Discover Thomas Jefferson’s Cut-and-Paste Version of the Bible, and Read the Curious Edition Online

TJ Bible 2

Had he lived dur­ing the Inqui­si­tionThomas Jef­fer­son would have been burned at the stake. His ideas about Jesus and Chris­tian­i­ty were far from ortho­dox. A prod­uct of the Enlight­en­ment, Jef­fer­son believed that every­thing, includ­ing reli­gion, should be exam­ined in the light of rea­son.

When Jef­fer­son exam­ined the Gospels he came away with a strong­ly divid­ed opin­ion. “I find many pas­sages of fine imag­i­na­tion, cor­rect moral­i­ty, and of the most love­ly benev­o­lence,” he wrote in an 1820 let­ter to William Short, “and oth­ers again of so much igno­rance, so much absur­di­ty, so much untruth, char­la­tanism, and impos­ture, as to pro­nounce it impos­si­ble that such con­tra­dic­tions should have pro­ceed­ed from the same being.”

As ear­ly as 1804, when he was still pres­i­dent, Jef­fer­son began sep­a­rat­ing “the dia­mond from the dunghill,” as he lat­er put it, to assem­ble his own ver­sion of the Bible. He con­tin­ued the project in earnest dur­ing his lat­er years at Mon­ti­cel­lo, por­ing over var­i­ous edi­tions in Greek, Latin, French and King James Eng­lish. He clipped the pas­sages he thought were gen­uine teach­ings of Jesus and past­ed them, in the four lan­guages side by side, onto pages.

In 1820 — six years before his death at the age of 83 — Jef­fer­son pro­duced a leather-bound, 84-page vol­ume titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Extract­ed Tex­tu­al­ly From the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & Eng­lish. Jef­fer­son elim­i­nat­ed every­thing in the Bible con­cern­ing mir­a­cles. He end­ed the Gospel sto­ry with the exe­cu­tion and bur­ial of Jesus, omit­ting the res­ur­rec­tion. The retained pas­sages, Jef­fer­son explained in an 1813 let­ter to John Adams, con­tain “the most sub­lime and benev­o­lent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

You can exam­ine and read Jef­fer­son­’s com­plete 1820 Bible online by vis­it­ing the Smith­son­ian Insti­tu­tion’s inter­ac­tive Web dis­play.

Repro­duc­tions of Jef­fer­son­’s Bible can be pur­chased online.

The images above come cour­tesy of The Smith­son­ian.

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Comments (13)
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  • luna456m says:

    I would LOVE to read Jef­fer­son­’s bible… Adding to my must list

  • John Oliver Mason says:

    Jef­fer­son was quite an intel­lec­tu­al titan-not like SOME past Pres­i­dents!

  • Delia H says:

    I can relate to that

  • Sharon Wynne says:

    A true Renais­sance Man, we need more of them in today’s times.

  • Carole Di Tosti says:

    Mir­a­cles? Too bad he eschewed them. He need­ed a mir­a­cle to get out of debts… and died in bank­rupt­cy. Also, his slave hold­ing is anath­e­ma (he obvi­ous­ly picked and choose what sec­tions he like and what to ignore, so this arti­cle is in keep­ing with who Jef­fer­son is)…whereas Hamil­ton anoth­er believ­er, eschewed slav­ery and did­n’t com­pro­mise his val­ues, though he is often vil­i­fied for his believ­ing in a cen­tral bank…WHAT HE WANTED WAS NOT WHAT HE IS TARRED AND FEATHERED WITH AS SOMETHING LIKE THE FEDERAL RESERVE. Check out what and why the bank was needed…IT WAS NOT as some would like to por­tray. Also, his and Wash­ing­ton’s fear of mob rule is well rea­soned; they saw the vio­lence and bru­tal­i­ty of mobs and believed a cul­ture could oper­ate best with order and safety…THAT IS NOT TO SAY THEY WOULD HAVE APPRECIATED THE encroach­ing on the con­sti­tu­tion­al free­doms they worked hard to insure. Lin­coln, believed in miracles…also used the Bible lib­er­al­ly and knew it back­ward and for­ward, though he was sub rosa and did­n’t stuff if down peo­ple’s throats…used Jesus’ man­ner of speak­ing in para­bles, tell sto­ries and use humor also; like Jesus, he used wis­dom greater than Solomon’s and reverse psy­chol­o­gy. If you know the Bible, this is as plain as day…if you don’t, you will miss it, and many have. Seward was even more of a Bible read­er and believer…and man­aged to escape the assas­si­na­tion attempt on his life where­as Lin­coln did not. Lin­coln was tru­ly a Christ-figure…sacrificed with his blood for the country…but he also said ear­li­er dur­ing the war peri­od, rather than to turn around his procla­ma­tion, he would rather lose his life. A typ­i­cal Bib­li­cal principle…again if you read care­ful­ly. Jef­fer­son was NOT the man Lin­coln was…he came from wealth, had priv­i­lege hand­ed to him and cre­at­ed the hor­rors of pol­i­tics with cor­rup­tion and divi­sion, arro­gant and pre­sump­tu­ous, nev­er­the­less, also had tremen­dous qual­i­ties, was a genius, but also a hyp­ocrite and said one thing and did anoth­er. Lin­coln tried not to…and was most suc­cess­ful as a man at doing it. But…what Jef­fer­son did with the Bible indi­cates a weakness…he could­n’t swal­low the supernatural…something which is HUGE today. Think about it. Why could­n’t he? He believed more in his own pow­ers as a man than in divine providence…an arro­gance that is reflect­ed in his behav­ior with his slaves and with women and with ene­mies which did­n’t know they were ene­mies because he was duplic­i­tous for expe­di­en­cy sake…and his own.

  • Betty B Willis says:

    For those who are tru­ly believ­ers, the Bible very plain­ly says that “noth­ing is to be added or tak­en away from the WORD.” For some, igno­rance is bliss.

  • Jack Underwood says:

    Not although togeth­er dif­fer­ent than today’s “Chris­tians who pick and choose the parts of God’s inspired word that they choose to fol­low or not. God does not give us the lat­i­tude to fol­low the parts that “we” choose and omit oth­er parts that are not to “Our” lik­ing. Jef­fer­son was not God nor did he pos­sess the abil­i­ty or pow­er to rewrite the word of God to suit his some­what twist­ed ideas.

  • Sha'Tara says:

    Full cred­it to Jef­fer­son for try­ing to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but to this day the best any­one can do in read­ing “the Bible” if read­ing it is thought nec­es­sary, is to be con­tent with Gen­e­sis chap­ter 1 to Gen­e­sis chap­ter 2, verse 3. Delete all the rest and there’s no con­flict, even if one does not believe in lit­er­al cre­ation. Leave “god” to his well-deserved retire­ment and learn to co-exist in com­pas­sion and empa­thy. No one needs a book to tell them how that’s done.

  • Maureen says:

    If noth­ing can be added or tak­en away then we should all learn the lan­guage it was writ­ten in because trans­la­tion is not exact, many have ques­tioned cer­tain words and phras­es said to mean dif­fer­ent things in the times they were writ­ten.
    There have been things added and tak­en away through­out his­to­ry. There is no true Bible except the orig­i­nal, orig­i­nal. The King James ver­sion was put togeth­er by a king who was para­noid, incit­ing fear, call­ing inno­cents witch­es and burn­ing them but not before he tor­tured them into con­fes­sions. I can’t jump on the band wag­on. Holy books are great for caus­ing war.

  • Maureen says:

    and I know many peo­ple who think they have it all sewn up when it comes to God and Jesus and the bible but, they still argue about who is in the know.

  • Robert Armentrout says:

    What Thomas Jef­fer­son did with sis­sors and paste, untold mil­lions from ancient times through today have done as well; just not quite so mechan­i­cal­ly. Many, believ­ers and non-believ­ers, don’t like what the Bible has to say so such pas­sages are ignored or “re-inter­pret­ed”.

    What I think Jef­fer­son real­ized that escapes many today is that soci­ety would be bet­ter if peo­ple lived by the prin­ci­ples exposed by Jesus even if they deny his divin­i­ty and/or the exis­tence of God/god.

  • Kate Hallberg says:

    Non­sense! Any­one who says that is igno­rant of how the Bible end­ed up in its cur­rent form. It was­n’t through divine inter­ces­sion. It was through “experts” read­ing the texts of what’s in today’s Bibles and those that did­n’t make the cut. The Found­ing Fathers 🧔🏻‍♀️👴🏼👨🏽‍🦱 (and a smat­ter­ing of women 👩🏻‍🦱👩🏽‍🦱 *sigh*) argued their cas­es for and against the inclu­sion of their par­tic­u­lar favorite or most despised parts. The dis­cus­sions weren’t dur­ing the time of the his­tor­i­cal “Jesus,” but instead took place cen­turies lat­er, in 400–500 AD. How author­i­ta­tive were the argu­ments, and how author­i­ta­tive was the 200-year-old writ­ing they found in 550 AD, for exam­ple?

    I don’t know what kind of Chris­t­ian belief you attest, but sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, you accept the Nicene Creed and, with a small­er prob­a­bil­i­ty, the Apos­tles Creed. It required decades dur­ing the 4th Cen­tu­ry to craft the ver­sion of the Nicene Creed we have today. The mir­a­cles of Jesus keep shrink­ing and are less remark­able today. Ini­tial­ly, he had large din­ner par­ties when he had almost noth­ing in his pantry, but today he and his mom make do with toast and fog­gy win­dow appear­ances. Con­sid­er­ing how rapid­ly his report­ed mir­a­cles shrank in sig­nif­i­cance after the first half of the first cen­tu­ry AD, it’s doubt­ful he showed up at the Coun­cil of Nicea with a draft of the Creed. More impor­tant­ly, I’m pret­ty sure he’d reject a pre­cise sum­ma­ry of man­dat­ed beliefs. As a Chris­t­ian, you ought to know there’s only one belief you must have- to believe that he suf­fered and died for your sins and accept him as your Sav­ior.

    The Nicene Creed was­n’t divine­ly giv­en, nor was any­thing fol­low­ing Jesus’ return to heav­en. The writ­ing rec­og­nized as the Bible was­n’t divine­ly assigned so who is *any­one* to choose what we can or can­not remove from today’s accept­ed canon? Even more per­verse, who is any­one to decide what trans­la­tion is required, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it’s the flawed King James? It sure is pret­ty and all, but what does it say when that’s a hill peo­ple are will­ing to die on?

    They who tut-tut about the Jef­fer­son Bible, vil­i­fy Mr. Jef­fer­son, and con­tend that igno­rance is bliss are cor­rect. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for them, they’re reveal­ing their own igno­rance and con­ceiv­ably their unthink­ing sub­mis­sion to some so-called high­er author­i­ty who rejoic­es in the pow­er their obe­di­ence affords him (yes, almost always “him” although there have been some notable female acolytes), often to the detri­ment of his fol­low­ers. If you’re going to fol­low a reli­gion that requires faith *in your faith* at least do your­self a favor and find out how the text was writ­ten and what that means for you. Go ahead and accept the Jesus part on faith if you want but under­stand­ing how texts and their inter­pre­ta­tion have changed could be even more enlight­en­ing than the sin­gu­lar Jesus aspects.

  • Kate Hallberg says:

    Do you sup­pose either Jef­fer­son or Lin­coln appre­ci­ate being used in what-aboutism? It seems like a strange dis­trac­tion from the real­i­ty Jef­fer­son chose to leave in the Bible.

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