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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. Not surprised

    Typical Protestant theology... If you don't like something, just re-write it or remove what you don't agree with. Protestantism is to Christianity what Labor Unions are to Successful Industry = it's complete undoing!

    January 11, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Observer

      Christianity is just picking and choosing what you like from the Bible.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      So what makes anyone think that some of these things do not REQUIRE undoing for the good of mankind? Can you state any logical reason not tied up in the trappings of what was, faith, custom, dogma, the want of control over another man why we shouldn't want to grow and progress not only as a country but as a species?

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

      But, didn't the Catholic church just 'pick and choose' from the 40 or so gospels that were written? Isn't that what started the whole 'cafeteria christian' epidemic in the first place?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Binky42

      Are Catholics still believing the Flat Earth theory then?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Not surprised

      After all, if Jesus teachings were actually useful, the supernatural components would be completely unnecessary. People would follow the teachings for the teachings alone. What we get from the bible, instead of the hard work of teaching people practices that they can successfully live by, are inhumanly lofty ideals supported by confusing parables and hocus-pocus.

      January 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  2. Steve the Goat

    In this post, I will now list all the truths from the bible:
    People are born
    People die

    Short list, isn't it? The rest of the stuff in the bible (and all other religious books) are just filler fairy tale stories.

    January 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • noel

      says you, we all know that jefferson was a deist. he was allowed to believe what he believed and you can believe what you believe. the search for truth is ongoing and the truth is that none know the truth for sure. please quit pretending that you do. if you consider that over 400 prophesies were fulfilled in the new testament birth of the messiah, then one must take notice. the odds are roughly the equivalent of covering the earth's land mass w/ 3 feet of silver dollars and selecting one painted red at random. hmmm...kind of changes one perspective. bottom line: believe what you like, but you better be right for their are 2 choices in eternity...smoking or non-smoking!!!

      January 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Jim

      Noel, do you have proof of the fulfilling of the 400 prophesies you mention ? No, you don't

      I fulfilled 600 prophesies yesterday, and the odds of that are one in a bunch ! See how easy that was ?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Enlightened

      Hey Noel.

      Lots of Nostradomus' prophecise have been fulfilled too.

      Here's another one for you, I prophesize that around 6:30 tonight I will eat dinner. Wonder if it will come true.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Observer

      noel,

      How many of the "400 fulfilled prophesies" were written after the fact and someone just said "I told you so"? There were plenty that haven't been. Your statistical example of coins is pure nonsense for anyone familiar with statistical theory.

      What is the probability that serpents speak and understand language or that unicorns exist?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Bizarre

      noel, "...over 400 prophesies were fulfilled in the new testament birth of the messiah,"

      Don't you think that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul (and Jesus, if he existed) read or heard about those OT 'prophecies'? Pretty dang easy to write stuff up to seem to 'fulfill' them. One particular slip-up was when Jesus is reported to have called for donkeys to ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday "to fulfill prophecy".

      January 11, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • cbinal

      Noel don't worry about it. These guys are right. You have to actually believe in the Bible and God first to believe in the prophecies and them being fulfilled. I really like the one Bizarre said about riding the donkey to fulfill the prophecy, thats a good one. Only problem is that it was a donkey that no man had ever rode, wouldn't catch me getting on that one, but Jesus rode it with no problem. If you actually believe that stuff.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • cbinal

      @Observer I believe in unicorns. Ever seen a Rhino? But, the one the Bible refers to is a young goat with only one horn, they call that a unicorn.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Ummm

      "the one the Bible refers to is a young goat with only one horn, they call that a unicorn."

      Lying is a sin.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • cbinal

      @Ummm OK sorry, let me correct that, I should have typed "the other one that the Bible refers to". Unicorn is used 6 times in the Bible 4 times it is refering to the rhino and 2 times it's either a young goat or ram.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Really?

      "Unicorn is used 6 times in the Bible 4 times it is refering to the rhino and 2 times it's either a young goat or ram."

      Guess your god wasn't so inspirational to get that one so screwed up.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • cbinal

      @Really it's called context. You do that when you interpret one language to another right? Some commentators have it listed as a bull or ox with one horn. Point is, it was a common creature, not some mystical horse with a golden horn that people think the Bible is refering to.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  3. Enlightened

    This is not news. I purchased a copy of the Jefferson Bible in 1987 and really like the idea of separating Jesus the man and teachings from Jesus and the supernatural.

    I really wish all politicians and evangelicals would let people live as they see fit and not try to push their idea of religion or founding fathers ideals down our throats.

    We can't agree on the founding fathers intentions and that was only 300 years ago. How can we agree on a book that was written 2000 years ago and translated across many languages and rewritten to support the ideas of the times.

    Who's right? Who's wrong? We will never know. In the meantime, live and let live in peace.

    January 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • cbinal

      I totally agree with you, every body has the same rights to believe in what they want to believe in. Only problem with that is that the people who don't believe in the Bible think that all Christian are illiterate and shouldn't have a voice in anything. That we believe the world is flat, don't believe in anything scientifically, and still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. Truth is they would really be shocked to see how many Scientists, Engineers, Politicians, etc. are Christians.

      January 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  4. RELIGION IS WRONG

    Jehovah's Witnesses = CULT

    January 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  5. Boo

    I takin a doo doo.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  6. JohnQuest

    Areftee, I would think the reasons you love and respect others is something your parents taught you.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  7. Steve

    Jefferson didn't do anything different than what's been done to the Bible since it was translated from Aramaic. It's been bent, folded and mutated by whoever paid the translators. If people would study the history of the Bible itself, they understand. People should not try to treat the Bible as fact, just listen to the messages, that is what is important. Especially read the parts left out.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  8. stainedglassreflections

    I imagine the book would have caused a sensation, but whether or not it would have reshaped America is another matter. This is no different than what the Jesus Seminar has tried to do – discard parts of the Bible that require any actual faith while retaining positive moral sentiments. Unfortunately for them, neither Jefferson nor the Jesus Seminar was present in first century Judea when Jesus lived and taught. Therefore, they are in no position to say what is "history" and what is not. They weren't there. All they have is a prior assumption that certain things COULD not have happened (never mind that a miracle is, by definition, outside nature), so they are not obligated to believe in them. This is certainly the prerogative of any free American, but I don't see why it should be earth shattering for the rest of us.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Just like the folks who wrote the bible were not present at the the.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  9. TRUTH_HURTS

    Can someone prove athiest exist?

    A bit confusing....

    I see monkeys and humans together at the zoo... No evolution.

    I can look at micro organisms under a microscope witha human eye, again no evolution.

    I can touch an apple on a tree, open and see the seeds and taste the apple and be satified by it's nutritional value. No Evolution.

    I see how man destroys what they never created and can't recreate what they did away with.

    GOD can. Big Bang fact, GOD clapped his hands and

    BANG! He created the heavens and earth and all that occupy.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      I hope you are not a Teacher

      January 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Pastor Jeff

      Amen Truth. No truer words. Your boldness and obedience is and will continue to be rewarded. asavedearth Twitter

      January 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • momoya

      You could not be more wrong. Evolution is proved over and over and over every day and its much more understood than the theory of gravity. Why don't you go study evolution for the next decade in an attempt to prove it wrong?

      January 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • lil bunny

      well said Truth

      January 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Justin

      You think a evolution says a monkey will turn into a man in front of your eyes at the zoo? LOL. You have no idea what evolution is.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      If that's all your mind is capable of comprehending, that's great for you. But please don't ram your ignorance down my throat, and by all means, don't think it's the last word on the subject. Just because you're intellectually incapable of understanding basic science doesn't mean your fairy tales are the ultimate truth. They're not.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bizarre

      T_H,

      I hope that you do not vote.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Snow

      Ah.. how much research did you do in evolution theory to create your fairytale version of truth? your fist sentence proves you know zilch about that theory.. the reasons why your aforementioned "truths" are wrong would need mental caliber to understand the concept of genetic mutation..

      Now be a good sheep and go back to your book of fairy tales.. leave such discussions to intelligent people..

      January 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • John

      Go away.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • dan

      How old is the earth and when did he clap?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • momoya

      @PastorJeff

      Your opinion about evolutionary science aside, do you really see ANY logical structure in ANY of Truth_Hurts remarks? It's all just mumbo-jumbo non sequitur, you must recognize this.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Dr. Dr.

      TRUTH_HURTS,

      The results of your brain scan are in - they didn't find anything.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • tlarose

      A shiver runs down my spine to think that such willfull ignorance exists in the world today...

      January 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      @Truth, the only thing you've proven here is that you never paid attention in school. Monkeys and humans share the same ancestor, that doesn't mean that each time a new species is created, the old one necessarily dies off. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.

      So, I'm sorry, but the coexistence of two species doesn't disprove evolution.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Clarence Thomas

      "I can look at micro organisms under a microscope with a human eye, again no evolution."

      You should eat them not look at them. After all Germ Theory is just a Theory.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Ummmmm

      Just recently in the news the showed how sharks have been evolving, so it's happening in our lifetime.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • David

      You're basic argument here is "I don't understand how things work, therefore God must exist." Please tell me I don't have to explain what that means to you.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • TRUTH_HURTS

      @Momoya

      read Gensis 11

      If you have better / factual proof where all the languages came from, post it.

      Everytime man tries to out smart GOD, we lose. Be careful, there are accounts of man being changed into a donkey. No evolution. Just making an a.ss out of someone trying to prove GOD is wrong.

      You are real close... Hee haw. Hee Haw.... I hear you typing now....

      January 11, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      If you insist on understanding the universe based only on what you can see with your own eyes – and not your brain – then it must strike you as very odd to notice that you have no nose like nearly everyone else does.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Mortalc01l

      TRUTH_HURTS: Obviously the truth hurts YOUR brain! For all the bleating about how the Universe is SOOOOO complicated and so improbable that it MUST have been designed by God, I posit to you that in order for this to happen, your God must be infinitely more complex than the universe itself in order for him to have created it, therefore he is INFINITELY more improbable than the Universe spontaneously coming into existence!

      January 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Johnny Appleseed

      TRUTH_HURTS,

      Human-engineered apple hybrids and cultivars far exceed the quality of wild apples.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      You guys, don't be so mean to @truth_hurts, he's obviously just a kid. His baby brain has apparently already dropped out, and his adult brain hasn't grown in yet, so give him a break.

      Word of advice @truth... Genesis isn't a scholarly historical piece, it's a story. Languages evolved (sorry to use that word again) over tens of thousands of years because people separated from each other and formed unique societies, insulated from other groups, and each one developed its own language.

      Second word of advice, don't believe everything your preacher tells you. When you grow up, he's going to expect you to pay him a weekly salary - don't fall for it.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • TR6

      Protistants evolved from catholics. Why are there still catholics?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • tlarose

      @TR6 – That's the best one I've heard so far! i'm going to have to use that on my evangelical family! SWEET! :)

      January 11, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • cbinal

      @Ummm Really? New shark evolving in our lifetime? I read that article too. The person was tryin to make a name for themselves saying they discovered a new shark. That shark has been around longer than our lifetime and anyway it is called breeding, nothing evolved. You know like you take a Bulldog and a Shi Tsu and you get....

      January 11, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  10. J

    to deny the resurrection is to deny Christ... this man is in hell...make no mistake about it

    January 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      Only if you believe in fairy tales.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Regis990

      No he isn't.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Snow

      how do you think a body dead for 2 and half would smell/look like? especially in the area like Jerusalem?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      So if we don't believe in your "loving" god, he throws us into a burning pit of fire? Wow, sign me up for that religion!

      January 11, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Observer

      J,

      Does that mean that hell is reserved for the smartest people?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Snow

      Sounds like god is collecting dumb sheep who are incapable of thinking for themselves (or deny it).. I wonder why.. Hmm.. ever thought about that?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Snow: Good point

      @J: Wow!!! Ever heard of the god of the gaps argument?? It goes a little something like this...'Oh wow, that's amazing...I wonder how it came to be'....and instead of doing the right thing and looking for an answer, you sit back and take the easy, lazy way out and simply say 'Must have been god'.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      To deny the resurrection is to deny that the followers of Jesus exaggerated the fact that he didn't die right away after his execution. Big deal. Give me one reason why I should believe the scribblings of a handful of zealots from the first century.

      Really. Give me a reason. I'm all ears. People lie all the time. Why are these men suddenly an authority so significant that disbelieving their little scam is going to somehow change my afterlife?

      January 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • cbinal

      @EnjaySea I can give you one reason. Because these guys were insignificant nobodies until they met Jesus and then they helped change the world. We're still talking about them today.

      January 11, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      @cbinal, so I should believe them because they became famous? So I should believe "David After the Dentist" because he went viral? I don't think that qualifies as a reason.

      January 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • cbinal

      @EnjaySea Fame has nothing to do with it. Its what they left behind. Abraham just famous? Moses just famous? Ghandi just famous? Newton just famous? Einstein just famous?

      January 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Okay, okay @cbinal. It was your quote that I was responding to when you said that "we're still talking about them today". We're still talking about Joseph Smith today too, and he changed the world too. There are 13 million Mormons that follow his teachings, but he was exposed as a fraud.

      He's still a fraud regardless of the fact that he changed the world, and regardless of the fact that we're still talking about him. I choose not to believe him because he's a fraud, rather than choosing to believe him because he changed the world.

      January 11, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  11. twotonnewton

    Jefferson made up his own religion because he didn't like the others.

    Whatever.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Regis990

      Actually, if you read the article, you'd realize Jefferson was cutting thru the BS to get to the heart of message. Something Xtians today have absolutely no concept of how to do...unless hating gays, non-Xtians (Muslims, Mormons, atheists, etc...), and judging thy neighbor is the new message of Xtians.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  12. liberals go away!!!

    I tried to find the original banned version ancient copies of bible and dead sea scroll. Most of the bible you have today is fake. It produces false prophets. For example. Harold Camping predict the world end. King James bible is fakest bible known to a man. Why? The chapter is missing about Jesus in the cave; sodom and gomorrah; and lots of it.

    It possible to believe World war 2 and dark ages. Millions of old bible was burned and replace with devil's bible. King James bible was not written by John, Peter, Matthew, Parry, and Luke.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • liberals go away!!!

      What did I know about bible code? False Prophet....In Revelation code. It said that World War 3 would bring after peace 10,000 years. It is extremely false. Hypocrite. Deception. Advertisement Marketing.

      If you read the chapter "God will wipe away every tear". It sound like Jewish bible that killed Jesus. This is one the biggest lies all time. The real God does not do these thing. Jesus know how to get to God. No humans can talk to God without master level. King James bible. He didn't even meet God or went to temple of God.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Steve the Goat

      Not most, all of it is fake. Well, the paper and ink might be real, but the stories are just that, stories. There is no "truth" in the space ghost story books.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • liberals go away!!!

      Why King James bible is fake in modern times?

      It talks about four corners of the earth. If you look at today's Google maps. The earth is ROUND. Harold camping spend most of time doing math. He predict the world would end with great earthquakes. Nothing happened. King James bible is the art of destroying "Christ of Christ". King James bible was written by secret jewish priest. The anti-jesus christ.

      In King James bible...It talks about Christian should worshiping false prophets. You know Golden Calf. This is what they were doing. Not many people know it.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • TRH

      "Parry and Luke" ......Do you mean Luke Perry?

      January 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • TRH

      I suspect that English is not your primary language.

      January 13, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • TRH

      The King James bible was the third version of said holy book commissioned by The Church of England translated from the original Latin into English.

      As an aside, the bible was first translated in 1525 by one William Tyndale. For his trouble, he was branded a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church and executed. As for being a fake? Seems good enough for most Christians. But really, I don't care....I'm an atheist. But I DO so love history!

      January 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  13. lswife

    Towards the end of his life, Jefferson expressed a kind of hope in a gentle afterlife where he could be reunited with his wife Martha. Even though "his" Bible ended with Jesus being buried, he hoped there was something else beyond the tomb.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Thegoodman

      Children hope superheros are real too. That doesn't make it so.

      Even the most militant atheist would tell you its a pleasant thought to imagine living in bliss for eternity after death. Unfortunately there isn't a shred of proof to show any of this that this is the case.

      Don't believe in unicorns? Neither do I. Zeus? Neither do I. Krishna? Me neither. Jesus? See, we don't believe in all the same gods, except one. Atheism is the only logical route. Theism is for children, no matter how old they are.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • tlarose

      I wonder why he didn't want to be re-united with his slave/mistress Sally Hemmings. He has been proven to have fathered one of her children, and possibly all six of them.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  14. Ron Paul 2012!

    Jefferson is also credited with being the first US President to END THE FED!!!!

    Hopefully, Ron Paul will be the last.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Albert911emt

      Ron Paul is a nutcase.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • John

      Ron Paul and a peanut shell?Both nutcases!

      January 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • OMG, what an idiot

      There was NO FED, until the 20th Century. Hahahaha.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  15. Tom

    You guys ever thought that if there is a God you would all be in big trouble? Ignorance is not an excuse...

    January 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • momoya

      Which god do you mean? Or do you assume what most people do, that the god they envision is the one that persists in their particular geography/society? And if you mean the god of the bible, then why isn't ignorance some sort of excuse? Why does he torture eternally some small child who never even heard of him? Why would a loving god torture people who never even heard of him?

      January 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Oh, so you also believe in Zeus, Aphrodite, Sol, Metis, Perses, Allah, Osirus? Oh, you don't? Well then you're an atheist too, and will be going straight to hell. The only difference between you and me is that I believe in one less god than you do.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Of course, what I meant to say is that I disbelieve in one more god than you, but probably you got that..

      January 11, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  16. chrism

    Jefferson believed in God and Jesus Christ. He was just similar to Bart Ehrman or James Crossan, he doubted some of the attributions. "Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically." – Stanton, Graham. The Gospels and Jesus. Oxford University Press, 2002; first published 1989, p. 145. Science, as Einstein said, provides evidence for a God creating the universe. George LeMaitre who proved the big bang using Einstein's equations was a catholic priest. There is literally nothing in science against God and it is ironic that many atheists are forced to argue against what science shows to justify their blind faith by saying things like – 1. an explosion came from nothing, 2. even though it is pure conjecture that a sea of virtual particles existed prior to the big bang, I will state it did so I can state a virtual particle exploded into all the matter and energy in the universe, 3. despite the incomprehensible unlikelihood of random chance producing constants and low entropy conditions for a life-permitting universe, such unlikelihood is the best explanation, 4. as this random hodgepodge of matter and energy continued after its explosion, by random chance it assembled itself into a complex machine able to self-replicate, 5. by a series of trillions of "lucky and random" mutations which obviously were quite beneficial and hence were selected, life blindly evolved to produce conscious, intelligent beings, 6. despite evolution only selecting for what is best for survival, and exerting considerable pressure against mutations that lead to wastes of energy, human beings in nearly all cultures independently sensed something spiritual and greater, wasted enormous amounts of time seeking and writing about what they experienced, 7. that we today though we believe we are here in the present now, conscious of where we are, really are just a random assortment of the molecules that has tricked itself into believing it is even conscious for consciousness is just an epiphenomenon of algorithms and processes and we are just "on" like a computer is and don't realize it.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • HellBent

      "Jefferson believed in God and Jesus Christ."

      Careful – he believed that Jesus the person existed, but he most certainly did not believe in the divinity of Jesus.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Hybridhor

      That is an impressive way of looking at the existence of God. Very nice.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • chrism

      Jefferson was one of the founders of the Virginia Bible Society and contributed liberally to the distribution of the complete, unedited, traditional Bible. For years prior to the 1804 work, Jefferson had taken an active role in promoting Christianity among the Indians. He not only signed numerous federal laws to that end but also carried on a correspondence about the subject with several ministers and government officials. The so-called Jefferson Bible did include miracles, such as Jesus command to His disciples to heal the sick and raise the dead, the account of the resurrection of Jarius daughter, the healing of the bleeding woman, the healing of two blind men, the casting out of a demon, and other acts of a miraculous and supernatural nature.

      Jefferson wrote to his friend, the Rev. Charles Clay: Probably you have heard me say I had taken the four Evangelists, had cut out from them every text they had recorded of the moral precepts of Jesus, and arranged them in a certain order; and although they appeared but as fragments, yet fragments of the most sublime edifice of morality which had ever been exhibited to man.

      Unfortunately, all those who have published the Jefferson Bible since 1903 have been almost universally either Unitarian or rationalist and secular in their approach, and their introductions to the book have. . . . misrepresented Jefferson’s motivations and beliefs to conform to their own theological assumptions or agendas.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • tlarose

      Have you ever watched the Matrix? They didn't know there was nothing more out there, either...

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

      Lets see your argument that "There is literally nothing in science against God"

      – Angels impregnating a virgin girl
      – a man dies but resurrected 3 days later
      – burning bush talks
      – a dude picked up two of EVERY species in a boat
      – a lady turns into a piller of salt..
      – water to wine
      – "Lazarus, wake up"

      enough things that are absolutely impossible without blind faith? or do you want me to continue the list?

      Fact of the matter, and you would do anything to deny it.. is that your average religion requires blind faith in its stories. Science attempts to point them out how stupid those beliefs are and you hate it for that to the degree that you attempt to discredit science by any way.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Mike

      Explaining something you don't understand with something else you can't explain isn't an explanation. To say the Big Bang came from nothing says only that our understanding has limits. Why is that unacceptable? That's the nature of Science. We look for answers, always building on our understanding. How does it help to invoke something even more inexplicable (God)?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • mary

      you say a lot that counts to zero

      January 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Chrism,
      Hi Dr. C.....(my friend was talking about you, and told me you were a physician)....
      Anyway, Dr. Ehrman, while believing in the historicity of Jesus, does not "believe", would not agree he was the "Christ", and in the final chapter of "Jesus, Interrupted", and in "God's Problem", explains why he is no longer a "believer". Love his books. Just to clarify.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • chrism

      Snow, would you agree with this argument... Science does not say anything against God. It is only that science as we know it does not explain the events you listed. What you refer to could simply be called "supernatural" or above and/or beyond the natural. Science makes no claim that the supernatural cannot exist. It only duly notes such things *may* be beyond science. Of course it may some day turn out we learn more about science, including how such events could occur through "natural" processes we were just unaware of. Or, it could turn out such processes would have no "natural" mechanism and only be explained by a direct intervention of God.

      I will say for example, we are used to dealing with energy that is interchangeable with what we call matter. Suppose energy could exist in other forms. Suppose even the energy we know could "interact" with other "substances" – say whatever angels are "made of?" Again who is to say what else can or does exist? Doesn't M-theory suppose 11 dimensions? There is no basis in science to exclude other dimensions or realms existing even right alongside or in connection with ours. In fact, one could say science even demands them, for according to pure "naturalism" our universe somehow "popped up" so whatever substance, energy, mechanisms "exist" for this to occur, it is almost required that such things not be limited to within our 4 dimensional spacetime.

      Is this all conjecture? Sure! A lot of it is. I don't claim to know how it all works, I really don't. But I see no reason either to call Angels foolish. Nor do I see reason to think Jesus was a deluded madman, or that a God could not perform supernatural miracles. The virgin birth is quite a miracle, is it not? But what makes it so fantastic? Isn't it just how very much would be required to plan and do such an event? I'm sure to a small insect, engineers assembling a nuclear power plant would be so incomprehensible as to be only the work of God. Who is to say such a powerful intelligence could not do such a thing? And there you go we are left with us being here as conscious intelligent beings, as incomprehensibly unexplainable as it is, and so a scientist says well all of this happened mechanistically by natural processes and random events. And the theist says, it happened by planned events and guidance through a powerful, intelligent being.

      Finally, by the way, if you prefer you can take the position of some that there could be insertions. What if there were. What if Jesus turning water to wine really was a didactic, non-literal claim aimed to show others only that Jesus was superior to what they believed. There are indeed many who believe in a historical core and later changes. At minimum, then why not begin there for most historians accept it. As someone else posted a few pages back, how likely is it that a few illiterate fishermen, a tax collector, a Jew from Tarsus would get together and start and die for this brand new belief? Surely they saw and heard something that convinced them. What was it then?

      January 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • chrism

      Hi Bucky Ball, actually no I didn't state I am a practicing physician. I am an MD and work in clinical research. Anyway, I didn't say Ehrman believed Jesus was the Christ, and I am already well aware Ehrman says he now considers himself an agnostic in regards to his Christian beliefs. I only stated Ehrman was similar to Jefferson in that they believe in there are insertions and attributions.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • tlarose

      Science doesn't need to address god, as it is not trying to disprove him. Science gives rational, explainable, provable theories to counter the mythology that religion created to explain what stone-age man couldn't understand.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • chrism

      Mike, of course there is *absolutely* nothing unacceptable with stating our understanding has limits – that's quite what every Christian says! What Christian have you heard claim to understand the "how" of how God created the universe much less understand God or many things we accept on faith. My point originally, if you will go back, was simply that science says nothing against God. I also believe (as did Einstein, LaMaitre, Newton, Kepler, Aristotle and many others) that the universe shows evidence for God.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Rose

      Funny that a "god" can't put together a book that we can consistently interpret. Or that he needs such antiquated tech to get his message out and can't renew the message without a variety of conflicting translations resulting. Ludicrous, in fact. God needs to join the internet era. Well, he would, but he doesn't exist.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Rose

      You mean you are a patient in a clinic. Sure, your statement was a minor mistranslation, just like the bible is made from.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • chrism

      Rose, regarding your "Funny that a "god" can't put together a book that we can consistently interpret. Or that he needs such antiquated tech to get his message out and can't renew the message without a variety of conflicting translations resulting"

      Who is to say we can't consistently interpret the bible. It seems to me it has been for thousands of years – the Jews have interpreted the old testament for approximately 4000, and the catholic church for approximately 2000. Yes, it has been translated into different languages. And there have been some translations that have been questionable and later corrected but isn't that more because of us humans? And it seems we got it corrected, so maybe God entrusted that much to us because we are capable. I think it is clear God has revealed Himself to us and spoken to us in ways we can understand. And the apostles and first disciples believed, took great pains to write down, and willingly died for what they saw and heard.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • chrism

      Rose, and addendum, I am very sorry of course I left out something very important, and should not have said God simply entrusted it to us. He is constantly there helping us know correctly. The Holy Spirit guides us throughout these last approximately 2000 years to understand scripture.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • So

      "He is constantly there helping us know correctly. The Holy Spirit guides us throughout these last approximately 2000 years to understand scripture."

      Oh you mean like the scribes changing and adding the text. Everyone knows the story about Jesus and the woman about to be stoned by the mob. This account is only found in John 7:53-8:12. The mob asked Jesus whether they should stone the woman (the punishment required by the Old Testament) or show her mercy. Jesus doesn’t fall for this trap. Jesus allegedly states, let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her. The crowd dissipates out of shame. That story was not originally in the Gospel of John or in any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes. The story is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Nor does its writing style comport with the rest of John. Most serious textual critics state that this story should not be considered part of the Bible.

      After Jesus died, Mary Magdalene and two other women came back to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, according to Mark 16:1-2). They were met by a man in a white robe who told them that Jesus had been raised and was no longer there. The women fled and said nothing more to anyone out of fear (16:4-8). Everyone knows the rest of Mark’s Gospel, of course. The problem with the remainder of the story is that none of it was originally in the Gospel of Mark. It was added by a later scribe.

      January 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • chrism

      So, I'm not arguing you raise a potentially valid point. I have read commentaries that note differences between the oldest manuscripts and what came to be accepted. The differences do not appear to be so great imo. And it does not mean what was added was wrong, for indeed Mark is more of a final draft of what is believed to be an earlier Markan source and a Q sources, and perhaps additional testimony from St. Peter directly. The gospel of John directly states Jesus did and said much that was not written down. And then indeed, given Jesus' words that God would send the Holy Spirit to guide us, it would seem God would let us know then if any verses are true or do not belong.

      By the year 150 we can see in writings of the church fathers that there were already the 4 gospels accepted, so this happened long before the council of Nicea in 325 AD. The writings of St. Paul demonstrate that what is in the gospels was already widely believed in the mid first century. Again there is no reason to suspect so many changes would have taken place. And God willing, if the Christian is attentive to God, they will be guided to know the truth of the verses.

      January 11, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  17. Chris Highland

    An impressive work by an impressive, scholar President (rare as that is). His cut and paste approach is nothing new to critical students of the bible, yet it should shake some from their dogmatic slumber, especially given our pulpiteering politicians. Here's to Jefferson, and his friend, Thomas Paine.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  18. Marthalynne Webb

    I love the circular arguments of religion. They go something like this –
    Who made the world, daddy?
    God.
    How do we know that, daddy?
    It's in the bible.
    Who wrote the bible, daddy?
    God.
    I started asking questions when I was 5 years old at my brother's baptism. I am now 69 years old and no one has ever answered those questions to my satisfaction. The guilt and shame bit was effective though. Then it is topped off with a load of "Jesus loves you." How do parents rationalize brainwashing their kids until they have zero critical thinking skills. That's abuse.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Henry

      Flying Spaghetti Monster.

      I am glad I could wrap that up for you.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • justme

      if you really want the truthful answers to those questions go to watchtower.org or contact Jehovah's Witnesses in your area and please don't listen to any negative remarks from the geniuses on this page before you do. that is if you are sincere about your questions.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Stu in Iowa

      Great, now I'm hungry.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Regis990

      @henry well said, kudos!

      January 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Regis990

      @justme No, if I want to be rudely awakened at 8am on a Saturday morning, I'd rather my neighbor do it by mowing his lawn...and not JW's knocking on my door.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Hybridhor

      "I am now 69 years old and no one has ever answered those questions to my satisfaction"
      If you really want spritual enrichment in your life, then why don't you do the research for yourself. Perhaps attend a mass
      for a few months. I am Catholic and left the church for 10 years. Decided to go back to church to give it a second try. And something happened. A light shone into my soul and gave back to me my musical creativity. I found God because I asked. Perhaps something can happen to you. But you have to want it.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • justme

      regis, if you ask nice, they will come whenever you want. i did and they do and even mow my lawn.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  19. Tom

    I am probably being too optimistic but perhaps this will result in the present day religious fanatics acknowledging that they and they alone are responsible for the bizarre belief systems and stop trying to put it on the 'founding fathers'.

    Yeah probably way too optimistic.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Teri

      yes, probably being waaaay too optimistic..but we can dream, can we not?

      January 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  20. liberals go away!!!

    IS this real original copied of bible? Where to get it? King James Bible is fake and worst bible ever printed.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Stu in Iowa

      Idiots go away!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      January 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • justme

      wow, someone with accurate information, now see my comment above to marthalynn webb.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Yeah! Let's use Schlafly's Conservative Bible instead – the TRUE word of God.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • justme

      answered on jeopardy, most accurate translation "New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures" check it out. you may learn something

      January 11, 2012 at 4:40 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.