Summary and book reviews of The Gifts of The Jews by Thomas Cahill

The Gifts of The Jews

How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels

by Thomas Cahill

The Gifts of The Jews
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  • First Published:
    Mar 1998, 291 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 1999, 255 pages

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Book Summary

An enchanting journey into history, recreating a time when the actions of a small band of people had repercussions that are still felt today.

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 civilization possible. Within the matrix of ancient religions and philosophies, life was seen as part of an endless cycle of birth and death; time was like a wheel, spinning ceaselessly. Yet somehow, the ancient Jews began to see time differently. For them, time had a beginning and an end; it was a narrative, whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future. From this insight came a new conception of men and women as individuals with unique destinies--a conception that would inform the Declaration of Independence--and our hopeful belief in progress and the sense that tomorrow can be better than today. As Thomas Cahill narrates this momentous shift, he also explains the real significance of such Biblical figures as Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Pharaoh, Joshua, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.

Full of compelling stories, insights and humor, The Gifts of the Jews is an irresistible exploration of history as fascinating and fun as How the Irish Saved Civilization.

The Jews started it all--and by "it" I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and gentile, believer and atheist, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings. And not only would our sensorium, the screen through which we receive the world, be different: we would think with a different mind, interpret all our experience differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befall us. And we would set a different course for our lives.

By "we" I mean the usual "we" of late-twentieth century writing: the people of the Western world, whose peculiar but vital mentality has come to infect every culture on earth, so that, in a startlingly precise sense, all humanity is now willy-nilly caught up in this "we." For better or worse, the role of the West in humanity's history is singular. Because of this, the role of the Jews, the inventors of Western ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage--almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance. In this series, The Hinges of History, I mean to retell the story of the Western world as the story of the great gift-givers, those who entrusted to our keeping one or another of the singular treasures that make up the patrimony of the West...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Washington Times

This is a valuable book, of interest to everyone, religious or not.

San Francisco Chronicle

A highly readable, entrancing journey.

Chicago Sun Times- Charles Gold

A very good read, a dramatically effective, often compelling retelling of the Hebrew Bible.

The New York Times - Christopher Lehmann-Haupt.

Persuasive as well as entertaining...Mr. Cahill's book [is] a gift.

Library Journal

An outstanding and very readable book...highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

Matt S

This book is one of the top books of the last 50 years. It clearly elucidates how a simple Jewish thought - you can learn and become more than your parents were - has completely transformed western society. If you read this book through to the end,...   Read More

Sharon Guzman

I'm not a reader of religious material by choice, but the bookclub I just joined was reading this book. It was interesting to delve into the first books of the old testament and to understand them better. It has given me a chance to look into my ...   Read More

Mike Mitchell

I believe that Cahill is basically just producing the bible in his own words, and basically any one could have done so with a large amount of time.

Anonymous
Richard Katz
The Gift of the Jews, like Mr. Cahill's other two books, offers more information and insight than can be absorbed through a single reading. Like the Bible from which he draws so much of his material, serious readers are encouraged to ...   Read More

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