The Gospel according to Thomas Jefferson

By on January 19, 2012

Web.Jefferson [keywords] Anglican Journal, Anglican Church of Canada, New Testament, Gospels, Thomas Jefferson [Cutline: with stock shot of Thomas Jefferson] A new edition of Jefferson’s expurgated New Testament has just been released. [hed] The Gospel according to Thomas Jefferson [byline] Diana Swift When it comes to wielding an intellectual razor, William of Ockam had nothing on Thomas Jefferson. An admirer of the teachings of Jesus Christ, the third president of the United States literally razored out sections of the Gospels he felt were pure superstition that corrupted Christ’s message. Then he cut and pasted the residue into a new compact rendition of Jesus’ moral philosophy, which he entitled “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.”"To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself," Jefferson wrote to a friend in 1803.

Influenced by rationalist Enlightenment thinkers of France, where he served as U.S. ambassador, Jefferson sought to distill the moral philosophy of the historical Christ from the religion that was later created around him. Missing in Jefferson’s version are the virgin birth, divine healings, demonic possessions, exorcisms, the resurrection of the dead and the ascension, which the two-term chief executive dismissed as “superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications.”

During his time in office, 1801 to 1809, and for more than a decade afterward, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence undertook a radical reinterpretation of the Gospels, completing his stripped-down, multilingual narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus 1820. In these, Jefferson said, “there will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”The book was kept private for almost 80 years, sold to the Smithsonian Institutions in 1895 and reproduced for members of Congress in 1904. Preserved by the Smithsonian, Jefferson’s fragile personal copy is on display there.

Author

  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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