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Thomas Cahill on The Gifts of the Jews (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) November 21, 2020: Even though I am a gentile, I recently read the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks' second new 2020 book Judaism's Life-Changing Ideas: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible (Jerusalem and New Milford, Connecticut: Maggid Books).

In it, Rabbi Sacks says, "Another Catholic historian, Thomas Cahill, wrote: 'The Jews gave us the Outside and the Inside - our outlook and our inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact - new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future, freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice - are the gifts of the Jews" (quoted on page xx).

Quoted from Cahill's book The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (New York and London: Talese/ Doubleday, 1998, pages 240-241) -- the second volume published in his book series the Hinges of History (I guess he means by Hinges turning points in our Western cultural history).

Thomas Cahill (born in 1940), an Irish American who is also a practicing Roman Catholic, is himself blessed with the gift of blarney, which he uses to the best of his ability in all six volumes in his book series Hinges of History, all published by Talese/ Doubleday, which I would sequence historically as follows:

(1) The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (1998) - everyone in Western culture, that is, except President Donald ("Tweety") Trump and his most addicted followers, who appear to have become unhinged from our Western cultural history.

(2) Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (2003).

(3) Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (1999; the main title refers to his perhaps now outdated translation of a phrase in Jacob's blessing of his son Joseph in Genesis 49:26, as he explains on pages 321-322).

(4) How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (1995).

(5) Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe (2006).

(6) Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World (2013).

Cahill had planned a seventh volume on the making of the modern world. But it has not yet appeared.

Now, my favorite scholar is the late American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955). In his sweeping account of cultural history in his 400 or so publications (not counting reprintings and translations as separate publications), he covers roughly the same ground that Cahill covers in his pinpointed volumes in the Hinges of History book series.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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