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My Take: How Thomas Jefferson’s secret Bible might have changed history
A Smithsonian conservator displays the cover page from Thomas Jefferson's Bible.
January 11th, 2012
11:38 AM ET

My Take: How Thomas Jefferson’s secret Bible might have changed history

Editor's note: Mitch Horowitz is editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin and editor of Penguin’s new reissue of The Jefferson Bible.

By Mitch Horowitz, Special to CNN

(CNN) Imagine the following scenario: A U.S. president is discovered to be spending his spare time taking a razor to the New Testament, cutting up and re-pasting those passages of the Gospels that he considered authentic and morally true and discarding all the rest.

Gone are the virgin birth, divine healings, exorcisms and the resurrection of the dead, all of which the chief executive dismissed as “superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications.”

Such an episode occurred, although the revised version of Scripture remained unseen for nearly seven decades after its abridger’s death. Thomas Jefferson intended it that way.

During most of his two terms in the White House, from 1801 to 1809, and for more than a decade afterward, Jefferson the third U.S. president and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence committed himself to a radical reinterpretation of the Gospels.

With a razor and glue brush at this side, Jefferson lined up English, French, Greek and Latin editions of Scripture and proceeded to cut up and reassemble the four Gospels into an exquisitely well-crafted, multilingual chronology of Christ’s life.

Jefferson lined up different editions of Scripture.

In Jefferson’s view, this revision represented a faithful record of Christ’s moral code, minus the miracles that the Enlightenment-era founder dismissed as historical mythmaking.

The book eventually became known as The Jefferson Bible and is now being rediscovered in new editions, including one published this month by Tarcher/Penguin, and as the focus of a Smithsonian exhibit.

Ask most people today if they have heard of Jefferson’s Bible and you will receive blank stares. Indeed, for much of American history, The Jefferson Bible was entirely unknown. Jefferson intended it as a work of private reflection, not a public statement.

As contemporary readers discover the work, it is tempting to wonder how American history might look different had Jefferson’s radical document come to light closer to its completion.

Jefferson was still working on his Bible during his presidency, so its theoretical publication wouldn’t have compromised his electability. But if the book had been made public after its final completion in 1820, when Jefferson had only six more years to live, it likely would have become one of the most controversial and influential religious works of early American history.

A curator handles a "source" Bible from which Jefferson cut out passages.

That was a scenario Jefferson took pains to avoid. After being called an “infidel” during his 1800 presidential race, Jefferson knew the calumny he could bring on himself if word spread of his “little book.” Although he had his work professionally bound, he mentioned it only to a select group of friends. Its discovery after his death came as a surprise to his family.

Jefferson’s wish for confidentiality held sway until 1895 when the Smithsonian in Washington made public his original pages, purchased from a great-granddaughter. In 1904, Congress issued a photolithograph edition and presented it for decades as a gift to new legislators, a gesture that would likely cause uproar in today’s climate of political piety.

Because of the book’s long dormancy following Jefferson’s death, and its limited availability for generations after arguably the first truly accessible edition didn’t appear until 1940 The Jefferson Bible has remained a curio of American history.

So how would the earlier publication of The Jefferson Bible have changed American history? It's impossible to know for sure, but the 1820s inaugurated a period of tremendous spiritual experiment in America: It was the age of Mormonism, Unitarian Universalism and Shakerism, among other new faiths.

There’s little doubt that many Americans, who were already fiercely independent in matters of religion, would have seen The Jefferson Bible as the manifesto of a reformist movement call it “Jeffersonian Christianity” focused not on repentance and salvation but on earthly ethics. Such a movement could have swept America, and also have spread to Europe, where Jefferson was esteemed.

A broad awareness of Jefferson’s work would have surely engendered a more complex view of the religious identity of Jefferson and other founders. Indeed, one of Jefferson’s most trusted correspondents while he was producing his Bible was his White House predecessor, John Adams, who in turn confided to Jefferson his distrust of all religious orthodoxy. These men were impossible to pin pat religious labels on.

Because Jefferson published relatively little during his lifetime, the appearance of The Jefferson Bible would have created a different, and more confounding, public image of the statesman as someone struggling deeply with his own religious beliefs. The Jefferson that appears behind his reconstruction of Scripture is someone who brushed aside notions of miraculous intervention and canonical faith.

As The Jefferson Bible conveys, however, Jefferson considered Jesus’ moral philosophy the most finely developed in history, surpassing the ethics of both the ancient Greeks and the Hebrews. He insisted that Christ’s authentic doctrine was marked by a stark, ascetic tone that clashed with the supernatural powers attributed to him.

“In extracting the pure principles which he taught,” Jefferson wrote in 1813, “we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms. ... There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

Jefferson’s minimalist approach to the Gospels reveals an attitude that he disclosed only privately, just months before his death: “I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."

In that sense, Jefferson the politician wouldn’t have stood a chance in the current presidential race, where faith and piety are on constant display. The political process might be more open today to candidates of varying degrees and types of belief if The Jefferson Bible were more central to the nation’s history.

The Jefferson Bible opens a window on Jefferson’s struggle to find a faith with which he could finally come to terms. It was this kind of intimate, inner search not the outward pronouncement and establishment of religious doctrine that the man who helped shape modern religious liberty sought to protect in America.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mitch Horowitz.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: History • Opinion • Politics

soundoff (1,432 Responses)
  1. Laisee-Faire in Lake City

    @TopGunViper88
    Agreed :P
    It was nice to read a little about his Bible since I haven't actually heard anything about it since I was a young boy, but the comments...fantastico!

    January 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  2. DCB

    You can get a copy of the Jefferson Bible at your local big-box bookstore. I have enjoyed mine for years. In passing, I think it's important to note that while Jefferson took a razor to the New Testament, Adams could safely be considered an evangelical Christian (certainly by today's standards). And yet they were close friends and confidants. If they could hold each other in such high esteem, then I am willing to do the same for both of them - and for my evangelical friends and family, when they do the same for me.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  3. Vincent Bobbino

    The devil hides in the church. Jefferson, Adams, Franklin etc. all knew this. The religious nuts in early America where just as dishonest and corrupt as their 21st century counterparts. Organized religion is nothing more than voodoo light, all based on hocus pocus and money...

    January 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  4. Steve

    Just because Jefferson did this, does not make the miracles of Christ and His Virgin Birth any less true. We need to understand that Truth is Truth regardless of whether or not it is believed or included in anyone's writing, acceptance, or understanding. Think about this...How big could God be if we were able to uderstand all that there is about Him. Do you really want to serve a God that small??

    January 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Areftee

      I think that's a great point Steve.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • sbp

      I don't want to "serve" anybody. A truly superior being wouldn't need the ego boost of being served, he'd be content with having people lead good lives. In any event, your entire belief in the Bible is that it says so in the Bible. Since the Bible itself is clearly a collection of words, you have to at least be able to fathom that, as a book, it COULD have been simply made up by people. The words themselves are no more magical than Harry Potter. If you choose to believe it, fine, but beyond your blind faith, there is no rational reason to ascribe a divine author.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • phred

      It doesn't make these supposed "miracles" any more true, either.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Nonimus

      How can anyone worship that which they don't understand?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • asdf

      people did this to your bible long before Jefferson did it to his. At some point, someone decided what was in and what was out of your bible too, regardless of which one you read. And you don't even know who they were or their motivations. Which is scarier?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      The point isn't about his impact on Christianity, its about Christianity's lack of impact on Jefferson. So man fundies want to claim this as a Christian founded nation, against all evidence. But that is typical of their reasoning in the first place.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • MartinT

      @ Steve, personally, I don't want to serve a god at all. I'm sort of independent that way, mainly because I have "free will" so I'll defer the servitude to dudes like you. As for the "smallness" of god, you do know the god of the bible was god to only a very small tribe of people in the region, right? That's about as small as they come, and sure he grew up and out, but one would think he would have worked a LITTLE bit on other regions of the world, maybe China, the Middle Americas, just thinking.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """We need to understand that Truth is Truth regardless of whether or not it is believed or included in anyone's writing, acceptance, or understanding."""

      No, Steve, YOU need to understand that if faith is required to believe it, it is not a truth.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      asdf,
      Exactly. It was always "do we leave this in, or leave this out", from the Q sourse, to the Book of Sayings, to the final NON-UNANIMOUS VOTE, for which books to leave i the canon, and which to leave out. The process tells me more than I need to know. :twisted:

      January 11, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  5. JustWondering

    TruthPrevails,

    Do you believe Satan doesn't exist?

    January 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      To believe in satan would require a belief in god and since I don't believe in god, I most certainly don't believe in satan.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Placibo

      There is no evidence in Saten. When some shows up, I'll consider the idea.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Details

      Or is TruthPrevails an enemy of God?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Placibo

      Satan (sp).

      January 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Details: What a dumba$$ comment!!! Hard to be an enemy of something that does not exist.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  6. WelcomedOpinion

    We know, athiest favorite movie is "The Devil's Advocate".

    They are in the business to advocate haterd towards Christians and other religions. It should be a hate crime for you to bash anyone who has a faith. You passed free speech a long time ago.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      Isn't the Devil's Advocate about the daily struggle to resist temptations?

      I mean, if you're going to make stupid comments about atheists, at least make a decent pop culture reference.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • HellBent

      "They are in the business to advocate haterd towards Christians and other religions."

      Most of my family and friend are christians. I don't hate them or advocate anyone else hating them. Sorry if you're persecution complex blinds you to this fact.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Patrick

      My favorite movie is; The Boondock Saints.
      I am engaged to a Christian.
      And I am an Atheist.

      Just a suggestion, but perhaps you should reflect on your bigotry and ask what jebus would do.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Brian

      That's nuts. Atheists don't hate Christians. It's you fake "Christians" who hate atheists.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      I don't hate christians, I have a great dislike for what they are trying to force as truth down people's throats and in to our political systems and schools.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Louis

      We atheists don't hate those of faith, it's just disappointing that we are bound by laws that are created because of faith instead of reason. I believe that god is not real, so the fact that people want to create laws (gay marriage, contraception, etc.) based around things that god supposedly said is upsetting to me.

      All i want is a life based on reason and enjoying the things that myself and my friends and my family find interesting. I don't think people should be persecuted because some book that you believe in says they should be.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • olcranky

      Where did you see any bashing of faith in this piece?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • asdf

      "you amoral filthy atheists should all rot! Also, it should be a crime for you to be mean to those of us with faith."

      January 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • MartinT

      I don't actually hate anyone, it takes too much energy to hate, and I'm getting older now. I think to advocate that anyone who speaks out against religion should be persecuted is pretty much what Religions have been doing for centuries. Why should my speaking out against fundamental NUTJOBS be any worse than your speaking against Atheists?

      January 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • TRH

      ...and YOU just escaped the bounds of rational thought. Atheism is not a business. It is simply non-belief. Get it through your head.

      January 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  7. Vivitar

    As I non-believer myself. I'll fully admit there are some very sound nuggets of reason and wisdom in the bible. I see this as quest to separate the two. This was the age of enlightenment where reason and its application were king. I'm surprised he would spend that much time and effort. Perhaps he was just curious what the remaining text would look like. Even as an atheist myself, this doesn't diminish my opinion of the man.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  8. Joe

    An article about slicing up the New Testament, editing out all it's most endearing parts to meet someone's personal view, making it seem like "this is how your forefathers thought", and to top it off, written by none other than a Jew....how convenient. Just another attempt from the liberal media to subliminally slag Christianity. To plant the seed in the publics' mind that their belief is flawed. Obviously, a trend nowadays. In over 2000 years, some things never change.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      Yes, because the most important thing about the New Testament is that it's "endearing".

      And people wonder why atheists have a general disdain for so-called true believers.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • HellBent

      The man was our third president, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the architects of our democracy. Oh, and a lot of our other founding fathers had the same views on christianity that he had. Seems pretty relevant to me. Sorry if history offends you. Maybe you should get some thicker skin.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Details

      Did Mitch Horowitz identify himself as a Jew?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • pat

      The bible has been edited and edited again many times until it was in the form that Jefferson took to edit himself.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • kalo

      Lol, I see the bible mark on your forehead from beating yourself too much.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Brian

      Wow, what a persecution complex!

      January 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Thomas

      Joe,

      Your 'jew' reference is noted but since Jesus was a Jew and since the majority of his initial followers were Jews I am not sure what your point is.

      As far as stripping the Bible for personal satisfaction, you need only go to almost any Christian Church to see such a thing in action. "Judge not ... " hummmmmmm.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • olcranky

      Considering it was one of our founding father's who did the editing of the bible, it's pretty accurate to say he had a good idea of how at least one of the founding father's thought

      January 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Call out Anti-semitism

      Jefferson was a Jew?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • KAS

      Congratulations on showing exactly what the author of the article was talking about. Because Jefferson considered things such as virgin birth, a zombie rebirth and mystical healing for what they were, nonsense, you immediately condemn the facts because they don't conform to your viewpoint as dictated by your religion.

      This is why Jefferson, Adams, Madison and the host of Founding Fathers explicitly did not endorse any one religion for this country because they had seen the evil perpetrated upon the populace by governments which dictated one "true" religion.

      Further, Jefferson was labeled an infidel by various religious leaders because he refused to overtly divulge his religious leanings or support them in their efforts to weed out the undesirables, undesirables such as Jews, Muslims, Unitarians and a whole host of other religious denominations. That is why he wrote 'The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom' which stated:

      That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

      He went so far as to say what he believed was between himself and his god. He, and many others, didn't feel it was necessary to profess their belief, or non-belief, of any supernatural being just to appease the populace. That is a manifestation of today's religious climate where one religion in particular is trying its best to emulate the Taliban and enforce what they consider to be the only true religion on the rest of the population.

      Go read Fawn Brodie's book on Jefferson and read what a multi-faceted man Jefferson was and how his religious beliefs were completely at odds with what people like you consider to be good Christians.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Patrick

      @Joe
      Sir I do believe you just got served.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  9. larrydavidsandwhich

    I don't understand why such a progressive, pragmatic leader like Jefferson is so often marginalized by modern "progressives."

    January 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • VinoBianco

      I'm not marginalizing him – I think he was awesome but is largely misunderstood today. I look forward to the day America elects an atheist for president, if we don't destroy ourselves before then...

      January 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • J-Ex

      Since many modern "progressives" are atheists, it would seem funny for them to do anything bu marginalize anything he said or believed in. In 100 years time history books will teach that the founding fathers were atheists.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @VinoBianco- we probably already have had a atheist President..they just didn't tell anyone about it. I've seen stories about Lincoln and his religious views. One could say he had more religiously in common with the atheistic pov than the Christian

      January 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Peter

      Clearly you have no idea how progressives view Jefferson. It is religious fanatics in this country who insist on saying that the founding fathers believed in all the religious baloney that Jefferson cut out of his bible that need to be marginalized until the day when they are ready to become responsible members of society.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      J-Ex:

      I have yet to meet an American atheist who doesn't have at least one Jefferson quotation in their back pocket for debates about US history. The man created the phrase "separation of church and state," and I have no idea why anyone would think that progressives don't support most of his philosophical views.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  10. dan

    I can understand why he could not believe those things BUT he was wrong. Things do not make sense to us because we don't know enough about the subject. I'm 87 years old and still learning. Things that did not make sense to me last year make sense this year. The Bible is tough to understand so what he did was wise. Believe all that you can and in time the truth will come to you. With time we learn how to look at things in a different way. "Seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened unto you". Jefferson was a busy man so he took the part God gave him and used it in the best way he knew how.
    Things worked out for him quite well. My advice to those who cannot believe would be to try to believe just one little thing in the Bible, be patient and faithful to the idea and you will learn the truth one step at a time.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • tripleA

      Dan, this is actually a really well-thought out response. Thank you for it. I struggle with many things in the bible, but I attend bible study courses at my church when they are offered so that people who know more about it than me can teach me. It's really helpful to have different perspectives and ideas on what certain scriptures mean. I agree with your idea of building on the one idea you do believe in the bible so as to help you understand all the other ideas that you don't believe in yet.

      It's so rare to see a nice, well-written response on the CNN website. Kudos to you, Dan. :)

      January 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Patrick

      Have you taken you pills today?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • sbp

      Hmmm, Jefferson "was wrong" or YOU are "wrong." Think I'll side with Jefferson. But thanks anyway, Harold Camping.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  11. pat

    So one of the founding fathers edited the word of God. Groovy.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      If by "God" you mean "a group of old Jewish heretics, then yes.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      If by "God" you mean "a group of old Jewish heretics", then yes.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • blaqb0x

      I wonder if Jefferson realized that the the new testament was written by greek speaking christians decades after jesus' supposed death. Meaning, most of what he consider's christ's teaching are really those of his later followers?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  12. News?

    Sorry, how is this news? How is it a "curio"? I have a copy of Jefferson's bible on my shelf at home. I thought this was something NEW about it!

    January 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  13. zephyr

    Every one needs to realize or remember (depending on your position) is that the bible is NOT the word of God as some would have you believe. It was written by men, most of whom were not there when the stories in the bible were supposedly taking place.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Areftee

      While you provide no support for your statement, you also forgot to connect it to your point. How do human authors equal a lack of divine inspiration?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • pat

      None of the writters were alive at the time the story took place. That is why it is not considered an historical account.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • zephyr

      @Areftee, I think you are over thinking the whole thing..............

      January 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Jeff

      Then using your same argument, there was no Jefferson since none of us were alive when he supposedly lived. There is no reason for you to read this article about Jefferson because the author wasn't alive when he was. Therefore, your comment makes no sense.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Logic Fail

      @Jeff – Jefferson himself actually wrote many things. So you can't 'use the same argument'. Fail. Try again.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @Logic Fail- Be careful that you aren't the one that fails. A person could throw at you that Paul wrote many things but would you def say he existed.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Areftee

      @zephyr: just saying. Seems non-Christians often accuse us of not thinking, but now I'm over-thinking. You guys are tough to figure out.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Patrick

      @Areftee
      “While you provide no support for your statement” So prove divine inspiration happened.

      @Jeff
      That isn’t the same argument. You would actually need to compare articles, doc.uments and paintings created by people that were alive and knew Jefferson in his own time. Nice try though

      January 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Areftee

      @pat: actually the New Testament writers were eye-witnesses except for Paul, but he was still a contemporary and Peter mentions knowing Paul in one of his letters. Btw, while it's true that the earliest manuscripts are fragmentary, we have fragments of the New Testament dating to the first century.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • MakeThemEatCake

      Jeff, a good experiment for such things is this. Without writing anything down, tell a story to a friend and ask that they tell the same story to someone else also asking that this story be passed on. If this story ever gets back to you, there will be several differences, some which would even alter the plot of the story. So, since none of those actually alive when Jesus was preaching to the masses wrote anything down, there is no way to tell which version of the story the person who did write it down heard. While I agree with Jefferson's opinion that the teachings of Jesus represent a moral code that we should all aspire to, I do not believe that Jesus was the son of a god. And I really fear those that so blindly believe in Jesus' lineage they turn to violence against those who disagree. And that is the order of action. Rarely do you read of an atheist attacking someone religious in an effort to "convert" them.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Areftee

      @Patrick: Ha ha! Good one. If I could provide the kind of "proof" many are demanding, that would prove God's existence. All I can tell you is what persuaded me on this issue. The books of the Bible were authored by many men spanning 2000 years. When you research the consistency not only of the facts but also of the underlying themes from book to book, the Bible has no equal that comes close in illustrating such unity. This is just one reason given to suggest that there seems to be "one author" behind the rest. Of course, some have argued that the books were later doctored to create this unified thread, but not only do we lack evidence of this happening, to do so so brilliantly and get away with it surrounded by scribes who committed their lives to the books' integrity is difficult to imagine.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Patrick

      @Areftee
      That is not proof of divine inspiration.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Areftee

      @ Patrick: Yes, like I said, it's not the proof you're looking for. But keep in mind that's kind of what relationships are about. The Bible's message illustrates that God isn't looking for a contract (law, proof)... that was Old Testament and he used that experience with the Israelites to prove to us that it doesn't work. Relationships only function based on love and grace for one another. Subject your wife to tests every day to prove her love for you and eventually she'll leave you. And you would do the same. Love itself requires faith in what's inside the other person. That's what God is looking for in you and me... people who will love him back. Of course, you're free not to. No one could force you anyway.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  14. TruthPrevails

    It’s almost impossible to define Jefferson’s subtle religious views in a few words. As he once put it, “I am a sect by myself, as far as I know.” But one thing is clear: His skepticism of traditional Christianity is well established. Our third president did not believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, original sin and other core Christian doctrines. He was hostile to many conservative Christian clerics, whom he believed had perverted the teachings of that faith.
    Jefferson once famously observed to Adams, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be clas.sed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”
    Although not an orthodox Christian, Jefferson admired Jesus as a moral teacher. In one of his most unusual acts, Jefferson edited the New Testament, cutting away the stories of miracles and divinity and leaving behind a very human Jesus, whose teachings Jefferson found “sublime.” This “Jefferson Bible” is a remarkable docu.ment – and it would ensure his political defeat today. (Imagine the TV commercials the Religious Right would run: Thomas Jefferson hates Jesus! He mutilates Bibles!)
    Jefferson was confident that a coolly rational form of religion would take root in the fertile intellectual soil of America. He once predicted that just about everyone would become Unitarian. (Despite his many talents, the man was no prophet.)
    Jefferson took political stands that would infuriate today’s Religious Right and ensure that they would work to defeat him. He refused to issue proclamations calling for days of prayer and fasting, saying that such religious duties were no part of the chief executive’s job. His a.ssertion that the First Amendment erects a “wall of separation between church and state” still rankles the Religious Right today.

    (taken from 5 Founding Fathers Whose Skepticism About Christianity Would Make Them Unelectable Today by Rob Boston)

    January 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • A Little Help

      The entire paragraph:

      The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be clas.sed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  15. Areftee

    Whew! You guys make this interesting. As to miracles, they are more rare in the US and Europe than Africa, China and South America, but they do happen here nonetheless. In my 46 years following Jesus, I've witnessed 3 obvious miracles and have met many people who've had powerful experiences. The most powerful one I experienced firsthand was after a quick simple prayer for a friend named Tom who showed up to help teach a children's class at church. He was stiff, hunched over, and obviously in pain. He said he didn't think he could stay and help because he'd been up all night with intense back pain. I confess I wasn't very hopeful but I prayed for him anyway. When I opened my eyes his jaw was hanging open in shock. The pain instantly left him and he had full mobility.
    I've met a man who came back to life after he was dead an hour and a half. Anyway, even if some of you witnessed a miracle firsthand, do you really think it would change your mind? I'm not so sure a lack of miracles is the problem. Sometimes we just don't want certain things to be true, and yes, I realize Christians struggle with the same problem.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      Prove this stuff happened outside of your own mind!! The James Rande Foundation has been offering a million dollar award to anyone that can and no-one has yet managed to claim it. Maybe you should contact them, until then it is safe to as.sume you are being a fake.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Matt

      So God loves the Chinese more than Americans? Or is it that miracles exist only in the mind and third world countries are more predisposed to believe in them than first world countries?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • zephyr

      @TruthPrevails, I wish there was a like button for replies. Too many want to give credit to miracles instead of just thanking the doctor.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • J-Ex

      Areftee.....don't worry too much...the million dollar reward for evidence of a black hole hasn't been claimed either

      January 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      @zephyr: Yes, unfortunately credit is never given where credit is due. No god guides the hands of those Doctor's and medical professionals out there saving lives or the hands of those scientists spending countless hours finding cures for disease....it's sad that christards can't understand this.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Mortalc01l

      Areftee: Don't be absurd! Let's have a discussion here...

      If miracles exist and are perpetuated by God and God heals people who are sick, then answer this; why does God NEVER answer the prayers of people who have lost a limb? There are millions of dedicated Christians who have lost an arm or a leg; those people FERVENTLY and SINCERELY pray to God to restore their limb... but it NEVER happens! It has NEVER happened in the whole history of Christianity. NOT ONCE has anyone spontaneously regrown a missing leg or arm.... Why is this? (P.S. this is an argument postulated by someone else, I don't claim it as my own).

      If God is all powerful and answers prayers and heals people, then why?

      There are three answers as to why this might be:

      1. God hates amputees for some reason and disregards every single one of the billions of prayers from amputees, their families, friends, Pastors/Ministers etc, but is OK with healing Cancer or the Flu.

      2. Prayers don't work and things that happen that are attributed to prayer, would have happened anyway.

      3. There is no God and all of this is make-believe/Fairytales/Pure fantasy.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Areftee

      Weird, I posted a reply and it didn't show up. Anyway, perhaps the bigger issue is that we all see what we want to see. If someone can make up a miracle in their mind, another can also reject one for the same human weakness. All I can tell you is that three of us observed Tom's healing. If I made it up in my head, then I guess I'm making all of you and your posts up, too!

      Of course God loves everyone equally, but you can't force feed people who don't want to eat. I'm just saying that Europe and America have experienced increasing prosperity, and just like the Israelites did in the Old Testament, that prosperity is followed by disbelief. Author Philip Yancey puts it this way, "God goes where he's wanted." That's pretty much what any of us would do, too.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Areftee

      @mortalc01: I hear your frustration with the whole healing thing. I think relationships are that way... frustrating, primarily because we're trying to get what we want from someone we don't understand while at the same time, the other person doesn't like being "used" by us.

      I admit that of the healings I've witnessed and heard about, I haven't yet heard of a grown limb. But even if we did, our skepticism would move on to the next hurdle for God to jump. I think we misunderstand the purpose of miracles in the first place. In the Bible, their purpose wasn't to make people's lives easier or equal. If that were the point God would have to make every woman Barbie and every man Ken. We all can claim life was harder for us because of an illness, a missing limb, a learning disorder, our looks, and on and on. No, the purpose of miracles was 2-fold: to establish the authority of the miracle-worker (Jesus told his disciples that if they had difficulty trusting him because of his teachings, they ultimately had the miracles they had witnessed), and secondly to establish the kingdom of God on earth. I believe some miracles aren't received because we wouldn't be faithful to use them for their purpose. We're not the point... God's kingdom is the point.

      I realize that's not a fun message to hear. There's a part in all of us, me included, that wants life to be about us. It's not.

      Thanks for the challenging dialogue. I'm out of time... Take care all.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """I admit that of the healings I've witnessed and heard about, I haven't yet heard of a grown limb. But even if we did, our skepticism would move on to the next hurdle for God to jump."""

      Our skepticism would move on? I would be satisfied with a re-grown limb. How about we just have that? Verbal gymnastics are just not convincing in this arena, not matter how hard you try.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Areftee

      @jeffwilliams: I don't know what you mean by verbal gymnastics. Perhaps you're not interested in the point I was trying to make, and that's fine. My point was that the earlier post seemed to allude that some "miracles" had taken place but not limb-regrowth. My point was that the kind of miracle shouldn't matter. If it does, we're not looking to love God... we're just looking for a show. This is why Jesus condemned the Pharisees for "seeking a sign". Whenever skeptics demanded miracles from Jesus (Pharisees, Herod, the crowd at the cross), he refused to act.

      Thanks for the dialogue. I"m out of time. Take care.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Mortalc01l

      Areftee: You have NOT answered the question! If there is an OMINPOTENT, OMNISCIENT God, why can he not do soemthing as simple as give a Man or Woman their limb back? If he supposedly heals cancer and fevers and casts out demons, then growing a limb should be child's play, correct?

      If a devout Christian and all their family members and all their congregation and their Minister jointly pray with utmost fervence and humility to God for the limb to be regrown and it does not, what is happening? Now take that one one instance an multiply it by the number of devout Christians that have lost a limb over the last 2,000 years and tell me why God has not EVER caused a limb to grow back?

      As I stated in my previous post, if you believe God has cured people of all sorts of ills, then why the refusal to grow a limb?

      It's an easy question really, if you subscribe to logic....

      Also consider a child born in the Sudan who lives but a few days, then dies of hunger. His parents are Muslims and therefore HE is also a Muslim... Christians tell us that that child with no sin on his record will go to hell PURELY because he was born in the wrong place. Surely you cannot believe this of an omnipotent and omniscient, all-loving God?

      January 11, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  16. The Dragon Lady

    I have heard some religious leaders (Catholic and other Christian denominations) talk about the "miracles" of Jesus. One of the things was the loaves and fishes. The people of the time period/location would never had left home without food and drink. It was a desert and they knew they were going out for the day. It would be like carpenters working on a house in the middle of nowhere and not taking a thermos and lunch. The problem is that if you brought out food, the culture required you to share with anyone without food and nobody wanted to do that. The miracle was that Jesus got these people to share with each other by being the first to share.

    Given this information, miracles can still happen. And people can do miracles. We don't need God to do them or approve them or create them. This puts things in a different light.

    I haven't read the Jeffersonian Bible, but I have a feeling that I will agree with much of it. Take out all the propaganda and you have a way of living that appreciates that human beings can be moral and make good choices without a carrot or a stick just because they know it is a good thing to do.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Areftee

      I hear you. The problem remains, however, that we human beings aren't able to be truly moral and good to each other all the time. Jesus emphasized our need to love God and each other, but then sacrificed himself because we were unable to do those things perfectly. Man-made attempts to connect with God form religions that fall short of the goal. Jesus said he came to create new life in us, a living connection to God.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      Morals and good have nothing to do with a god. Even the worst person on the face of this planet can have some good morals and still be considered immoral due to their inappropriate actions. No god is required to live a good life.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • The Dragon Lady

      Exactly, people do actions in the name of their religion and God and consider themselves moral – think the torturers of the Inquisitions, the soldiers of the Crusades, the 9/11 terrorists and many others throughout history. Hitler considered himself a "good Christian" even as he was ordering atrocities. I don't think God gives us a moral code. I believe that humans are either good to each other or hateful to each other because of their own hard-wiring and the teachings they receive. Religion, whatever they practice is just their excuse or their teaching. It comes down to doing what you want to do based on your own cost-benefits. Humans do what they do because it benefits them to act that way in their own minds. I am kind to other people as often as possible not because I think God will strike me down if I don't but because I think life is too short to be mean. That has nothing to do with my religious or spiritual beliefs just my own internal desire for more peace and less nastiness. I don't need to have a direct talk with God to know what is good to do. Other people are rude because they seem to get more out of life when they are mean rather than kind. This doesn't mean I can predict the religion they practice.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Patrick

      @ The Dragon Lady
      I don’t think miracle means what you think it does. There is no verified proof of record for a miracle ever taking place. They are up there with Bigfoot, UFOs and the Loch Ness monster. Plenty claim to have seen them but so far no one can prove they are real.

      @ TruthPrevails
      100% correct. Morals and moral codes have been around since before there was a Christian god.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Sunflower

      Well said.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Areftee

      @dragonlady: No, we can't predict people very well at all. I agree. It's just that if people are hard-wired as you say, then what's the use in having laws or trying to persuade people to live a good life? Sounds fatalistic to me. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you. I realize what you mean that we don't always need religion to tell us what's good and right. The Bible says the Holy Spirit convicts people of what's wrong, to the extent they're open to hear it. Others would say its evolutions imprint on us that makes us feel what's right and wrong.

      I guess my question is, without one authority, one standard-setter for right and wrong, doesn't that leave morality up to all of us? So what makes your morality better or worse than mine? Hitler's other writings reveal he wasn't a Christian, but technically speaking, without a God who sets the standard, who's to say Hitler was wrong for what he did? We could say it doesn't "feel right deep down in our hearts" but we can't really say that anything is right or wrong if we're all allowed to redefine right and wrong.

      All I know is, God gives me a good reason to love, respect, and serve others because he has done the same for me and convicted my heart that he is right. There's no paranoia fear involved, but I do have a biblical "fear" of God which is actually a deep respect for his wisdom, beauty, power, and patience with humanity.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  17. Paul

    You can just imagne the uproar if it had been a Koran. LOL All mumbo jumbo anyway!

    January 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Patrick

      Well, he did own a copy of, and was well versed in, the Quran as well...

      January 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  18. Joe

    Jefferson was even smarter than we thought he was.
    And we thought he was about as smart as he could be.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  19. Cindy N.

    At this time in history, Jefferson's Bible might not go over with the ultra Right Wing. However, there is always a time and a place for new thoughts and ideas-including the teachings of Jesus, many of which came from his Jewish faith and the teachings of tzadakah. Who's to say that once the fanaticism has subsided, the Jeffersonian Bible might not find itself in mainstream Christianity?

    January 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Brad

      I suppose a following for Jefferson's Bible might develop. There are other scholars with more resources and sizeable followings applying their razors to the Bible, though. John Shelby Spong is one.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Patrick

      @Brad
      The church has been applying their razors from day one and counting.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  20. WelcomedOpinion

    Can anyone join (AA) athiest anonymous, or just the ones posting replies to my comments?

    We love to hear from you... CNN ratings are going through the roof of hell right now.... Heat it up folks, Satan is a happy camper today.

    Can't wait too read your next barrage of damning comments...

    Still love you guys...

    January 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      Can you please show us exactly how you are sure Satan exists?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • The Guy

      god hates you

      January 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • WelcomedOpinion

      You didn't answer the question? Do you have restrictions to join AA?

      January 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I'm not aware of Atheists Anonymous, but you can try here: http://outcampaign.org/ or here: http://www.atheists.org/

      January 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Welcomed: And you didn't answer my question! Where is your proof???

      January 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • WelcomedOpinion

      We have a winner. Thanks. I'll sign you all up using your posting names. Humor is a good thing... Take a lighter view of life people! Don't hate Christians.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • cbinal

      @TruthPrevails. Oooo Ooo I can, my hand is raised. Look in the mirror.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Inigo Montoya

      @cbinal: 'proof'. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • cbinal

      @Inigo wrong person there

      January 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      When I use the word proof I am asking for the factual evidence to back the claims. The burden of proof always lie on the one making the claim.

      January 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.