Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Secular Bible ? by Thomas Jefferson

To change the subject matter back to more appropriate light and or secular matters.

I ran into a reference somewhere about this book some months ago. It is the so called Jefferson Bible or The Life and Morals of Jesus. It is conveniently on an Internet site without having to buy a dusty old copy of it.

Apparently Jefferson in his old age did a literal cut and paste with several copies of the New Testament, four gospels, and painted a line by line narrative of Jesus as a moral teacher. Good narrative flow of the story of Jesus but with no miracles, no resurrection etc.

The Jefferson Bible

Letter To Dr. Benjamin Rush.
Washington, April 21, 1803.

In some of the delightful conversations with you in the evenings of 1798-99, and which served as an anodyne to the afflictions of the crisis through which our country was then laboring, the Christian religion was sometimes our topic; and I then promised you that one day or other I would give you my views of it. They are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed, but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other. At the short interval since these conversations, when I could justifiably abstract my mind from public affairs, the subject has been under my contemplation. But the more I considered it, the more it expanded beyond the measure of either my time or information. In the moment of my late departure from Monticello, I received from Dr. Priestley his little treatise of "Socrates and Jesus Compared." This being a section of the general view I had taken of the field, it became a subject of reflection while on the road and unoccupied otherwise. The result was, to arrange in my mind a syllabus or outline of such an estimate of the comparative merits of Christianity as I wished to see executed by someone of more leisure and information for the task than myself. This I now send you as the only discharge of my promise I can probably ever execute. And in confiding it to you, I know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from me a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies. I am moreover averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public, because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquisition over the rights of conscience which the laws have so justly proscribed. It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own. It behooves him, too, in his own case, to give no example of concession, betraying the common right of independent opinion, by answering questions of faith which the laws have left between God and himself. Accept my affectionate salutations.

Th: Jefferson

This was a project that Jefferson had suggested to some of the great minds of his day but to which nobody else bothered to follow through on. In his old age, it was one of those things left on the "to do" list. I guess he needed a mental exercise to keep dementia away.

I have only read parts of it but pass it along to anyone interested who never heard of it or is curious about an abridged NT version as seen through the eyes and or imaginative brain workings of one of the founding fathers.


newsciontist said...

NPR's Fresh Air spotlighted Steven Waldman of beliefnet about this very thing on Feb. 16. I really enjoyed it, and you can listen online. Would probably be worth a quick search.

Mike McShea said...

Well worth the searcha and the listen. The archive of historic document on beliefnet is a great reference source. Stuff like that is what the Internet should be all about.