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.
I work for the U.S. government. Even though Good Friday has not yet been a federal goverment, it is de-facto a holiday; half of the business that day is still halted, so it's not regular day anyway. We all leave early, and many Christians don't work that day. Since it's a holiday in 135 countries & 11 states, we cannot do regular business that day. So do not consider 'Good Friday' to be regular day in the U.S. Most private sectors/companies and public schools closed down on Good Friday anyway.
the United States has the world's largest Christian population, of more than 247 million (~80% of the pop.), followed by Brazil and Mexico.
Read more: http://www.city-data.com/forum/religion-philosophy/1452820-cnn-christianity-goes-global-worlds-largest.html#ixzz1jCUeYRZv
So what? That does not make it a Christian nation. There are more Republicans in the United States than anywhere else; are you going to suggest that it is therefore a Republican nation?
the United States is a republic.
No wonder Pet Rocks were such a big hit in the 70's.
Gee, and this proves what, exactly, Jeshu? Are citizens REQUIRED to be Christian? To observe Christian holidays? To attend a Christian church? Are those who are NOT Christian deprived of rights? Punished?
Get real, dude.
JESUS CHRIST IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, THE LOVE.
Then he lights you on fire and sends you to hell.
That's what priest have been saying to young boys for centuries. I bet the young boys prayed to Jesus that the priests would stop raping them. How has that worked out for the young boys? If anyone neede to be "saved" and if Jesus or God really wanted to prove their power, that would have been a really fantastic opportunity to step and perform a miracle. Instead it happened for centruries and continues even now. Halleluja!
sorry momoya that choice is yours to make.
What prompted you to post such a thing? I don't even know what to call it. A drive-by sermon? And you do realize that using all-caps makes you look like an idiot, right?
OK I will admitt that the U.S. is predominately a Christian nation. Are you theist happy now?
That is incorrect. The United States is in no way a Christian nation. It is a nation with Christians in it.
Not happy. Very few Christians act like Christians or do as commanded by Christ. Just say we think we are a religeous nation but based on actions there is no way to tell.
You don't have to agree that America is a Christian nation,you can be wrong if you want to be.
At the current rate of decline, in every single state, Christianity is estimated to be a minority by 2040. Non-religion is the fastest growing group in the US.
Post by fred is the No True Scotsmen fallacy.
Some notable atheists who were incredibly unhealthy to people were Stalin,Papa Joe There's a good family man to model your belief system after. Adolf Hitler and Pol pot.You are in great company.
Another fallacy. What a shock.
Prayer changes things
yes it does, none of it good......
No it doesn't. You can pray to a rock and get the same random results. Atheism is plenty healthy, we are not the ones with imaginary friends.
You said prayer changes things. I'll bet a paycheck that if you get a christian of your choosing that has lost any part of their anatomy and fire up your prayer chain and pray to restore whatever part of the anatomy that person lost it will never regenerate itself.
But isn't it funny at your church all kinds of "true christians" profess that their prayers were answered after they recovered from sickness, unemployment, and lost car keys.
and i could offer that 100 years ago a severed limb was lost forever but now with knowledge given to mankind by God many of those limbs are reattached. There are people working in the field of regeneration right now. When God gives mankind the final breakthrough in that science what else will you have to complain about?
Oh, brother. Talk about reaching. Pun intended.
I wonder, justsayin, what will you do when intelligent life is discovered on other planets, and the inhabitants don't believe anything even slightly resembling what you do?
Really? Atheism is bad for children? How to do you know this? Are you a doctor and have you tried some sort of experiment that can substantiate your claims? Let me tell you that my family is Atheist and we teach our children to treat others like they want to be treated and to not judge others because they are different. Something that Christians do all the time because they feel that they're above others and have the right to judge and spread hate in the name of their God. All while they cheat, steal, kill. But hey, as long as I get to do some holy marries and confess I'm good to go for another round. right! SHUT UP.
tom tom the pipers son
stole a pig and did it because he wanted that pig right now
and he couldn't wait until the pig was given to him
and anyone who disagreed with tom or
tried to show tom Truth
tom tom would just go into a hissy fit
Poor dumb tom
"but now with knowledge given to mankind by God many of those limbs are reattached"
Uh, what knowledge is that? Experimentation and research carried out by people? That eventually leads to medical breakthroughs? Or do you mean things like covering ones eyes with mud to cure blindness, or washing in the river to cure leprosy, or casting out demons to cure mental illness? You don't even truly believe, do you? I bet you go to a doctor when you're sick. Hypocrite.
@just sayin:”and i could offer that 100 years ago a severed limb was lost forever but now with knowledge given to mankind by God many of those limbs are reattached. “
God did not give us anything. This was all hard won knowledge by scientists. The success of limbs being attached has nothing to do with prayer, god or belief and I triple dog dare you to prove otherwise.
If this was a “gift” from god, why doesn’t it work every time? If god wanted to, give us this gift, why didn’t he do it 2000 year ago when JC so desperately needed to leave evidence of his existence?
If you truly believe, because jesus says in the bible “if you truly believe and ask, it will be done”, go ahead and cut your arm off, burry it for 3 days just like your savior and then “resurrect” it and see if your doctors will be given enough knowledge by god to reattach it.
80% are Christians in the U.S. which is fairly large enough to consider it a Christian nation.
Yep. Now if only they would stop playing the persecution card.
Incorrect. That makes it a nation with Christians in it; it does NOT make it a Christian nation. The difference isn't even subtle.
It doesn't matter how many christians there are in the US. It may "contain" christians, but we have a secular government. The two things have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.
It's actually more like 78%. 51% of which are protestant. So, does that make it a Protestant Christian Nation by default too? I prefer the idea that we are all Americans, free to practice (or not) and religion. The way you make it sound is that because most people are Christians, then anyone that isn't, needs to just step aside, shut up and let you have your way. Somwhow, I don't think that's what any of the founding fathers were going for.
If the government is secular, why do they favor Christian holidays and not any Jewish, Muslims or Hindus? Why is God mentioned in our motto and money?
Holiday[S]? The US only lists one Federal holiday that overlaps with Christian practice: Christmas. No others. Interestingly, this is the one holiday that many Christian sects believe should NOT be celebrated. It derives from ancient midwinter celebrations and is now effectively a secular holiday.
The number is CONSIDERABLY smaller when you count people who actually LIVE the principles they claim to hold so dear!
What about Good Friday which is a holiday in 11 states. Easter Sunday is a flag day. Things closes down for Easter & Christmas, not for Yom Kippur or Eid.
Only Jehovas Vittnesses don't celebrate Christmas, all other Christian denominations do. However, some Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas in January, but that's few only. CHRISTmas is a Christian holiday!
I work for the U.S. government. Even though Good Friday has not yet been a federal goverment, half of the business that day is still halted, so it's not regular day anyway. We all leave early, and many Christians don't work that day. Since it's a holiday in 135 countries & 11 states, we cannot do regular business that day.
Good Friday and Easter are not Federal holidays. You're trying to claim that the NATION is somehow Christian. Try this on for size, as difficult as it may be: observance is not enforcement.
@Jeshu, these holidays are observed because of how many christians there are in the US. If we were a theocracy as the christians would love it be, then we would be forced to celebrate these holidays, and prohibited from celebrating those of other faiths - that's the difference.
Happily, I have the right and the privilege to ignore Christmas and Easter, which I do, every single year. Try that in a theocracy.
I find it hilarious when both fundamentalists and the more ignorant side of atheism (certainly not the whole crowd, mind you) try to claim Thomas Jefferson as a brother in belief.
He was a brother in the sense that he questioned the orthodoxy presented him by the religious elite, there are very few atheist who are totally against everything about religion, rather most are skeptics or agnostics that don't buy into the the more radical/ludicrous portions of the bible, and who firmly believe that the bible doesn't come directly from god.
Yes, chrism/George, how ABOUT letting the nation work out as it has been–which is as a secular nation with a separation between church and state?
Pure twaddle from the Christian Broadcasting Network. It's the theocratic equivalent of a Michael Moore film.
Spend a few hours researching how theocratic rule worked out for Europe in the middle ages. Do you really want to do this again? Really?
Great video. And SixDegrees, get real. "Twaddle?" You realize to claim that you'd have to basically deny the founding fathers even said what they said. Michael Moore works by association and loose connection. You don't deny the Christianity of Washington and Adams when they declare it for themselves. You don't deny the scriptural references of the founding fathers when they quote them themselves.
Enjay, how about letting the country work out as it has, as a Christian nation, as the video notes really the first in history where the power comes directly from God to the individual and cannot be taken away by the state.
And you don't make the leap from such pronouncements to the unwarranted, unsupported and flat-out false notion that America is a Christian nation. It is precisely the same bait-and-switch Moore employs, from a source just as deeply biased and intent on distortion as he is.
@chrism, you live in a secular nation, which happens to be chock-full of christians. Saying that the government is christian, doesn't cause it to be true.
chrism – I don't know about many of the Founding fathers but I do know about the Adams. They were deist and a good Christian of today, like you, wouldn't recognize them as Christians. Deist did not believe in the Trinity, they did not believe that Christ was God incarnate. In a letter to John when he was in France Abigail wrote. "John, I know you have ask me to join the Congregational Church, but the one plus one plus one makes one will never make sense to me. We just can’t waste our precious time in pursuit of such nonsense. " She also said "when will Mankind be convinced that true Religion is from the Heart, between Man and his creator, and not the imposition of Man or creeds and tests?" Like many early Unitarians she discounted sectarian claims and was "assured that those who fear God and work righteousness shall be accepted of him, and that I presume of what ever sect or persuasion."
It is obvious that he is taking philosophy from the bible. Plus, all these "Christian Nation" fools on here, you want to live in a theocracy? How about you go live in Iran, Iraq, or hell any of those trapped in the middle ages countries in the east? I happen to enjoy my freedoms here. I also hope you enjoy the right to even be able to practice your religion here. So grow some tolerance and accept others, and stop thinking you are some superior being because you "found god" Which most pedophiles and criminals do while they are in jail.. ;)
It's a difference between Christian and Islamic theocracy. Christianity has no laws or rules regards to dietary laws, strict sabbath, clothing law or anything unlike most of the Islamic theocracy. What many religious people want is that nonbelievers must accept the truth that America was founded as Christian nation, and not godless nation!
Leah, regardless of wether you think this country was founded as a christian nation or not. There is a nice little law I like to remind folks of, the seperation of Chruch and State. Now wether you agree with that law or not is not relevant. This country was founded and inhambited throughout time, by multiple races, creeds etc. To place the idea of it being just a Christian nation would put all the rest of the religions and non-believers in a sect group of being foreigners in a sense. In which case they are not. We are Americans, We can believe what we will. The reason for the comment about going to a theocracy was not to compare islam to christianity. I am not stupid I know they are two different things. But if this country was a so called "christian theocracy" (since apparently they run this country, who knew?) I think things would be a hell of a lot different then what they are.
Thank you Glenda, if you were reffering to my comment. :D
Leah you might want to read the Treaty of Tripoli and spend some time in a class focused on U.S. Government
Leah, you're not even close to being correct.
Just a little help if you need it theists. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Tripoli Article 11 of this, educate yourself.
LOL you're giving me a wikipedia source? Must be the biggest joke of the year! I don't care what's it's written on "treaty" whatever sh.it you're referring it to be written by nonsense atheists as 'new' testament. USA is and will always be a Christian nation. If you don't like it MOVE!!!!
. Leah doesn't even know anything about her own religion, she will show herself to be an imbecile, just wait.
Nope. I'll stay here and vote as I believe. Stick that in your pipe, Leah.
I'm sorry Leah, the wikipedia article was the only thing you took from my comments. You are blind. If you fools rise up and start persicuting people for not believing in your nonsense. I will be the first one to spit in your face. I am an American, My family has been here for years. It is NOT a christian nation. Do you know what freedom is? do you? you don't live free. you live in chains based on mythological angels and demons. I will never move from my home. I will also not be told how to live my life or how I should think. Tolerance why can't any of your Christian morons get it? You whine about how you get treated all the time no one respects you...I got news for you, its the other way around. If there weren't tons of moron theists on here blabbing about how this is a christian nation yada yada yada, you obviously didn't read the article. Just because Jefferson was putting together his own bible does not make this a christian nation. If you can really read, it said that he didn't have a sect, idiot.
Betcha Leah uses Leviticus to condemn gays but thinks the Bible has no restrictions on clothing of polyester and cotton.
There's a warning in the book of Revelation (the last book in the Bible) about altering the Bible. We are not to add to it, nor take away from it. Yikes! I bet Jefferson is wishing he took heed to this warning.
I don't think skeletons worry much about anything.
I bet he's not, since he's dead and his consciousness no longer exists.
Apparently, the Council of Nicaea didn't get that message, either, when they picked and chose amongst the dozens of scriptures circulating at the time and selected the four now in use in the New Testament, after rather heavy editing and rearranging.
Are you sure?
walt, do some research on how the bible was smushed together from all sorts of sources and many portions discarded–years after Revelation was written.
It was common practice for scribes who made copies of the bible to include passages like that because they knew it was common practice for other scribes to make changes to the scriptures they were copying.
Well...you forgot about the part that Revelations itself was NOT part of the officially recognized Bible! It was considered Canon in 397AD at the Council of Carthage, but even as late as the 16th century, some religious leaders such as Martin Luther disagreed with its inclusion in the Bible! Also remember that ALL religions, including Christianity, have been changed (or perverted) by rulers, clergy and politicians to suit their needs to control the masses...so a line saying "dont change this or you will burn in hell" is right in line with someone who DID change the Bible to suit their needs at the time!
Your guys missed that part too. I guess all you really know about your book is what your preacher has told you about it.
David Silverman, president of American Atheists is Jewish... just to let you know
David Silverman was perhaps born to Jewish parents, but judging by the position he holds with American Atheists and his regular statements about religion, I would say he's an atheist.
It's all "historical mythmaking"...isn't that obvious? The gospels were written 40 – 70+ years after the recorded events, and the old testament was written more like 700 years after...and the purpose was not accuracy but to control the masses. Yeah...let's take every word as the precise truth! Insane. As the layers of the onion of religion get peeled back, one can go all the way to the core without a shred of evidence that ANY of it is other than a mythical embellishment of normal reality. We're on our own here on Earth – noone's coming to bail us out. We'd better stop screwing it all up!
And that's what's amazing to me. You will find religious people arguing with you about every last individual detail of the bible, picking an choosing pieces of it, rationalizing it, etc... But they can't step back and look at the forest and realize that the whole thing is a tall tail, that with their help, will keep on growing.
Did you bother reading the article?
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us... Luke 1:1-2
"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.
Funny, chrism, doesn't say a thing about Jesus being "divine" or "God", does it?
Dam you, Jesus! Leggo my Eggo, you little ba$tard!!!
I love the "report" button. Remember FBI tracks everything you post here :)
psst LA...you have no sense of humor...plus it isn't nice to threaten people that make harmless humorous comments. Get a life....oh and report THIS! ;) *kiss kiss*
And last I heard, there were no laws that keep someone from mocking another person's religious figures. If you think the FBI cares about someone's snide mockery of the late JC, then you need to refold your tinfoil hat so that it's less tight. Blocking off blood-flow to the brain is not healthy.
Jefferson did what ALL CHRISTIANS and other religious fanatics do. He picked and chose the parts he liked and threw out the parts that either didn't makes sense, he disagreed with, were contradictory or were irrelevant. The difference is, he did it in a rational and literal way by physically slicing out the parts he didn't need or want. He was more honest with himself about it than the anti-intellectual cool-aid drinkers. Whereas today's Christ-ers skim over those things in the Bible that are inherently wrong, contradcitory, hypocritical or just plain preposterous and pretend they're not there. They fool themselves.
"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
"If there is a God, atheism must seem to Him as less of an insult than religion.”
Hey you should get your author right. That quote is from Sir Stephen Henry Roberts. NOT George Bush
LOL> That is hysterical. George Bush is not intelligent to say something like that.
Yeah, not bad. It,s a shame the republicans ( and democrats too) who call themselves christians act nothing like christ
George Bush: “No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.”
Thats why at the end of his term, even his own party wanted to put distance from him.. he is your hero? gee..
Famous Bushisms...straight from the mouth of a genius
10) "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream." —LaCrosse, Wis., Oct. 18, 2000
9) "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family." —Greater Nashua, N.H., Jan. 27, 2000
8) "I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft." —second presidential debate, St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 8, 2004
7) "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully." —Saginaw, Mich., Sept. 29, 2000
6) "You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." —to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005
5) "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." —Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004
4) "They misunderestimated me." —Bentonville, Ark., Nov. 6, 2000
3) "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" —Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000
2) "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." —Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004
1) "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." —Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
Yep, yep. We already knew that Bush was a fanatical nitwit.
That was Bush #41.
is it odd, that a nice journalist could introduce this revelation, and stand back and watch as we slam each other over a dead mans inner struggles..and close to an election too??
It isn't much of a revelation. The Jefferson Bible has been in print for decades, and can be downloaded or ordered at Amazon.
Christianity is nothing but LOVE. I was born and raised secular Atheist but plan to convert to Christianity hopefully soon. I love Jesus teaching and his quotes. "Love your enemies" "Love your neighbor". Jesus is lovely!
Thanks for the laugh.
Isn't it against your faith to lie? Shame on you!
That's nice. So what?
Oh gee you forgot all the "Judgmental" att.itude you need to grow to be a true christian.. without that you are going to fail buddy
We already have a word for LOVE. It's love.
Something makes me think you're actually a Christian just pretending to have been raised an atheist. You do realize that 'atheist' shouldn't be capitalized, right? And what other type of atheist is there than a secular one? Don't you Christians have some rule against lying...
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