The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth

By Thomas Jefferson

2,341 ratings - 3.83* vote

Thomas Jefferson believed that the pure-principled teachings of Jesus should have been separated from the dogma and abuse of organized religion of the day. This led him to recast, by cutting and pasting from the gospels, a new narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus, where, according to Jefferson, ""there will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of Thomas Jefferson believed that the pure-principled teachings of Jesus should have been separated from the dogma

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Book details

Hardcover, 103 pages
August 1st 2006 by Applewood Books

(first published 1819)

Original Title
The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth
ISBN
1557091846 (ISBN13: 9781557091840)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Kenny

Though often claimed by anti-religionists as a Deist, Jefferson states flatly, referring to this cut-and-paste version of the New Testament: "It is a document in proof that I am a REAL CHRISTIAN, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus" (his emphasis).

But note the distinction: Jefferson calls himself a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, not a disciple of Jesus himself. This is a serious difference, as his discomfort with and his disbelief in the supernatural aspects of the story of Jesus led him to to excise all such events in his edit of the Gospels. Thus there is no walking on water, no calming the storm, no feeding the five thousand, no recalling Lazarus to life, and no resurrection of Jesus himself.

But what remains is the pure doctrine of Jesus, which Jefferson (and I as well) view as the most spectacular recipe for living well and happily ever propounded. "Love thy neighbor as thyself" is the simplest and yet the hardest advice ever given, but no one can dispute its power to transform a life and change the world.

I can't help but believe that even had Jesus performed the miracles and risen from the dead, even if he was the literal Son of God, his understanding of his own doctrine would lead him to discount those very miracles in favor of his desire that we benefit from his teachings and thus obtain eternal life.

I find that the part of me that loves the miracles and fantastic stories about Jesus is a child who is looking for a parent, but the part of me that loves Jesus' pure and difficult teachings is the adult who seeks a guide. Either way, like Jefferson, I strive to be a disciple of Jesus and found in this short book ample food for thought.

Josh

As a deist, Thomas Jefferson believed in God as the ultimate creator and believed Jesus to be the greatest moral teacher. This collection of writings confirms his staunch belief in reason over faith. Jefferson believed that the Bible was imperfect insofar as it contained the works of corrupt individuals who sought to use Christianity as a means to control people.

What amazes me the most is how little a role religion played in the election of Thomas Jefferson in both 1800 and 1804. People furiously attacked Jefferson, labeling him as an atheist, but somehow he was still elected. It is very interesting to note that this would not occur in today's environment. He wrote this book because he knew he was not an atheist or without a sense of morality like his enemies claimed. He believed religion to be very personal, between a man and his god. This is why he did not bother with answering questions of his religion since he believed his moral system was clearly intact, and he was consistent in that he did not require to know the religion of others. As history notes, he was a proponent of religious freedom. After reading his extracts, it is very easy to see why.

Perhaps the best experience of reading this collection is my personal recognition of Thomas Jefferson not only as a President, but also as a great philosopher.

David

This book is Thomas Jefferson's attempt to distill from the gospels the ethical teachings of Jesus. It presents Jesus
purely as a teacher; no chorus of angels marks his birth, he performs no miracles, and the book ends with his burial. The result is a short, 92 page volume that's easy to read in spite of being written in the same archaic style of English as the King James Bible.

The obvious audience for this book is atheists and agnostics who want a view of Jesus's teachings that's free of, as Jefferson put it, "the corruptions of reason among the ancients." I think even devout Christians might find it useful, though, because it presents a concise, uncluttered view of Jesus's ethical teachings.

Anna Kuhl

I found myself missing the miracles. And although I did love reading the moral-based stories, there was still repetition amongst them. You would think Jefferson could have trimmed the fat, so to speak, and removed the duplicates. But overall a nice summary of Jesus' teachings.

Angela

To thoroughly grasp the hubris, imagine it in modern day: a US president whose religious beliefs are widely regarded as insufficient and blasphemous towards Christian doctrine, deciding that he doesn't really care for the Bible as it's written--too many miracles, and that Paul character, he's gotta go--so he'll just take some scissors, snip out the good parts, and rearrange them into a better order. Clearly, Thomas Jefferson predated cable news networks. Apparently, the Jefferson Bible is now distributed to members of the US Congress; I can't help but wonder how many of them have actually read it before lauding the Protestant religiosity of founding fathers. (The introductory matter in this edition claims that Jefferson's beliefs tended towards Unitarian, although it is published by the Unitarian church, and I'm having difficulty confirming anything more concrete than a "close alignment" with Unitarianism.)

Jefferson doesn't set out as many religious scholars do in an attempt to quarantine a historical Jesus from the embellishments of later generations' evangelizing competitiveness. If this were his goal I would expect a heavier reliance on the earlier gospels, especially Mark, but this isn't the case; basically, Jefferson snips out the miraculous and supernatural, leaving barebones biographical detail and the words attributed to Jesus himself, and rearranges things into an approximation of Chronological order (though several of the stories that appear in more than one gospel are separated by several pages). The translation is King James with almost no deviations, despite Jefferson using a side-by-side English/French/Greek/Latin edition. (Again, here a modern dedicated biblical historian would, I imagine, try to go back to the most original texts possible, though one can imagine the limitations of this in 19th century Virginia.)

One of the things that is both problematic and intensely lucky about Christianity, as opposed to more recent religions such as Islam, is that the details of Jesus's life and sayings were not recorded as they happened. We have, for example, a huge body of information via Hadiths and the Qu'ran about Muhammed that borders on TMI (a recent reading of Fatima Mernissi's The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam underscored this to me). Without too much information on the trivial details of Jesus's life, Christians are free to deviate from them rather than have every small dietary or sartorial choice be regarded as a religious pronouncement. This, at least, is consistent with the message of Jesus in the gospels. The downside, of course, is the resultant disagreement over resolving conflicts among spiritual texts written long after the fact.

The Jesus that is left after Jefferson's clippings is not unfamiliar, and perhaps more interesting for attracting followers through his Temple-reforming rabble rousing and philosophical questioning rather than miracle-performance. It worked well enough for Martin Luther, after all, I suppose. In the end, though, it probably gives more insight into Jefferson and his religious beliefs than it does into Christianity.

Steven

My sister suggested I might get something out of this, after I'd been going on about how bogus everything in the bible is. That Thomas Jefferson took out all the supernatural elements from the Jesus mythology and humanized him and his moral lessons. It's cool that Jefferson was bold enough to attempt that, but it still didn't work for me because Jesus still waxes on about a supernatural god and heaven and hell and spirits, and a lot of his moral lessons are still based around those things, so how could a practical person make sense of it? It was an interesting exercise, but it didn't mend the overall flaws with the religion for me. I sort of mark this book as one of the last steps before I wrote off Christianity as anything useful in my life.

Bart Breen

Says a Lot about Jefferson!

Jefferson's Bible is an important work both for what it shows of a pivotal Founding Father and lynch-pin president, and what it doesn't show. Jefferson was neither the passionate Christian that some try to paint him as, nor was he the foaming at the mouth Deist that others attempt to paint him as. Jefferson was earlier in his life leaning more toward Deism and toward the end of his life best described as a Unitarian in the sense that the word was used in that day. In an effort to paint their positions, camps from both sides fail to account for the fact that Jefferson was human and his journey through life developed his thinking in these areas and he showed progression and modification of his positions as learning and experience tempered them.

Jefferson clearly rejected Trinitarian theology and believed the gospel narratives to be tarnished with later redaction by the early Church. His "Bible" as such was an attempt to cull out those redactions and isolate those words and teachings of Christ that reflect the moral code of Jesus Christ that Jefferson held to be the highest such teaching known to man. He was in effect trying to identify that theoretical "Q document" that Biblical Scholars from Jefferson's day until now believe existed which had only the words of Christ as he spoke them recorded.

Jefferson's Bible demonstrates both Jefferson's judgement as to what true Christianity (by his definition) entailed, and also what was baggage and needed to be removed. Jefferson revered Christ's moral code and teachings, even as he rejected his deity. This is eminently clear in Jefferson's writings, especially in his lengthy, latter year correspondence with John Adams.

Those who try and demonstrate Jefferson as to one side or the other demonstrate their own bias and need for Jefferson to be cast into their own camp.

Don't make the same mistake. Read the text at face value and determine what it says to you about Jefferson. Then, if you want, wade into the swamp of what others want to tell you it says about Jefferson and his view of our nation. You'll be equipped to reject either extreme and let Jefferson speak for himself.

Those who feel the need to cast stones at it for some felt need to protect the Bible miss the point. This is not about the Bible. The Bible has stood for centuries before Jefferson and will stand long after Jefferson is forgotten. It's about what Jefferson thought, and what he believed and should be read first and foremost from that position.

John Martindale

Well, first off, this is the "Life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth" its not the "Jefferson bible," Jefferson would have been horrified if he learned someone took a book where he compiled the moral philosophy of Jesus and called it his bible. I have heard that according to the original preface, it was suppose to be for the native Indians, though there is no evidence of it reaching them, we have no right to create a new motive for Jefferson.

Next, Jefferson cutting from a bible and pasting in another book, is no reason for the delight and glee from secularist and horror from Christians. Think about it, Jefferson didn't have a computer where he could copy and paste the moral philosophy of Christ from the bible into a book, so he did exactly what I would do if I had several bibles. I personally once cut verses from a bible to paste in a painting, I suppose 200 years from now, someone will find the painting and think I was some anti-Christian, irreligious, bible hating deist, because I applied my scissors to the Holy Bible!

Now as far as the content, so many of reviews just focus and delight on what is LEFT out and yet don't feel any discomfort about what is there. Though it is obvious that Jefferson didn't allow any of Jesus' miracles to be recorded and he didn't include the resurrection of Christ at the end, it is still rather interesting what he did leave in the so called "Jefferson bible." There is much more then moral teachings here.

So yeah, for a so called "Secular humanist" among many atheist and a Deist among "Christians," how do they make sense of all Jefferson left in? For I suppose they must assume that Jefferson cut out all the supernatural crap he disagreed with, and what is left in the Jefferson bible is the "Diamonds from the dung hill". The way some reviewers are acting, I suppose we can say what Jefferson left in the Jefferson Bible, he approved of? So what are these diamonds salvaged from the dung hill?

I just read the it and inside the "Jefferson bible" we find many examples of heaven, the fires of hell and both devils and angels. Also, most of Jesus' mentions of the second coming, the final Judgment, the Kingdom of God, salvation, Jesus' mighty works and that Jesus is the Son of God are all here! Jesus affirms the resurrection, Noah and the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. Most importantly almost every reference to prayer from Jesus is in the "Jefferson bible", even God giving the Holy Spirit to all who ask. We also find fulfilled prophesy; Jesus prophesies Peter will deny him 3 times before the cock crows and later we read of this happening. So yeah, there is a lot more, I could make this into an extremely long review and just post example after example directly from the eBook, of all that shouldn't have survived Jefferson's scissors and bible blotter!

so yeah for a so called Deist, it sure seems odd he didn't clip out all mentions of prayer, God's activity on the earth, as well as prophesy, the second coming, angels and demons and the Holy Spirit and Jesus being the actual Son of God, the Christ and the King whose Kingdom is not of this earth. It would be nice to find some explanation for all Jefferson left in there, if he really was creating for himself his own bible without the supernatural. Is not the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, prophesy and salvation supernatural? Oh Hitchen's and Dawkin's, how did all this nonsense make it into this book from your secular saint?

O.K with all of that aside, i must say i really enjoyed "The Life and morals of Jesus." As far as Jesus' life, its extremely brief, the book is primarily the read letters of the bible, Jesus' teachings all put together seamlessly. I am glad Jefferson did this, it was a pleasure to read Jesus' teachings without the constant interruptions of miracles.

Todd

This is the way the Bible is supposed to be. Thomas Jefferson, founding father and President of the USA has cut away all the supernatural BS behind Jesus Christ and his life time. Dug hard into various Bibles of the times and manages to find the wisdom of a progressive Jewish rebel. This Jesus was killed for believing in treating people equally and finding the best of human nature.

The supernatural birth and other mystical events of Jesus' life have been removed and instead readers will discover a new vision in the man called Jesus, with all the mystical mumbo-jumbo that the church has added to him to make him seem like a divine being.

Instead we see a person who even during his childhood questioned his family and leaders with critical reasoning skills that were probably self-taught. Jesus learned that they were manipulating the public for their own personal gain over the betterment of all. He hung out with criminals, whores and the lowest end of the public, treated them with compassion and became an accidental leader to them.

His martyrdom was then justified by the church to make him divine much like the ancient demi-gods like Hercules, Peresus, and other Greek/Roman heroes that inspired the people. His "divinity" has been cut by Jefferson's own hand and instead we see through the church's deception and lies to keep the public in control and instead see that Jesus was a rebel with a cause to help to better not only his fellow Jews but all people everywhere. The pseudo-mystical nature of his birth to the documentation of his supposed resurrection have been cut away and we still see a good leader who inspired people to help people.

Unlike the many Christians today who turn their backs on their own fellow human being in the name of Christ and don't bother to lend a helping hand as Jesus did. Jefferson took the true teachings of Jesus the man and rebel leader to heart. Those teaching helped America throw off the shackles of English rule and domination to allow America the right to be free.

Lee Harmon

"We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus. There will be remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man."

With this goal, Jefferson set about with razor in hand to extract the true words and actions of Jesus from the enveloping hype and miracle stories of the Gospels. Rejecting the virgin birth, the annunciation, and even the resurrection, Jefferson wanted to dig down to Jesus’ message of absolute love and service. The result is a chronological new Gospel formed by merging select portions of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

An excellent, concise introduction by Forrest Church and an afterward by Jaroslav Pelikan ([see Whose Bible Is It] http://www.dubiousdisciple.com/2011/0...) round out the book. Jefferson espoused a Unitarian philosophy, subjugating the topic of religion in his library to the category of “moral philosophy.” Pelikan, in his afterward about Jefferson’s contemporaries, classifies Jefferson among the “Enlightenment rationalists.” After reading Jefferson’s Bible, I’d say that’s a fair assessment.

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