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Nelson pulls “The Jefferson Lies” from the shelves

Nelson pulls “The Jefferson Lies” from the shelves

David Barton wrote a book about Thomas Jefferson that turns the founding father into a person a modern day evangelical would not only recognize but love. His publisher, Thomas Nelson, listened to historians, reviewed the material and pulled the books from the shelves and ceased publication saying “basic truths just were not there.”

In the book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, Barton attempts to portray the writer of the Declaration of Independence and a framer of the Constitution as an evangelical who set out to create a “Christian” nation in terms agreeable to modern evangelicals.

By re-writing Jefferson’s history, Barton attempts to give scholarly cover to those who would want to align the nation’s laws and government with a narrow, biblicist view of the world. It also gave cover to those who want to want to line up the social teachings of the church to current conservative political views.


Since its initial publication, historians have debunked and raised concerns about numerous claims in Barton’s book. In it, Barton calls Jefferson a “conventional Christian,” claims the founding father started church services at the Capitol, and even though he owned more than 200 slaves, says Jefferson was a civil rights visionary.

“Mr. Barton is presenting a Jefferson that modern-day evangelicals could love and identify with,” Warren Throckmorton, a professor at the evangelical Grove City College, told Hagerty. “The problem with that is, it’s not a whole Jefferson; it’s not getting him right.”

Thomas Nelson agreed:

“When the concerns came in, from multiple people, and that had weight too, we were trying to sort things out,” said Thomas Nelson Senior Vice President and Publisher Brian Hampton. “Were these matters of opinion? Were they differences of interpretation? But as we got into it, our conclusion was that the criticisms were correct. There were historical details — matters of fact, not matters of opinion, that were not supported at all.”

The book has already been pulled off the Thomas Nelson website, and the publisher is in the process of pulling down its availability as an e-book from retail partners. Publishing rights are being reverted to the author, and the physical copies of the book are in the process of being removed from bookstores.

“The truth is, the withdrawing a book from the market is extremely rare. It’s so rare I can’t think of the last time we’ve done this,” Hampton said. But, he said, “If there are matters of fact not correctly handled or the basic truth is not there, we would make a decision based on that.”

Historians Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, co-authors of Getting Jefferson Right, fact-checked a few of Barton’s more common claims on this NPR post.


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The need to mislead or even deceive has been driving the right-wing for quite some time now. This is one of the first instances when the deception was so egregious that even people sympathetic to the policially/theologically conservative called out the deceivers.

It is a disturbing trend, this entire “lying for Jesus” movement. Obviously, there are some people who are so ghetto-ized intellectually that they actually believe this nonsense, but there are others like Mr. Barton who could not possibly be this dense. Yes, like Mike Lofgren said in one of his recent essays, facts do bounce off these people’s brains like pebbles bounce off armor plating, but could anyone be THIS dense? This does not pass the smell test. Mr. Barton actively sought to mislead in order to “save the nation”, and Nelson Publishers turned a blind editorial eye to it.

Kevin McGrane

Michael Russell

Gosh, if he was th super evangelical, you might think he’d mention it among his proudest achievements. Those are recorded on his grave as: The Declaration of Indpendence, the Va. Statute for Religious Freedom and UVa. In the late 1960s I was among the first majors in its Religious Studies department, which was created amidst some serious debate about its appropriateness. The Chapel was there for weddings but not UVa sponsored worship services. It was Jefferson that coined the wall of separation metaphors, which is not actually in the constitution.

One more thing for Barton and Thomas Nelson to consider…..UVa has an honor code that expels people for lying.

Rob Huttmeyer

As much as this says about Barton, this article also says loads about Thomas Nelson Publishers. A number of similar critiques have been leveled against the biography about Bonhoeffer that they recently published, as in fudging the truth, not presenting a whole picture, and ignoring significant parts of a subject’s thought if it disagrees with the thesis. A significant critique needs to be leveled against Thomas Nelson publishers, especially as they represent themselves as being a Christian publisher.

C. Wingate

My wife was reading some of Barton’s claims last night. Sheeeeeeeeeesh.

I can only wonder what this says about Nelson’s editorial review processes, that they would let something this bad go out the door.

Bill Dilworth

Outraged cries of “Censorship!” in 3…, 2…, 1…

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