Cut and Paste Bible Towards Reason

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”
–Thomas Jefferson, 1819

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Thomas Jefferson’s audacious act of cutting and pasting passages from various translations of the New Testament has always fascinated me. Why did he do it?

From The Smithsonian Museum of American History: {with my emphasis}

At seventy-seven years of age, Thomas Jefferson constructed his book by cutting excerpts from six printed volumes published in English, French, Latin, and Greek of the Gospels of the New Testament. He arranged them to tell a chronological and edited story of Jesus’s life, parables, and moral teaching. Left behind in the source material were those elements that he could not support through reason or that he believed were later embellishments, such as the miracles and the Resurrection.

The act of cutting and rearranging passages from the New Testament to create something fresh was an ambitious, even audacious initiative, but not an act of disrespect. Through this distillation Jefferson sought to clarify Jesus’s teachings, which he believed provided “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

Jefferson’s personal search for reason in a sea of faith is admirable. Perhaps someday I’ll get there.

Comments

  1. #1 BobFromLI
    March 10, 2012

    As we’ve long known…many of the Founders were not xians in the common sense. Washington, Jefferson (as seen here), Franklin and others were agnostics or atheists. Hey, right wingers…

  2. #2 Mike Olson
    March 10, 2012

    A universalist is not an agnostic or an atheist. Jefferson was a universalist. Although some unitarians don’t wish to claim him. He was a deist.

  3. #3 reboho
    March 10, 2012

    I just want to say that I appreciate you blog; I am an avid reader of Coyne, Myers and Orac but posts like this keep me here. Jefferson has always been a bit of a hero, the Lennon of the Mt. Rushmore Beatles. Thank you.

  4. #4 ismek
    March 11, 2012

    evet bily paste cut kesme işlemlerine katıldım ismek beykoz kurs merkezinde pasa süslemecilği kursundan sertifikamı aldım ücretsizdi hemde birbeşarı hikaüseyidir benikmiksi. zisede selenlardan soyleril sözlerime son verirken.

  5. #5 The Tim Channel
    March 11, 2012

    Take out the miracles and resurrection and what do you have left? The story of a rebellious individualist who is killed by the state for what amounts to blasphemy. That would resonate with someone more closely connected to an era when blasphemy was still a good way to get yourself killed.

    Enjoy.

  6. #6 Mike Olson
    March 11, 2012

    Actually, the Sanhedrin was concerned with Christ’s preaching and sought to create a charge of blasphemy. He was not adhering to their teachings. Essentially, he was arguing that the spirit of the law was more important than the law. Claiming that strict adherence to the law made you a good person was an issue. Christ taught it was more important to love others, to have a sense of brotherhood with others than simply follow the law. The Romans were occupation force. They wanted to keep the peace and the Sanhedrin was the local equivalent of a Jewish government. The Romans wanted to put down any insurrection. Many Jews looked for a Messiah who was a warrior, a great general who would overthrow Roman rule. Christ was teaching to love others and that power on earth was pointless. The more important thing to seek out was love of others and a greater understanding of ethics. The Sanhedrin went to the Romans claiming Christ was an insurrectionist. He was crucified not due to a charge of blasphemy….but with what might have been the most ironic charge of all: He was convicted of sedition. The man who urged others to render unto Ceaser that which was Ceasers and to “seek a kingdom not of this earth,” (non-material rewards) that man was killed with a charge of urging others to overthrow and take for their own the greatest earthly power on the planet at the time.

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