Fresh from reading and truly enjoying How the Irish Saved Civilization, I eagerly undertook Thomas Cahill’s next book in the Hinges of History series, The Gift of the Jews. In the series, it is Cahill’s stated intent to illustrate the crucial and often overlooked influences and underpinning of various aspects of Western civilization. After my lukewarm reception of Mysteries of the Alphabet by Marc-Alain Ouaknin I was very much looking forward to an engaging look at early Jewish culture and its remarkable contributions.
While Cahill does present several wonderful points in an accessible manner, particularly regarding the motivations, setting and outlook of the “sojourner tribe” these threads become more frequently and more ambiguously lost as the book goes on. What begins as insightful examination of the Jewish culture from a refreshingly historical, clear and factual point of view quickly becomes diluted in a history of YVEH from a theologian’s point of view. While this is an engaging topic in its own right and certainly one many readers might enjoy, it is not the one the series sets out to address and only gives the objective reader the feeling that Cahill is changing streams mid-book or running out of material on the core topic.
Occasionally, in the last half of the book and particularly the last chapter, Cahill lits upon the topic of Jewish culture in between musing of the nature of YVEH but one has to pick through so much intermittent departures that I can see why my peers have expressed a preference for the preceeding book in the series, How the Irish Saved Civilization.
In a final consideration, I would not fault a reader for changing streams themselves from fully absorbing the first, highly informative section and then shifting to scanning later. There is still a trove of valuable observations presented in a modern and accessible manner that anyone interested in early Jewish culture will benefit from.
Next stop, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, then Sailing the Wine Dark Sea.