More on Jefferson’s Bible

The blog of The Wilson Quarterly has a nice post on Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English, otherwise known as “The Jefferson Bible.”

When I taught at Valparaiso University I used to have students compare the texts of Jefferson’s “Bible” with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  It was a wonderful exercise.  Students could see first-hand how Jefferson cut out the passages of the Gospels that did not fit his religious world view. 

Here is a taste of the post at The Wilson Quarterly:

The original copy of the slender red volume, which Jefferson constructed in retirement in 1819 and 1820, sits on display in a glass box in the National Museum of American History. The book is open to a two page spread. Hastily sketched dividing lines break each page into two columns for a total of four across—Greek and Latin in the two on the left, French and English in the two on the right. The columns carry verses cut out from elsewhere and pasted onto the pages. The second chapter of Luke, verse 46, appears in English at the top right, separated from the modern reader by glass and a few inches. Mary and Joseph are searching Jerusalem for the 12-year-old Jesus, who went missing after the Passover feast. They discover their precocious son dazzling the religious teachers in the temple. Verse 48 reads: “And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” Then—scissor and paste work fully evident—the narrative jumps to verses 51 and 52, whereupon Mary and Joseph, Jesus safely in tow, return to their native Nazareth.

Welcome to the religious world of Thomas Jefferson, where scripture he deemed implausible or inaccurate fell to the cutting room floor. The offending two verses in this case are crucial: “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Why, Jesus asks, did you not first search for me in the temple, where I attend to “my father’s business”? This is the first intimation in Luke’s gospel that Jesus is the son of God.

For more on Jefferson’s Bible check out Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.

3 thoughts on “More on Jefferson’s Bible

  1. Mt 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…

    That's Jesus the King there. Angels [verse 31], the whole deal.

    Welcome to the religious world of Thomas Jefferson, where scripture he deemed implausible or inaccurate fell to the cutting room floor.

    I'm not playing this sophistically, John, insisting Mt 25:34 is literally Jefferson's personal belief. But how many students think they know what's in Jefferson's Bible?

    Barton's critics are far more clever than he, but what they gloss over and minimize is part of what started the Barton phenomenon in the first place. Think on it, por favor—and I know you already have, in the splendid

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  2. Interesting, though, that Jefferson's Bible includes Matthew 25:31-34 and the story of the Sheep and the Goats.

    People can see it for themselves here, in the Smithsonian's interactive Jefferson Bible, the actual cut-and-paste Jefferson did with his own hands.

    http://americanhistory.si.edu/JeffersonBible/the-book/?entry=68&search=goats

    “31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

    32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

    33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

    34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

    35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

    &c.

    [I don't say Jefferson believed this story; it''s certain that in later life—after he left the presidency—he rejected a supernatural role for Jesus.

    But the Second Coming is right there in the Jefferson Bible. I bet most people don't know that, preferring a more “secular” Jefferson Bible.]

    [My own guess is that Jefferson's purpose here is to justify “salvation by works.”]

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