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NerdyKeith's avatar

What are your views on the Jefferson Bible?

Asked by NerdyKeith (5446points) April 1st, 2016

The Jefferson Bible is basically the new testament of the Holy Bible with the miracles and supernatural content removed. It focuses mainly on the moral teachings of Jesus Christ.

If you have read it, what are your thoughts on it?

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12 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

There are ten thousand different printings of the bible – some aimed at ‘true believers’, some aimed at women, some aimed at gardeners – you name it, there’s a version of the bible.

I see this as much the same thing. Someone (Jefferson) picked out what he thought was valid and dropped the rest. In that respect, his take on biblical criticism and interpretation is no more (and no less) valid than anyone else’s.

It’s an interesting take on things. On the other hand, without the supernatural stuff, it’s just one of ten thousand on ethics, morals, and theology. Does it say anything new?

I’d view this as one of the panoply of bible versions that are for sale; no better, no worse.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Funny you should ask. I just downloaded it (free pdf here) last week and haven’t had a chance to read it. I like that crazy redhead vegetarian hippie dude and his “right to pursue happiness” shtick, so I figure his interpretation of the Bible would be an interesting read. He definitely marched to the beat of his own drummer. But I haven’t read it yet, only about it.

ucme's avatar

That’ll be the one where the pilgrims flew in on a starship & built the city on rock & roll?

filmfann's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus He definitely marched to the beat of his own drummer.

No, he really was doing his fathers work.

The Bible needed to do three things:
Show that Jesus fulfilled prophecy.
Show that Jesus had the power of God, displayed in healing and miraculous works.
Repeat Jesus’ teachings.

The Jeffersonian Bible accepts the first two, and concentrates on His teachings.
I don’t see it as a bad thing, if you have accepted that he is the son of God.

NerdyKeith's avatar

It should be pointed out, that many deists view the Jefferson bible as the foundation for Christian Deism.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@filmfann Not according to Jefferson. He was merely fulfilling a promise to a Dr. Benjamin Rush, an old friend, made in conversations on certain evenings in 1798 – 1799.

To Whit:

“In a letter to his daughter, written in 1803, Mr. Jefferson said: ‘A promise made to a friend some years ago, but executed only lately, has placed my religious creed on paper. I have thought it just that my family, by possessing this, should be enabled to estimate the libels published against me on this, as on every other possible subject.’ The ‘religious creed’ to which he referred was a comparison of the doctrines of Jesus with those of others, prepared in fulfillment of a promise made to Dr. Benjamin Rush. This paper, with the letter to Dr. Rush which accompanied it, is a fit introduction to the ‘Jefferson Bible.’”

—Page 11, Jefferson Bible, Thomas Jefferson, N.D.Thomas Publishing Company, N.Y., 1902

There is no mention of his or anybody else’s father.

Jefferson, in his letter to Dr. Rush, explains his Deism briefly: ”...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 any one 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. (Emphasis mine)

ibid, p. 12

filmfann's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus I am referring to Jesus, and His father.

NerdyKeith's avatar

@filmfann Just to clarify, I don’t accept that Jesus is the son of God. I acknowledge him as an historical moral philosopher and nothing more.

From a modern deist perspective, God wouldn’t have human offspring in that manner.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

OK, I just finished it.

It isn’t “the Bible” and Jefferson objected to it being called that. It is his digest of only the gospels of Matthew, Luke, John and Mark portion of the New Testament, minus what he called “superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications” produced by the “ignorant, unlettered” authors of the gospels and the later “Platonists (who call ME infidel, and themselves Christians!) and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense.” including what “been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves.”

He called the Apostle Paul the “first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” He dismissed the concept of the Trinity as “mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.” He believed that the clergy used religion as a “mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves” and that “in every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty.” And he wrote in a letter to John Adams that “the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

But he found in the teachings of Jesus the most superior set of ethics and highly recommended his book to the native American: “Being an Abridgement of the New Testament for the Use of the Indians, Unembarrased [uncomplicated] with Matters of Fact or Faith beyond the Level of their Comprehensions”

Jefferson was a man of his time. It should be noted that he was president of the U.S. at the time of writing and at the time of publication he had just negotiated the Louisiana Purchase (1803) from Napoleon and was in the planning stages with Lewis and Clark toward their expedition (1804) for exploration of the newly acquired western lands. So, pacification and indoctrination of the native peoples were paramount in his mind during this time.

“There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines.”

He titled the initial 1803 work, “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.” But he found it unsatisfactory and after some reworking, he titled his 1804 work, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” It was never published as “The Jefferson Bible” in his lifetime.

Here is a verbatum version of “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” without commentary. It is Jefferson’s compilation and reduction of what he determined to be pertinent information concerning Jesus’ life and teachings extracted from the four gospels. It’s only 20 pages long. It is a clear and concise story of a man’s life and teachings with the probable place names, events and historical characters referred to in the gospels without extraneous confusion. It’s easy reading and not at all confusing or encumbered by the frequent inconsistencies and contradictions caused by four different guys telling the same story.

I like it. It makes a lot of sense. And it is much easier to follow from a historian’s point of view. Having read the Catholic version and the King James version of the gospels, I agree wholeheartedly with Jefferson’s assessment and his opinion of Jesus’ ethics and teachings.

NerdyKeith's avatar

@Espiritus Fantastic insight. I’ve yet to read it myself. I really want to read it now haha

Thank you for such a great answer.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@filmfann I was referring to Jefferson, in my first post, as that “crazy redhead vegetarian hippie dude,” not Jesus. Sorry. Upon rereading it, I can see how that wasn’t very clear.

@NerdyKeith Thanks.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

So, what do Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Roger Williams and so many, many others have in common with Thomas Jefferson? They all believed that the message found within the gospels was an excellent model for people to live by and that it had been perverted or even lost completely by the very institutions that claimed to spread that message. For this they were condemned as heretics, apostates and, in Jefferson’s case, even rumored to be an atheist.

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