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.Was Jefferson a "red-letter Christian" before the phrase existed? Or worse? I find it troubling that he would compare the parts he cut out to "a dunghill." Especially when he cut out the resurrection. In the words of the apostle Paul, "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 15:17) But I suppose Jefferson cut that out, too.
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."
In Jefferson's version of the Gospels, for example, Jesus is still wrapped in swaddling clothes after his birth in Bethlehem. But there's no angel telling shepherds watching their flocks by night that a savior has been born. Jefferson retains Jesus' crucifixion but ends the text with his burial, not with the resurrection.
Monday, July 07, 2008
The "Jefferson Bible"
Coming off of the Independence Day weekend, I found this article interesting, especially for those who insist on calling America a "Christian" nation. It's about the so-called "Jefferson Bible," an edited version of the gospels put together by Thomas Jefferson: