ...more
Jan 07, 2010 §-- rated it really liked it  ·  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
Ruth Sophia
What a Letdown

I had high hopes for this book. I mean, I agreed with the premise of the book going in, so what's not to love?

A lot, it turns out.

I almost didn't make it past a couple chapters in because of the porn scene. Um, not what I signed up for! Cahill could totally clue me in to the (possibly) sexual nature of ancient Sumerian worship/sacrifice without giving the detail he does. I felt like I was back reading the final chapters of DaVinci Code. Ugh. I was concerned that kind of thing would
Asher Gabbay
In this bestselling book, Cahill sets out to show that the world we live in and everything we do and think, is purportedly a result of the Jewish "revolution" in history. The concepts expounded in the Bible were a dramatic break from the ancient religions and philosophies, that viewed the world as an endless cycle of birth and death in which human beings had no control over their lives. The Jews broke this way of thinking by defining time as continuous, as moving towards a better future through ...more
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Stillwater Free L...: The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill 1 1 Oct 31, 2014 03:19PM  
  • A History of the Jews (Perennial Library)
  • Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography
  • 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
  • Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe
  • The Last Apocalypse
  • Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths
  • King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel
  • Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations
  • The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders
  • The Jewish Annotated New Testament
  • Wanderings
  • How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization
  • Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture
  • Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America
  • The Jewish Book of Why
  • The Greeks
  • The Dream and the Tomb: A History of the Crusades
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...

Other Books in the Series

The Hinges of History (6 books)
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization
  • Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus
  • Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter
  • Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe
  • Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World

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“As we shall see, these depictions of divine wrath will eventually give way to a purer understanding of God, but at this moment we have a snapshot of monotheism in its tadpole stage.” 0 likes
“But it is also true that this long-winded, unwieldy compilation of assorted prescriptions represents an overall softening—a humanizing—of the common law of the ancient Middle East, which easily prescribed a hand not for a hand but for the theft of a loaf of bread or for the striking of one’s better and which gave much favor to the rights of the nobility and virtually none to the lower classes. The casual cruelty of other ancient law codes—the cutting off of nose, ears, tongue, lower lip (for kissing another man’s wife), breasts, and testicles—is seldom matched in the Torah. Rather, in the prescriptions of Jewish law we cannot but note a presumption that all people, even slaves, are human and that all human lives are sacred. The constant bias is in favor not of the powerful and their possessions but of the powerless and their poverty; and there is even a frequent enjoinder to sympathy:     “A sojourner you are not to oppress:     you yourselves know (well) the feelings of the sojourner,     for sojourners were you in the land of Egypt.” This bias toward the underdog is unique not only in ancient law but in the whole history of law. However faint our sense of justice may be, insofar as it operates at all it is still a Jewish sense of justice.” 0 likes
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