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

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An engrossing overview of the values and sensibilities of the Hebrew Bible, and of how decisively they have influenced our own. The second (after the bestselling How the Irish Saved Civilization, 1995) of a projected seven-volume series on the evolution of human sensibility shows how the ancient Israelites transformed the idea of religion by gradually introducing monotheism, and equally transformed our sense of time and history. Beginning with Abraham's departure from his Sumerian homeland, the ancient Hebrews broke with the repetitive cyclical image of history assumed by most ancient religions to forge what Cahill terms the ""processive"" worldview. In this perspective, the present and future become more important than the past, for they are open to change, progress, and hope. Cahill also credits the Hebrew Bible with bequeathing to Western civilization such seminal ideas as the interior self (e.g. in David's Psalms), the universal commonalities of all peoples, and, more dubiously, a focus on interpersonal relationships (e.g. in the Song of Songs). He often manages to turn many a beautiful phrase while being forthrightly colloquial. Occasionally, however, he overdoes the plain talk, missing more profound dynamics, as in noting that he's willing to give God ""the benefit of the doubt"" for commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22) because ""He had to jump-start this new religion and he didn't always have the best material to work with."" But he occasionally overstates his case--surely the ancient Greeks were as significant an influence on our values and worldview as the ancient Israelites. Nonetheless, in an age crowded with bloated, pedantic tomes, Cahill offers a refreshingly succinct, illuminating, and readable summary of the Hebrew Bible's enduring wisdom and influence.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday