Preserving the Jefferson Bible

In doing interviews for Was America Founded as a Christian Nation I am often asked about Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.  As many of my readers know, this is the Bible in which he edited out of the four gospels any account of Jesus’s life and ministry that could not be explained by reason alone.

The National Museum of American History is currently in the process of conserving the Bible in order to ready it for public display in November.  Here is a taste of the process from the museum’s blog:

How do museum professionals define the condition of an artifact, and determine whether it can be used or exhibited without harm? The answer is by very, very careful investigation, especially when the artifact is the Jefferson Bible, otherwise known as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Using excerpts from the Four Gospels of the New Testament, Thomas Jefferson arranged the text to tell a chronological and edited story of Jesus’ life and moral philosophy.

A national treasure, the Bible recently received microscopic-level examination by a team of conservators trained in both book and paper conservation and by conservation scientists who specialize in materials analysis. A University of Hawaii intern created a purpose-built database to capture all the data observed. How much data? The Jefferson Bible conservation survey database holds over 200 points of observation for each page, and over 20,000 for the entire book.

Thomas Jefferson himself between 1819 and 1820. He cut out Biblical passages which were important to him, and glued them, scrapbook style, into folios of blank paper. Verses were arranged chronologically and in columns in four translations. Next to the English language verses are columns of the same verses in French, Greek and Latin. Jefferson wrote notes in the margins in iron gall ink. The book is made from twelve different types of paper, six different printing inks, and at least three different home-mixed iron gall ink recipes. His bookbinder, Frederick Mayo, bound the forty three folio pages in a red morocco leather binding.

Also check out the accompanying video.

CNN has a similar article here.

2 thoughts on “Preserving the Jefferson Bible

  1. Tom: Why is it “important?”

    I don't see any contradiction between Jefferson's faith and the Lord's Prayer. I don't think Jefferson was a deist, but I don't think he was a Christian either. I would think that someone who believes in an active God (but not necessarily a Christian God) could endorse much of the Lord's Prayer.

    BTW, good to have you back in the comments section.


  2. John, since Jefferson pretty much reduces Jesus to a moral philosopher, I'd like to note that I looked it up in the original text because I never see it mentioned:

    Jefferson's Bible includes the Lord's Prayer.

    This is important.


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