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Jesus' Little Instruction Book [Paperback]

By Thomas Cahill (Author)
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Item description for Jesus' Little Instruction Book by Thomas Cahill...

This inviting treasury presents the 242 sayings of Jesus in contemporary language and in a format appealing to the strictest churchgoer as well as to curious non-believers. Cahill provides engaging commentary throughout, placing the thematically organized sayings in their historical context.

Publishers Description
Jesus' teachings have reached across two millenia, inspiring, informing, and uplifting people from all walks of life.  In this elegant little volume, a noted religious publisher and biblical student has collected Jesus' key messenges, culled from the Gospels.  Organized thematically, Jesus' words speak directly to contemporary lives and convey a man unlike any other man whose life contains a message for all.  Engaging and nondoctrinal commentary throughout places the sayings in their historical context and drawn to this simple and beautiful rendering of Jesus' unique--an, even today, unconventional--message for the heart.
Praise for the works of Thomas Cahill:

"Thomas Cahill's Jesus' Little Instruction Book fascinated me. It lifts words of Jesus from their ancient context and presents them in a way which makes them strikingly relevant to practical issues in everyday modern life."
-- Joseph F. Girzone, author of Joshua
Thomas Cahill has studied with some of America's most distinguished literary and biblical scholars at New York's Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, Fordham University, and, most recently, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The former Director of Religious Publishing at Doubleday, he lives in New York City.

So far as we know, Jesus never wrote anything down--or, if he did, nothing has survived. We are pretty sure he knew how to read and write. The gospels present him as reading aloud from the scroll of the scriptures in the synagogue; and, like other Jewish males of pious family, he would have been schooled as a child to read the Hebrew texts of Judaism's holy books.

But by Jesus' day, Hebrew was already a dead language, used principally in study and ritual. The day-to-day language of Jesus and his fellow Jews was Aramaic. The working language of the Roman conquerors who ruled over them was not Latin but Greek, which at that time served as an international language--as Latin would in the Middle Ages and as English does today. So Jesus probably knew some Greek as well, which would have been the language he used to respond to the questions of Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator who condemned him to death.

Virtually all the sayings of Jesus that have come down to us are written in Greek, and most of these are contained in the four gospels of the New Testament. We know that few, if any, of these sayings can be verbatim, because the great bulk of what Jesus said he said in Aramaic. The Greek sayings of the gospels are translations of Jesus' original spoken words (and, as we read them in English, at one more remove from the originals). Furthermore, the gospel writers sometimes contradict one another--usually in minor details--by giving different versions of what Jesus said.

Before there were written gospels, there was human memory. Various participants in Jesus' life and witnesses to his spoken words joined the communities that formed "in his name" after his earthly life, and these people contributed their memories of him to the communal pool. One could almost say that memory was the central business of these groups. Informal and fairly unstructured, they met in one another's houses and tried to keep a low profile, since both Jews and Greeks were suspicious of them. At first, they called themselves followers of "the Way," a harmless-sounding phrase. To keep out spies, they used passwords and symbols and secret gestures. If you gained entrance to one of their meetings, you would have found yourself participating in a ritualized common meal at which a portion of the Jewish scriptures was read aloud and interpreted, a hymn was sung that explained the extraordinary significance the singers attached to Jesus' life, and bread and wine were distributed with the baffling admonition that these were to be consumed as "the body and blood" of Jesus himself.

Clearly, this "memorial service" to Jesus was more than an intellectual exercise. Memory of him had been joined to commitment--commitment to his Way, surely, but also to the astounding belief that he was still present among his followers, guiding them individually and animating their meeting. Some of the prayers and hymns of these primitive meetings (or "churches") have survived, embedded in the books of the New Testament, so we know how they sounded. One hymn, found in Paul's Letter to the Philippians, gives us a succinct summary of what the followers of the Way believed about Jesus:

Though he possessed divine estate
He was not jealous to retain
Equality with God.
He cast off his inheritance,
He took the nature of a slave
And walked as Man among men.
He emptied himself to the last
And was obedient to death--
To death upon a cross.
And, therefore, God has raised him up
And God has given him the Name-
That at the Name of Jesus all
In heaven high shall how the knee
And all the earth and depths
And every tongue of men proclaim
That Jesus Christ is LORD--
To the glory of the Father.

Though Jesus was divine, he had taken on our humanity, and had suffered and died for us, emptying himself "to the last." This total giving had resulted in his resurrection by the Father God and his exaltation as Lord of the Universe. So the followers of the Way kept the memory of his words and deeds, knowing that his was not the usual human story of life and suffering, ending in death. He was unique in all of history, a man whose life and works had been justified by the act of God himself, who had brought him back from the dead. It was because of this unique proof of the cosmic centrality of Jesus that they wished to remember everything they could about his earthly words and deeds.

But they had another reason for remembering. Jesus himself had urged them to "follow" him--to become like him. How could they? They did not come from God, they could not die on a cross for all humanity. But they could "empty" themselves, if not of blood, then of all pretension, all worldly ambition, all merely human striving. And they could remember his words and try to live their lives by them.

In this spirit, they began to make collections of his sayings. These collections, the need for which became more pressing as the generation of witnesses began to pass from the scene, were eventually joined to the oft-told story of Jesus' trial, execution, and miraculous resurrection to become written "go'spels" or "good spells"--that is, "good news." The earliest such gospel may be the Gospel According to Mark, probably committed to papyrus thirty-some years after Jesus' crucifixion, perhaps as a written equivalent of the teaching of Peter, the chief apostle. Or it may be that the apostle Matthew's Gospel was the first--in a primitive Aramaic version that we have lost. But each of the gospels has several, maybe many, parents. Just imagine all the elders who would have had a story or two to contribute! And when we imagine such interaction, we can easily see how, a full generation or more after the events of Jesus' life, some memories would be hard to square with others and some of the stories would have evolved over time to gain a richer meaning than they seemed once to possess. Such a process explains the minor discrepancies among the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Gospel According to John, on the other hand, seems to have been extensively rewritten more than once to make it relevant to the changing conditions (and crises) of the community that produced it. It may not have reached its final form until about the end of the first century.

What is far more remarkable than the inconsistencies and rewritings, however, is the consistent portrayal of the figure of Jesus. None of the evangelists (as the gospel authors are called) were practiced writers. Yet their words manage to convey a person, a human yet divine figure who reaches across the divide of twenty centuries to make direct contact with us. Because this troubling, uncanny, marvelous, healing contact has been experienced repeatedly by countless billions of human beings over two millennia, we may speak of the gospels as unique--books unlike any other books about a man unlike any other man, who lived a life that contains a mysterious message for each of us.

What follows is my collection of the words--and, on a couple of occasions, the silences--of Jesus as found in the four gospels. I have included only those sayings addressed to all and have omitted sayings that appear bound to particular historical circumstances (such as most of his instructions to the twelve apostles before their first mission in Chapter 10 of Matthew's Gospel). When the same (or similar) saying is found more than once, I have chosen one version. I have kept the sayings from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke together and gathered the distinctive sayings from John's Gospel into a separate section.

If you read these sayings in sequence, you may find that they are not especially sequential. Neither Jesus nor the gospel writers kept to the strict "first this, then that" logic that we are accustomed to. The progress of Jesus' thought is more like a spiral than a straight line. He tends to say the same things again and again. But with each repetition there is a new twist. As you follow him through his story, you can see that he begins by interacting mainly with large groups of people, painting his program with broad brush strokes at first, and gradually concentrating his attention on smaller groups of friends and enemies. As he becomes more and more pointed in his instructions, his enemies become more fierce, vocal, and dark minded, and his friends more loyal, committed, and enlightened. It is as if the gospels started with the undifferentiated mass of humanity, which gradually separates itself out into good and evil poles in response to the figure of Jesus--and all in preparation for the final conflict, with its cosmic implications.

The translation I have used is The New Testament of The New Jerusalem Bible, hardly the most famous or most used translation, but to my ear the most noble and contemporary. It is also, so far as I can judge, extremely accurate. Its notes and introductions are both reader friendly and profound, and I heartily recommend it to all who come to enjoy these excerpts.

Do not reed Jesus' Little Instruction Book all at once. Savor what you read. Go on only when you have sucked all the goodness out of each saying. There is nothing to be afraid of here. Open this book and let him speak to you, as if for the first time, whom you have always wanted to hear, whether you knew it or not.

Jesus' Basic Program


"How blessed are the poor in spirit:
the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Blessed are the gentle:
they shall have the earth as inheritance.

Blessed are those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness:
they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.

Blessed are the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers:
they shall be recognized as children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness:
the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you."

--MATTHEW 5:3-12

These sayings are called "Beatitudes," after "beati," the Latin word for blessed, which Jerome used when he translated the original Greek gospels into Latin in the late fourth century. His translation of the Bible, called the Vulgate (or common) version, remained the standard in the West for more than a thousand years--until the translations into the European vernacular languages during the Reformation period.

The Beatitudes are the beginning of what is actually called "The Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7), which is really just Matthew's arrangement of a more primitive collection of Jesus' sayings.

Whenever Jesus quotes from the Jewish scriptures, his words are set in italics.


"You are salt for the earth. But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled under people's feet."



"You are light for the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven."

MATTHEW 5:14-16


"Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. In truth I tell you, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, is to disappear from the Law until all its purpose is achieved. Therefore, anyone who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of Heaven; but the person who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of Heaven."

MATTHEW 5:17-19

The Law (or Torah) refers to the first five books of the sacred scriptures of the Jews, which contain a series of laws, and most important the Ten Commandments. But, more deeply, the Law refers to the attitudes toward life to be found in these books. The Prophets are the books of the Jewish scriptures that contain the words of men recognized as prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, who recall the Jews to their own highest moral standards. "The Law and the Prophets" together form the most revered part of the Jewish canon, or definitive group of sacred writings.

Jesus then urges us to fulfill God's commandments, not by legalistic nitpicking, but by a truly interior response:


"For I tell you, if your uprightness does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of Heaven."


Pharisees were rabbis who belonged to a reform movement that had begun prior to Jesus' day and that stressed strict observance of all the details of the Jewish Law. By Jesus' time, this movement may have become corrupt or at least began to harbor corrupt members. But such a characterization is based on little more than speculation. All we can say for sure is that Jesus had such a low opinion of them that the name Pharisee became synonymous with hypocrite. This portrayal of the Pharisees has unfortunately also figured in Christian prejudice against Jews, which Jesus the Jew would hardly have intended. See page 104 for additional interpretation.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Bantam
Pages   256
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 4.46" Width: 5.98" Height: 0.51"
Weight:   0.36 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 1, 1994
Publisher   Bantam
ISBN  0553374338  
ISBN13  9780553374339  

Availability  3 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 25, 2016 01:35.
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More About Thomas Cahill

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! THOMAS CAHILL is the author of the best-selling books, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland 's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, and Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus.These books comprise the first three volumes of a prospective seven-volume series entitled "The Hinges of History," in which Cahill recounts formative moments in Western civilization. In "The Hinges of History," Thomas Cahill endeavors to retell the story of the Western World through little-known stories of the great gift-givers, people who contributed immensely to Western, culture and the evolution of Western sensibility, thus revealing how we have become the people we are and why we think and feel the way we do today.
Thomas Cahill is best known, in his books and lectures, for taking on a broad scope of complex history and distilling it into accessible, instructive, and entertaining narrative. His lively, engaging writing animates cultures that existed up to five millennia ago, revealing the lives of his principal characters with refreshing insight and joy. He writes history, not in its usual terms of war and catastrophe, but as "narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance." Unlike all too many history lessons, a Thomas Cahill history book or speech is impossible to forget.
He has taught at Queens College, Fordham University and Seton Hall University, served as the North American education correspondent for the Times of London, and was for many years a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Prior to retiring recently to write full-time, he was director of religious publishing at Doubleday for six years. He and his wife, Susan, also an author, founded the now legendary Cahill & Company Catalogue, much beloved by readers. They divide their time between New York and Rome.

From the Hardcover edition."

Thomas Cahill currently resides in New York City, in the state of New York.

Thomas Cahill has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Hinges of History

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Bible & Other Sacred Texts > Bible > New Testament
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > New Testament > Study
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > New Testament
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > Inspirational

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Books > Christian Living > Practical Life > General

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Reviews - What do customers think about Jesus' Little Instruction Book?

Makes Jesus part of your daily life....  Nov 17, 2002
It is this simple...if you want to make Jesus a more active part of your life...buying this wonderful book is a perfect way to begin. It is easy to read....well organized and wonderfully put together. Don't hesitate...make Jesus part of your life...He will make happiness a reality for you...start like I did by buying this blessed little book!
Jesus' Little Instruction Book  Jul 14, 2001
Like all the little instruction books, this one has a little quote on every page. Unlike others, it is a saying of Christ. These are wonderful words upon which you can meditate, pray, or apply to your life.

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