Jon Rowe and I have spent much of the last two years pointing out the numerous false quotations and false claims about the religious views of the founding fathers that are tossed about by both sides in debate over church/state separation. While false quotes are not as common on the separationist side, they’re not unheard of, and we still have to deal with the perpetual “they were all deists” claims, which is as false as claiming that they were all Christians. Jon has found an unlikely ally in that battle in Derek Wallace, a homeschooled Christian conservative who has written this post debunking a false claim by David Barton that I hadn’t seen before.
The false claim in question is that the Jefferson Bible was written as a “primer” for the benefit of the Indians. I’d never heard this claim before, but Wallace quotes Barton and some of his followers, including D. James Kennedy, on the subject. Here’s Barton:
“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,” David Barton’s Wallbuilders website repeatedly says, without quoting or providing a source to Jefferson’s own words.
And here’s Kennedy:
“It is not a Bible, but an abridgement of the Gospels created by Jefferson in 1804 for the benefit of the Indians,” wrote D. James Kennedy on WorldNetDaily.
And a third source:
“There never was a Jefferson Bible per se. Jefferson did cut out miracles from the Gospels in order to produce a book on ethics–the ethics and morals of Jesus Christ for the purpose of evangelizing and educating the American Indians.”
I’ve never seen this claim before, but even with Barton’s track record of playing fast and loose with the facts, I find it astonishing. Wallace points out some of the problems with this claim, the most obvious of which is that Jefferson’s treatment was not only never given to the Indians, it was hidden even from his family and most of his friends. He only mentioned it to a very few people, including John Adams and Benjamin Rush, and when he did so he explicitly said that he had created for his own use. He was also very careful to instruct his friends not to share any information about his religious views with others. He never talked about his views in public because, after the election of 1800, he was extremely wary of how they would be turned against him. He refused to publish the book while he was alive; indeed, it was not published until 1903.
Why on earth would someone claim that a book that was kept hidden from virtually everyone was intended to be given to the Indians? Jefferson explicitly said otherwise. This isn’t even a good lie, it’s a transparently false one. Wallace does a terrific job of debunking the entire claim and of establishing that Jefferson was certainly not a Christian in any sense that the vast majority of Christians would accept. It’s worth reading the whole thing.