The Bible as Thomas Jefferson Read Jesus’ Life
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Six years before his death in 1826, Thomas Jefferson constructed a text for his own personal library, which he often read each night for 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth — commonly referred to as The Jefferson Bible — is a compendium of clippings from the four gospels of the New Testament. The former president and author of the Declaration of Independence cut passages from six texts composed in four languages — English, French, Greek, and Latin — and pasted them in separate columns, side by side, so that he could study and compare the different translations.
The 77-year-old Deist believed Jesus’ life and teachings to be “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” But Jefferson was a product of the Enlightenment and was skeptical of the four authors of the Gospels. He intended to tell a chronological version of Jesus’ life, eliminating the passages that appeared “contrary to reason.” There’s no resurrection story at the closing of Jefferson’s Bible; the tomb is shut.
As outlined in the video above, Jefferson’s Bible has undergone a meticulous conservation process and is now being displayed through May 28, 2012 at the Albert Small Documents Gallery in the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. If you can’t make the trip, or even if you can, be sure to check out the online exhibition, which provides high-quality, zoomable photographic images of each of the 84 pages of The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. And they’re all transcribed too!
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 classed 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.