"When Thomas Cahill wrote the book The Gifts of the Jews, he chose as the subtitle "How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels." He is surely right. Western civilization builds so directly on foundations laid in the Old Testament era that it would not otherwise make sense. As Cahill points out, the Jewish belief in monotheism gave us a Great Whole, a unified universe that can, as a product of one Creator, be studied and manipulated scientifically.
Ironically, our technological modern world traces back to that tribe of desert nomads. The Jews also gave us what Cahill calls the Conscience of the West, the belief that God expresses himself not primarily though outward show but rather through the "still, small voice" of conscience.
A God of love and compassion, he cares about all of his creatures, especially human beings created "in his own image," and he asks us to do the same. Every person on earth has inherent human dignity. By following that God, the Jews gave us a pattern for the great liberation movements of modern history and for just laws to protect the weak and minorities and the oppressed.
According to Cahill, without the Jews,
We would never have known the abolitionist movement, the prison-reform movement, the antiwar movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the movements of indigenous and dispossessed peoples for their human rights, the antiapartheid movement in South Africa, the Solidarity movement in Poland, the free-speech and pro-democracy movements in such Far Eastern countries as South Korea, the Philippines, and even China.
So many of the concepts and words we use daily–new, individual, person, history, freedom, spirit, justice, time, faith, pilgrimage, revolution–derive from the Old Testament that we can hardly imagine a world and our place in it without relying on the Jewish heritage.
Our roots go so deep in Old Testament thinking that in many ways–human rights, government, the treatment of neighbors, our understanding of God–we are already speaking and thinking Old Testament."