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The Jefferson Bible and its Implications

Posted in Book Reviews, Editorials on March 8th, 2012

Recently, I completed a very interesting book, entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, also known by the simpler title, The Jefferson Bible.

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, undertook a very interesting project that most people would never contemplate: he edited the Bible. The Bible is a very hard read, in the final analysis. It has been translated and re-translated, it repeats itself, it contradicts itself, and it is full of events no one can corroborate. Jefferson, an avowed deist, was hostile to organized religion, yet believed in a creator. He decided to take several copies of the bible -written in Greek, Latin, French, and English- and literally cut and paste the Gospel passages that focused on Jesus and his teachings into another book.

The edited gospels are a much more coherent read. Jesus is born, he lives, he teaches, and dies. In this edition, he does not cure blindness, turn water into wine, or come back from the dead. Did I mention it is never implied or stated he is the son of God?

Now why is this important, today? It gives the lie to the idea that the founding fathers were a monolithic group of devout Christians. Additionally, any Christian who followed this pared-down version of the Gospel would enjoy freedom from the cognitive dissonance that plagues their faith. They might even wish to give the same treatment to the Old Testament, to remove the perplexing passages where God orders them to hate gays and masturbation, as well as avoid lobster and mixed fibers.

Jefferson’s project also is not without precedent. All widely-read printings of the Bible have been edited to some degree. His project is also not without imitators. The contributors at “Conservapedia”, a Far-Right-Wing Wiki, (I won’t link to their site) are editing the Bible in an on-going project to prove that modern Conservative thought is fully supported by the Bible. Of course, they are not as smart as Thomas Jefferson.

Just because something was written by a President does not automatically make it correct -that is an argument to authority, and a fallacy. However, The Jefferson Bible is a suggestion to all believers. Maybe scriptures really are a book of stories, but that wouldn’t make the lessons any less true. Maybe scriptures encourage cruel actions, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen, when you know the orders are unjust.

The Bible says men shouldn’t spill their seed on the ground, and wives must submit to their husbands. People really should trust themselves, and refuse to obey such commands, which they know can only cause suffering. What a depressing life you’d have to live, obeying the orders of a God that hates you.

2 Responses to “The Jefferson Bible and its Implications”

  1. Sheri Says:

    The Bible does have it’s issues, but mostly when it is taken literally and the books are read out of their historical context. I know not everyone agrees with this, but this is how I was taught about the bible in my confirmation class. And this was by a Catholic priest, which shocked me at the time, as up until then, I had been told to read the stories as literal history. In this class, I was taught that the Bible is an attempt by man to understand the relationship between God and man, and as time progressed and culture changed, the lessons changed as well (look at how different the old and new testaments are). Many of the stories are highly apocryphal and contain symbols that were well known when the stories were written, but now the meanings have been lost and they are wrongfully taken literally. Also, the books were often written as inspiration to oppressed people to give them hope and direction. He described the old testament as a way that people tried to keep society in line. In fact, some people believe the Kosher laws may have been written to help people avoid food related illnesses. A lot of the crazy teachings are also related to how barbaric society was at the time, like the references to slaves, murder, all that wonderful stuff. That was what society was like, and that was the only way people at the time could understand and relate to the stories. Even the laws about obeying your husband, not masturbating, no homosexuality are considered by some to just be ways that the books were trying to get people to have as many children as possible, and therefore spread the religion.
    The books worked for the societies they were written for, and to apply the literal stories to today is just unreasonable. I had no idea that Jefferson wrote his own version, but from what you have said, I think it’s really a step in the right direction. He tried to make the lessons more relatable to the current society, which, as I was taught, was the whole point of the Bible in the first place!

  2. Adam Lee Says:

    Here’s what Thomas Jefferson said about the project:

    “The whole history of [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.”

    Just one more reason why he could never get elected today, I’m afraid. 🙂

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