The Gifts of the Jews   -     By: Thomas Cahill
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The Gifts of the Jews

Random House / 1999 / Paperback

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Product Description

In The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill (Desire of The Everlasting Hills) 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 irrevocably until ancient Jews began to see time differently, as a narrative whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future. Full of compelling stories, insights, and humor, The Gifts of the Jews is an irresistable exploration of the origins of some of our oldest and most closely held beliefs. This is Volume II of The Hinges of History.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 291
Vendor: Random House
Publication Date: 1999
Dimensions: 8 X 5.25 X .64 (inches)
ISBN: 0385482493
ISBN-13: 9780385482493
Availability: Usually ships in 24-48 hours.

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Publisher's Description

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.

Author Bio

THOMAS CAHILL is the author of the best-selling books, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland 's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, and Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus.  These books comprise the first three volumes of a prospective seven-volume series entitled "The Hinges of History," in which Cahill recounts formative moments in Western civilization. In "The Hinges of History," Thomas Cahill endeavors to retell the story of the Western World through little-known stories of the great gift-givers, people who contributed immensely to Western, culture and the evolution of Western sensibility, thus revealing how we have become the people we are and why we think and feel the way we do today.

Thomas Cahill is best known, in his books and lectures, for taking on a broad scope of complex history and distilling it into accessible, instructive, and entertaining narrative. His lively, engaging writing animates cultures that existed up to five millennia ago, revealing the lives of his principal characters with refreshing insight and joy. He writes history, not in its usual terms of war and catastrophe, but as "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." Unlike all too many history lessons, a Thomas Cahill history book or speech is impossible to forget.

He has taught at Queens College, Fordham University and Seton Hall University, served as the North American education correspondent for the Times of London, and was for many years a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Prior to retiring recently to write full-time, he was director of religious publishing at Doubleday for six years. He and his wife, Susan, also an author, founded the now legendary Cahill & Company Catalogue, much beloved by readers. They divide their time between New York and Rome.


From the Hardcover edition.

Discussion Questions

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. This is also the story of the evolution of Western sensibility, a narration of how we became the people that we are and why we think and feel the way we do. And it is, finally, a recounting of those essential moments when everything was at stake, when the mighty stream that became Western history was in ultimate danger and might have divided into a hundred useless tributaries or frozen in death or evaporated altogether. But the great gift-givers, arriving in the moment of crisis, provided for transition, for transformation, and even for transfiguration, leaving us a world more varied and complex, more awesome and delightful, more beautiful and strong than the one they had found.

--Thomas Cahill

Editorial Reviews

"Persuasive as well as entertaining...Mr. Cahill's book [is] a gift."--Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

"An outstanding and very readable book...highly recommended."--Library Journal

"A very good read, a dramatically effective, often compelling retelling of the Hebrew Bible."--Charles Gold, Chicago Sun Times

"This is a valuable book, of interest to everyone, religious or not."
--Washington Times

"A highly readable, entrancing journey."
--San Francisco Chronicle

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  1. Alexandria, VA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: male
    3 Stars Out Of 5
    A story half-told
    June 8, 2013
    David Gough
    Alexandria, VA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: male
    Quality: 3
    Value: 3
    Meets Expectations: 3
    I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I purchased a copy of Thomas Cahill's "The Gifts of the Jews." Having read and enjoyed his "How the Irish Saved Civilization," I was hoping for more than I found in this one. The positive side of the book is that it is very well written and flows in an interesting and entertaining manner. In a style that blends humor with the academic, it relates the story of the Jewish people from pre-Abrahamic days through the end of the Old Testament. It is, in a sense, it is an Old Testament theology presented with a theologically-liberal bias. Cahill captures much of the ethical teaching of the Old Testament while claiming that most of the stories are mythical, thereby missing their true point. Numerous passages are quoted, but very few with references or annotation. I found this to be an annoying weakness to the book. Although he provides much food for thought, the fact that he does not believe the Scriptures to have been inspired (and, therefore, not inerrant) seriously weakens his credibility with evangelical readers. In fact, he takes a pretty harsh slap at those individuals near the end of the book when he writes, "It is no longer possible to believe that every word of the Bible was inspired by God. Fundamentalists still do, but they can keep up self-delusion only by scrupulously avoiding all forms of scientific inquiry." In other words, he believes they are not as smart as he is! Being confronted with such a charge, Cahill puts me in mind of a Bart Ehrman...although I believe I would find Cahill to be a much more interesting dinner companion. The author can be crude at times and is also guilty of assuming what has no basis except in his own thought. But the most serious criticism of the book is his omission of any serious discussion concerning the messianic hope of the Jews, which was realized by those who welcomed the first advent Jesus Christ. Cahill makes no outward claim to being a "Christian," at least in the historic and traditional sense of the word, so his failure to recognize that everything contained in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms pointed to Jesus (cf. Luke 24:44) is at least understandable (but not forgivable). The liberal sources cited at the end of the book reveal the school of theological thought he comes from. I would not recommend this book to many, and I am more than a little dismayed at an earlier reviewer who found it helpful for a group Bible study.
  2. 5 Stars Out Of 5
    September 15, 2010
    Cindie Postell
    This review was written for Gifts of the Jews.
    This is a wonderful book for understanding just what the impact of the decisions of the patriarch of israel made on the way we think today. It goes beyond the understanding you gain from Hebrew 101 to how the people lived life and practiced faith.I have used it in a Women's Group and most are finding it very revealing.
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