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

by Thomas Cahill

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.
Download The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (The Hinges of History) epub
ISBN: 0385482493
ISBN13: 978-0385482493
Category: History
Subcategory: World
Author: Thomas Cahill
Language: English
Publisher: Anchor Books/Nan A Talese (August 17, 1999)
Pages: 304 pages
ePUB size: 1783 kb
FB2 size: 1255 kb
Rating: 4.1
Votes: 587
Other Formats: rtf lit doc mbr

Going into this book, I had a lot of hope. Cahill's introduction showed promise. He briefly notes how ancient peoples thought in cycles. In other words, time isn't linear but cyclical. What has been, will be again. He then goes on to declare that "the Jews were the first people to...find a new way of thinking and experiencing, a new way of understanding and feeling the world, so much so that it may be said with some justice that theirs is the only new idea that human beings have ever had" (p.5).

The first chapter sees Cahill expand on this idea by recounting how ancient peoples thought. He uses The Epic of Gilgamesh and other ancient near eastern writings to describe the worldview and religion of humanity's ancestors. And in so doing, he sets the background for Israel's contrasting worldview.

According to Cahill, Israel was the first culture to view time in more linear fashion. Israel saw existence as including a beginning, middle, and end. This becomes especially apparent when we compare Israel's sacred writings with the myths and writings of other cultures. Genesis begins with the word 'in the beginning.' On the other hand, the stories of other ancient cultures often "begin in the middle and end in the middle."

Though it might not seem like much, this was a huge accomplishment. This idea that time moves in a direction rather than cyclically helped people develop an adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit. Without this fundamental idea, the history of Western society would have been utterly altered. But this isn't the only gift of the Jews.

Cahill also notes how the descendants of Abraham developed a sense of individuality. Whereas the writings of most other cultures lacked references to 'I', the Bible - especially the Psalms - is filled with personal reflection. Scripture also differed from the writings of other people by focusing on normal people. Think of Ruth or Job or even Abraham. These men and women weren't anything special. They weren't heroes or kings. They were just people.

So, according to Cahill, the Jews helped humanity see itself as a collection of individuals rather than just a mass. All of these insights are worth considering - especially as a Christian.

Unfortunately, the longer the book goes on, the weaker it gets. Cahill spends a lot of time in the early chapters describing these ideas and principles which Judaism bequeathed to Western society. But about halfway through, he exhausts the 'gifts' and ends up simply recounting the history of Israel from scripture. If you've ever read the Bible through, or you know the story of Israel fairly well, the latter half of the book will leave you wanting more.

This isn't to say that Cahill does a poor job. He doesn't. I think he tells Israel's story well - hitting all of the high points. I just wish he would have been able to continue presenting different 'gifts of the Jews' in the latter chapters.

For those wondering, I should also note that Cahill isn't exactly conservative (though he isn't exactly liberal either). He believes Abraham and Moses were real individuals. He even thinks that scripture communicates the general outline of their stories. Though he argues that scripture is also filled with errors and absurdities.

Over all, I moderately enjoyed the book. Though I felt like it could have either been shorter or more fleshed out. My biggest takeaway was the reminder that the Bible and its people are unique in history. If not for Abraham and his descendants, the world - especially the Western world - would be a very different place.
This is a clear, very well-written explanation of the biblical history of the Jews. It's intelligent and lively, and I don't think meant to be a comprehensive, scholarly treatise on Jewish history. Includes an interesting summation of the Sumerian Gilgamesh epic as background to (I think) to later Jewish mythology. Some of the semiotic implications of the book seem vaguely veiled, as though the author was treading carefully around possibly controversial issues; but so well executed as not to cause blatant falsehoods or excessive hyperbole. It's a respectful, complimentary look at the major Jewish figures in the Torah: Moses, David, Ahab and Jezebel, et al., along with some general historical context. A good read for us goys ;)
I have just finished reading. I have read no book this year that more overwhelmed me, as Christian. The Torah, Old Testament is opened, explaining the history of mankind and the Jew. From the beginning to today. You will appreciate, understand yourself and the role of Abraham’s offsprings. It makes the WORD alive. I sincerely believe you will agree
As an Old Catholic priest and seminary instructor, I find it difficult to find decent texts explaining Old Testament context and perspective. This is a good one, in easy- to- understand language. Highly recommended, not only for Christians, but anybody interested in the hows and whys of the early Abrahamic faith.
Brilliant recitation of history and amazing connection to modern human thinking and conceptions. Thomas Cahill is an amazing writer that transposes history into its connection to current times. It was a very engaging read and hard to put down!

Next up, "How the Irish Saved Civilization"!
I come from the southern US with a lot of Celtic ancestors. Both traditions value good story-telling over dotting the is and crossing the ts. Cahill made the Old Testament come alive for me and gave me lots to think about. I had no trouble following his arguments. Didn't always agree with what he said, but I really enjoyed how he said it. I am interested in the speculations of someone who is well informed and has spent time thinking about an important subject. If you like your history freeze-dried and free of original thought, by all means give this book a miss. This book is Mr. Cahill's response to the Old Testament, how he believes it has contributed to our Western world-view, and why he believes it is important to us today.