Prof. Valentine, PHIL-101-02
The Jefferson Bible
Thomas Jefferson is one of the most prominent historical figures for the United States. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the Nation, the main author of the Declaration of Independence, the third president of the country. Besides, he dared to write his own version of the New Testament that became known as the Jefferson Bible. Rewriting the Testament was not an act of atheism on Jefferson’s part. Being a very religious man, he, on the contrary, saw his task in writing the true story of Jesus’ life and removing the untrustworthy interpretations (Lehman, 1994, p. 89).
Jefferson’s first attempt to create this book was made in 1804. This version included only the teaching of Jesus and was named The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. What is now known as The Jefferson Bible or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth was completed much later, in 1820 (Edwards, 2012). However, the existence of the book was hidden from the public for more than 70 years. It was in the possession of the Jefferson family, and only after it was sold by his great-grand daughter, was its existence made public. The book was first printed only in 1904 (Sanford, 1984, p. 104).
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth was a much thorough work than The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. Firstly, it included not only the teachings, but also the events of Jesus’ life. In order to write it, Jefferson took the French, Latin, Greek and King James English translations of the New Testament and compared the texts in order to find any existing incongruities (Edwards, 2012).
Secondly, in Jefferson’s opinion, “Early Christians obscured the words of Jesus with the philosophy of the ancient Greeks and the teachings of Plato” (Mellowes, 1998), and the Christian Church created a system of beliefs that “Jesus himself would not have recognized” (Reese, 2005). Looking for the “authentic” Jesus, Jefferson omitted everything that, in his opinion, was unoriginal. Thus, Jefferson’s version ignores the virgin birth and the Resurrection, Jesus never claims to be the Son of God, and he never performs any miracles. Consequently, what Jefferson presents to the reader is very different from the New Testament as we know it. Jesus appears to be an ordinary man, who has a most important message to the human kind (Reese, 2005).
That message is what Jefferson is trying to reveal to the reader because he, Jefferson, saw Jesus’ teaching as the most sublime code of morals that has ever been created (Reese, 2005). Reading Jefferson’s version of the New Testament with all its alterations, one is not distracted by the miraculous events, but clearly sees the teaching. In it, the focus shifts from the eternal salvation to the everyday practices of the teaching and to the lifelong purpose of becoming a better person. Presenting his account of Jesus’ philosophy, Jefferson spells out clear-cut instructions that everyone should follow in their everyday life.
Nowadays, almost 200 years after having been written, the Jefferson Bible can serve as an inspiration. Being influenced by advertisements, trends…