The Jefferson Bible


Imagine, if you will, says Lori Anne Ferrell, a professor of early modern history and literature at Claremont Graduate University, the furor that might arise if a president decided to re-edit the Bible to suit his own beliefs. That is exactly what Thomas Jefferson did: excising the miracles and inconsistencies he found within the four gospels and pasting the rest of Jesus’ “ethical teachings” into a single narrative. From a feature in the L.A. Times:

In a letter sent from Monticello to John Adams in 1813, Jefferson said his “wee little book” of 46 pages was based on a lifetime of inquiry and reflection and contained “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

He called the book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Friends dubbed it the Jefferson Bible. It remains perhaps the most comprehensive expression of what the nation’s third president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence found ethically interesting about the Gospels and their depiction of Jesus.

“I have performed the operation for my own use,” he continued, “by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter, which is evidently his and which is as easily distinguished as diamonds in a dunghill.”

The little leather-bound tome, several facsimiles of which are kept at the Huntington Library in San Marino, continues to fascinate scholars exploring the powerful and varied relationships between the Founding Fathers and the most sacred book of the Western World.

Read more about it here.

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  1. And did you know, Jefferson rejoiced "that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one God is reviving and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian."

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