A Restored Version of the Jefferson Bible

Thomas Jefferson didn’t like the Bible as it was written. He thought Jesus was a good moral teacher, but those miracles were bullshit.

In a letter to William Short in 1820, Jefferson wrote:

Among the sayings and discourses imputed to [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart.

Jefferson made good on his promise by taking a razor to his Bible and cutting out any reference to angels, prophecy, the Trinity, Jesus’ divinity, Resurrection, and miracles. He called the resulting text The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (a.k.a. The Jefferson Bible).

In November, a restored edition of the book will be published by the Smithsonian. It’s called The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth:

After completion of The Life and Morals, about 1820, Jefferson shared it with a number of friends, but he never allowed it to be published during his lifetime. The most complete form Jefferson produced was inherited by his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, and was published in 1895 by the National Museum in Washington.

Once published in black-and-white facsimile by the Government Printing Office in 1900 as a gift for new members of Congress, the Jefferson Bible has never before been published in color in its complete form. The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition is an exact facsimile reproduction based on the original copy in the Smithsonian collections. The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition is as beautiful an object as was so painstakingly crafted by Thomas Jefferson himself.

A book for atheist history buffs — nice :)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://logofveritas.blogspot.com/ VeritasTruthseeker

    I’ll be getting one of these. Jefferson was the man.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeremiah-Wood/4927555 Jeremiah Wood

      He was certainly an intelligent man, but the Secular community needs to be careful not to glorify the man more than his ideas. Jefferson did some pretty awful things in his time, including impregnating a slave and pretty much hiding his slave workers from guests to his house.

      • http://logofveritas.blogspot.com/ VeritasTruthseeker

        Undoubtedly. But the secular community also has a very bad habit of entrenching on someone’s faults and forgetting their peaks. As far as the Founding Fathers go, Jefferson is one of the ones we should be trumpeting as high as we can.

        • dauntless

          For all Jefferson’s talk of liberty and freedom, he was a bit of a hypocrite (in light of the fact that he owned humans).

          • Anonymous

            owning slaves is inexcusable. but i’m a black woman, and i simply adore most of everything Jefferson ever wrote, and much of what he did, as a Deist, naturalist, scientist… he was flawed, but still a Great Man. 

            it’s funny, some people can be harsher than the believers about the true heroes of freethinking and liberty, when it comes to some of them. at least believers (usually) teach that their prophets were flawed, human beings who occasionally disappointed (gawd). that makes those myths moving and personal to them. we should adopt that same philosophy, because it’s irrational to think that any person is without flaw or mistake. even MLK and Bapu had some issues. 

            i’m a subscriber to the Oral History of the Jefferson/Hemings relationship. i think they loved each other. people get so upset over interracial relationships, even today. as the product of one, i can tell you: it’s rarely what people on the outside think it is. 

            • dauntless

              You might not like Jefferson as much if you read any of his writings about the inferiority of black people. I don’t care that he had a relationship with a black woman, why would I? I care that he owned hundreds of slaves in his lifetime, to support his wealthy landowner lifestyle, and freed less than 10 of them before he died. That is not a champion of rights and liberty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Hikari.Pop Crystal Jenae Hollis

    I would probably still be a Christian if all of the mythological stuff were not included. (How could anyone take any of that stuff seriously?) I think it  would be more like a philosophy like Buddhism. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    • Anonymous

      You’re left with some pretty simple rules that are either common sense or can be found in many other philosophies

    • http://fromwinetowater.wordpress.com/ Ivan

      I’ve got to disagree with you on that one.  Jesus’ ethics (e.g. in the Sermon on the Mount) are so intense and demanding that I don’t see why anyone would accept them if they didn’t believe he was the Son of God, and they’d be eternally rewarded for doing so.

      • Marguerite

        I agree.  I think many of the rules Jesus put forth only make sense in the context of his apocalyptic beliefs– ie, he stated those rules because he genuinely believed the world would be ending very soon, and that nothing in this world really mattered.  Since the world has stubbornly refused to end, many of his rules aren’t a feasible basis on which to build a society, IMHO.

        • Pseudonym

           Jesus’ “rules” (more like virtues, actually) were never intended to be the “basis on which to build a society”. Christianity was never designed to be a state religion, which helps explain why it does such a poor job of it.

  • Robert Crompton

    I’m fascinated by this – will definitely have to have a look. I suspect that will remain of Jesus after the gospels have been subjected to Jefferson’s razor will turn out to be a Hillelite Pharisee – a quite agreeable character. What we seem to have in the gospels is an amalgam of the ghosts of various other characters all tacked on to the story of the wandering rabbi who loved to party.

  • Bob Daniel

    I guess you could call Jefferson the founding father of picking and choosing the parts of the Bible to believe in… B-)

  • Anonymous

    Meh. Is it really worth sifting the specks of gold from the mountain of dross that are the Jesus sayings (putting aside the mythological and legendary biographical material)? I think not. It’s an accident of history that the stuff survived the first century, and I don’t see most sane people (who aren’t historians of the period) going around thinking it valuable to read any of the apocalyptic preachings of Jesus’s contemporaries. Throw it into the rubbish heap and read Aristotle or Pliny or Lucretius or Virgil instead.

    • dauntless

      I agree completely. I get into arguments with a friend of mine who says I dismiss the gospels too readily, while I try to insist that the gospels are not worthy of reverence just because they have a few things that fit contemporary ethics. We could probably cherry pick Mein Kampf and find a few sentences here or there that people would agree with if they were attributed to Anonymous.

    • Grady

      So you want to throw it in the rubbish heap?  How atheist.  How Friendly Atheist; and the next step will be throwing people in the rubbish heap.

      After all, its what EVERY Officially Atheistic Government has done in the past.

      Mehta, why do you keep calling this blog The “Friendly” Atheist?  Some time ago you admitted the name is inappropriate.

      To keep the name now is not just inappropriate, its dishonest.

       But oh so atheist.

      • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

        Wow. Unfounded insults much? I haven’t seen that many straw men that close together  since they released that stupid Eurovision music video with the dancing crash test dummies. Quit trolling, huh? You’re only making real religious people look worse and a lot of them are better at it than you.

        • Grady

          Ah, another Friendly Atheist.  But if you boys can visit religious blogs, we can return the favor.

          And I said nothing unfounded, MICK.  I stated facts, in response to the opening comment.  EVERY officially atheistic government has tried to throw Believers in the Rubbish Heap.

          I am not worried anymore if you all think religous people look worse…I am interested in letting you all know that there are many who are learing the history of what Atheists In Power have done and in letting atheists know that we won’t submit to rule by Atheists.

          I learned from relatives who escaped from such a country what it really means when you kind gets power.

          • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

            Well, I live in England, mate, and some of the older buildings here still have the spikes where they used to mount the heads of people who disagreed with whichever Christians were currently in charge.

            Annnnnd I’m done. Four troll-feedings per year, that’s the limit.

            • Grady

              Atheists in officially atheistic governments are still imprisoning and murdering believers of all faiths.

              Any problem with that, MICK?

              • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

                Grady, I’m enormously impressed by your clever use of all caps. As everyone knows, it makes your argument more persuasive. I wish I could find the caps lock key.

              • Brent Slensker

                Yes Grady you DID say things unfounded!  Ibis said throw the scriptures away as rubbish…you then insinuated “Why not people?” Then you seem to think christian leaders don’t have a higher body count than Atheists when they do!… As for the atheists you mean Pol Pot and Stalin right…? Because we ALL know Hitler was a good Catholic (if not the “greatest”)…Well Pot and Stalin executed political rivals and whoever got in their way. Intellectuals were rounded up and dealt with too. It had NOTHING to do with them being atheists. Grady, please tell us WHERE these atheist nations are?

          • SphericalBunny

            Hallo sweetie, female atheist here -  just to let you know we exist too. But thanks for aligning mild sexism and insults with religiousity for us [/sarcasm]

      • Anonymous

        You make me laugh, taking my judgement that the NT is  a pretty worthless remnant of a genre which we (all of us but I was speaking especially to us non-believers) shouldn’t be wasting our valuable time on–even as mere literature or philosophy, and soaking it in a vat of hyperbole until suddenly I’m advocating pogroms and concentration camps and hurling poor persecuted believers to the lions (or whatever Officially Atheistic Governments do). ::chortle::

        I think we should make Atheists in Power our new superhero rallying cry, what do you say, MICK?

        • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

          I kinda like it. Apparently my superpower is that everyone shouts my name at the top of their voice.

          • Katrina

            yay for MICK :-)

            Aren’t the hater posts just too funny.

          • Parse

            I knew it!  You’re Khan Noonien Singh!

            (Sorry for spoiling your online anonymity.)

  • eeeee

    I like that he also dislikes Paul the most.

    Paul’s writings are really the worst of the new testament.

    • Anonymous

      Many so-called Christians, especially those of the fundy variety, should more aptly be called Paulinists.

  • Anonymous

    This has been available in print for ages.  This one just seems to be differentiated that it’s “in color” which doesn’t make sense for a book anyway.

  • http://onefuriousllama.com/ onefuriousllama

    Awesome! I’m getting myself a copy of that!

  • Anonymous

    The bible is Christian mythology.  It isn’t the same book with all the wicked stuff taken out.  It might be interesting to read what Jefferson thought of as worth keeping but nobody in their right mind should be using the bible as a way to live a moral life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    This is an old story of course, and I’ve often wondered how it was done. Didn’t Jefferson’s Bible have printing on both sides of each page? How could he remove the stuff he didn’t like without removing inoffensive stuff as well?

    • Kaydenpat

      Great question!


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