The Jefferson Bible
2020 marked the 200th anniversary when Thomas Jefferson published the Jefferson Bible known as “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” This Bible that first appeared in 1820 was different from his original attempt in 1804, when he created a single copy of “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.” While in Washington at the White House Jefferson used a knife or razor cutting up an original Bible to formulate the latter.
But the 1820 version was formulated in his later life at the age of seventy-seven by once again revisiting his earlier work, and using Greek, English, French, and Latin editions of the Bible to accomplish his second edition. Jefferson was an original, who wanted to present his own understanding to Scripture. He saw Christ’s teaching as an extraordinary moral compass provided to mankind. He reasoned that to return to the original precepts of Jesus’ teaching he had to remove the superstitions and fabrications of the biblical text.
What therefore evolved was the Jefferson Bible without the Virgin’s birth, no miracles like Jesus walking on water, multiplication of loaves and fishes, healing of the leper, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, nor that of Christ’s resurrection. What remained in Jefferson’s second text were morals and Jesus’s teachings - the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, and the Lord’s Prayer. Jefferson thought the men who had compiled the Bible were ignorant and illiterate, and he wished to give Scripture its true perspective. It was however hard to classify his religious beliefs. Some thought of him to be a deist, others a Unitarian, evangelical, or even an agnostic.
In 1957, Frank Church a newly elected senator from Idaho used the Jefferson Bible to take the oath of office. Senator Church later gave this Bible to his son Forrest, who later became a prominent Unitarian Universalist minister, and the editor of an edition of the Jefferson Bible.