'The Jefferson Bible' to Be Published in Color by the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Books will release Thomas Jefferson’s cut-and-paste Bible in a never-before-seen color edition in November.

Formally titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Jefferson Bible was an attempt by the famed founding father to “separate the gold from the dross” and remove and extract what he felt was most pertinent of Christ’s teachings from the Bible.

Using a razor, Jefferson literally cut and arranged selected verses from the books of Matthew, Luke, and John and created a single narrative, devoid of any divinity, miracles, prophecy, resurrection, and other elements he found unnecessary and misinterpreted by the Four Evangelists.

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There was no mention of the virgin birth, Christ’s bodily resurrection, walking on water, or raising of Lazarus among a few of the unselected passages.

“In extracting the pure principles which [Jesus] taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves,” he described in a letter to John Adams in 1813.

“We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus... There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

Explicitly performing the operation for his own use, Jefferson created “an octavo of forty-six pages of pure and unsophisticated doctrines,” where he sought to distinguish the “diamonds” from the “dunghill.”

His version of the Bible was kept hidden from most people, and was only published after his death, having been passed on from generation to generation. The most complete form was published in 1895 by the National Museum in Washington.

As the book lacked in several key tenets of Christianity, many questioned Jefferson’s beliefs.

He, however, avidly described himself to be a Christian, “in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other,” according to Beliefnet.

The the nation's third president felt that, if the doctrines had been “preached always as pure as they came from [Jesus’] lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian.”

David Barton, evangelical Christian minister and founder of WallBuilders, defended Jefferson’s faith as well.

“Jefferson’s own words explain that his intent for that book was not for it to be a ‘Bible,’ but rather for it to be a primer for the Indians on the teachings of Christ (which is why Jefferson titled that work, ‘The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,'” Barton penned on his website. “What Jefferson did," he added, "was to take the ‘red letter’ portions of the New Testament and publish these teachings in order to introduce the Indians to Christian morality.”

Barton believed that Jefferson was using his “red letter” book to evangelize to the Indians, wanting them to understand the teachings of Jesus, without what he believed to be misinterpretations by the Gospel authors.

But many theologians and scholars remained skeptical regardless, asserting that without acknowledging Jesus’ divinity and resurrection, Christianity was baseless.

Jefferson’s work, in fact, ended with Jesus’ death, without the resurrection.

“How can you evangelize without the victory dance of the resurrection?” Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College, asked on his website. “From the writings and his reduction of the New Testament, it appears that he thought Jesus was an overachiever in the moral sense, an enlightened teacher who provided his students with enduring guidance.”

To Jefferson, Jesus was simply an extraordinary man, but not a holy man, according to Beliefnet. Some readers who already read Jefferson’s original published work were also unconvinced of his faith.

“I can appreciate Jefferson’s struggle with the theology and content of the Gospels as presented in the bible,” writes Stephanie Levan, on “I think he had good intentions – he was struggling to understand his own beliefs and faith in God. So in an attempt to explain things he couldn’t logically explain, such as the divinity of Jesus, he reconstructed the gospels into one new gospel that excluded any verses/passages that talked of healing miracles and being the son of God.

“While I can understand this struggle, I still agree with C.S. Lewis who said that either Jesus was the son of God or insane – I don’t think we can truly respect his humanity without acknowledging his divinity,” Levan concluded.

Another reader quoted Rebecca Manley Pippert, who said, “We cannot separate His demands from His love. We cannot dissect Jesus and relate only to the parts we like.”

“The history behind it and the book itself are interesting, but the content is misguided and harmful,” Nathan Markley noted, on Amazon. “Jesus’ life revolved not around his teachings but his identity.”

Despite the criticisms, the Smithsonian is moving ahead with its November release of the latest edition of Jefferson’s work.

It will be available in hardcover and features an introduction by Smithsonian curators Barbara Clark Smith and Harry Rubenstein.

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