09 December 2011

President Thomas Jefferson's edited Bible

From a 2008 article in the Los Angeles Times:
Making good on a promise to a friend to summarize his views on Christianity, Thomas Jefferson set to work with scissors, snipping out every miracle and inconsistency he could find in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. [top]

Then, relying on a cut-and-paste technique, he reassembled the excerpts into what he believed was a more coherent narrative and pasted them onto blank paper -- alongside translations in French, Greek and Latin... [below]
The big question now, said Lori Anne Ferrell, a professor of early modern history and literature at Claremont Graduate University, is this: "Can you imagine the reaction if word got out that a president of the United States cut out Bible passages with scissors, glued them onto paper and said, 'I only believe these parts?' "

Like many other upper-class, educated citizens of the new republic, including George Washington, Jefferson was a deist. Deists differed from traditional Christians by rejecting miraculous occurrences and prophecies and embracing the notion of a well-ordered universe created by a God who withdrew into detached transcendence.

Critics of the time regarded deism as an ill-conceived attempt to reconcile religion with scientific discoveries. For rationalists in the Age of Enlightenment, deism was one of many efforts to liberate humankind from what the deists viewed as superstitious beliefs...

In a letter to [physician Benjamin] Rush on April 21, 1803, Jefferson said his editing experiment aimed to see whether the ethical teachings of Jesus could be separated from elements he believed were attached to Christianity over the centuries.

"To the corruption of Christianity I am indeed opposed," he wrote to Rush, "but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself."

"Say nothing of my religion," Jefferson once said. "It is known to myself and my God alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if that has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one."
More at the link.  Photos via the relevant Wikipedia page.


  1. I wonder what the "founding fathers" would think about our modern culture that treats them as demigods, or at least divinely-inspire saints – and their words as sacred scripture? Surely constitutional literalism and cherry-picked history is just as toxic to appreciation and defense of the ideas that inspired this country's founding.

  2. Thanks for your posts over the last several days. I saw four of them as pieces of the same problem, drones, the Jon Stewart clips, the Jefferson Bible, and society’s distance from the wars we are in. There’s also a TV show called “Person of Interest” that fits nicely. We’re sacrificing our freedom and rights for “security” and there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans behind their public rhetoric. I’d say, “Don’t vote because it only encourages ‘em”, but there must be a better approach.
    @BJN, I think they'd be outraged to see that while we may not agree with one another today any more than they did then, we now seem more interested in demonizing than identifying common ground.

  3. meh. Jefferson appears to have had the time to manifest what most people's brains do anyway: Keep what you like and throw away the rest.
    bible.cc, with its 15+ parallel translations is an incredible resource for demonstrating this (the Mark 7:20s are fun - i.e. define sins and why did Jesus come to Earth?)

  4. I want Rick Perry and all of his followers to see this as a response to his ridiculous "War on Religion" video.

  5. That is what I believe God should be. We can not neglect the power of having a belief, yet God might not be the one whom others tell us or others use to tell us what to do. Nonetheless, it is of no scientific approach and attitude to be cynical about belief because of the existence of non-godly behaviours. I believe in God exactly as Jefferson does. He is a great and intelligent man.


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