The Jefferson Bible

In previous blog entries, I’ve discussed the Marcion Bible and the King James Bible.  But how about the Jefferson Bible.  According to Andrew Sullivan writing for The Daily Beast (1 Apr 2012):

If you go to the second floor of the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., you’ll find a small room containing an 18th-century Bible whose pages are full of holes.  They are carfully razor-cut empty spaces, so this was not an act of vandalism.  It was, rather, a project begun by Thomas Jefferson when he was 77 years old.  Painstakingly removing those passages he thought reflected the actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson literally cut and pasted them into a slimmer, different New Testament, and left behind the remnants (all on display until July 15).

The Remains of Jefferson's Mutilated Traditional Bibles

So what remained in Jefferson’s editted version of the Bible?

Not the supernatural claims that, fused with politics and power, gave successive generations wars, inquisitions, pogroms, reformations, and counterreformations.  Jesus’ doctrines were the practical commandments, the truly radical ideas that immediately leap out in the simple stories he told and which he exemplified in everything he did.  Not simply love one another, but love your enemy and forgive those who harm you; give up all material wealth; love the ineffable Being behind all things, etc.

What Jefferson wanted to highlight with “his sacrilegious mutilation of the sacred text” was the core simplicity of Jesus’ message.  Jefferson believed

. . . that stripped of the doctrines of the Incarnation, Resurrection, and the various miracles, the message of Jesus was the deepest miracle.  And that it was radically simple.  It was explained in stories, parables, and metaphors–not theological doctrines of immense complexity.

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One Response to The Jefferson Bible

  1. susan says:

    Although I’m sure there was a strict purpose to his “razoring”, it seems a bit odd that someone would go through and “razor” out those portions of the bible that did not suit him. Today in editing, we probably call it, “redline/strikeout”, lol. I consider Thomas Jefferson to be one of the true leaders that shaped this country.

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