Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thomas Jefferson's Cut-and-Paste Bible

By Stephen Prothero

The book that the Smithsonian is preparing to put on display is actually one of two Jefferson Bibles. Jefferson produced the first over the course of a few days in 1804. Not long after completing the Louisiana Purchase, he sat down in the White House with two Bibles and one razor, intent on dividing the true words of Jesus from those put into his mouth by 'the corruptions of schismatising followers.

The result was 'The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth': a severely abridged text (now lost) that, like the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, consisted entirely of Jesus' sayings. In this 'precious morsel of ethics,' as Jefferson put it, Jesus prayed to God and affirmed the afterlife, but he was not born in a manger and did not die to atone for anyone's sins.

In 1820, after retiring from public life, Jefferson produced a second scripture by subtraction—the book that is now being restored in D.C. In 'The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,' he again sought to excise passages 'of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, or superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications.' Read the entire article.

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