First Lines: The Jefferson Bible

One night in the year of our lord 1803, after his other work was done, Thomas Jefferson sat down behind his desk, took a bible and a pair of scissors, and went to work. It only took him a few days, but in the end, he had a volume of verses cut from the New Testament that he believed to be doctrine of Jesus of Nazareth, devoid of the supernatural elements. This work he called The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, being Extracted from the Account of His Life and Doctrines Given by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Being an Abridgement of the New Testament for the Use of the Indians, Unembarrased with Matters of Fact or Faith beyond the Level of their Comprehensions.

Discontented with this version, a few years later he repeated the work. This new version, with verses in Greek, Latin, French, and English side by side, he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth: Extracted Textually from the Gospels Greek, Latin, French, and English, but nowadays is known under its colloquial name, The Jefferson Bible.

I’m not what you’d call a religious man. I used to be a religious boy once upon a bye, but like so many things, that passed. And while I spend quite some time with my nose in various children’s bibles and two volumes of I-don’t-know-what-exactly-but-they-have-Gustave-Doré’s-etches-and-those-are-pretty-cool I never actually read the bible. Let’s say that I’m not fluent in the bible, but I know enough to get by when I’m walking through a museum and see a painting of some chick talking to a snake, or an old guy trying to slit a younger one’s throat only to be deterred by an angel-like figure. And then I know a couple of the, you know, funny bits. Like Matthew 6:5-6 and all the petty, cruel and bizarre stuff you don’t hear in Church on Sunday.

So anyway, when I was making my infamous list of forty books to read before my fortieth birthday, I considered adding The Jefferson Bible. Because, well, the prevailing opinion of Jesus seems to be that even when you take the magical mumbo-jumbo away, he had some pretty smart things to say. It didn’t make the list, but with me buying an e-reader and old books being available for free and all that, I thought, what the hell.

The story of the New Testament without all the paranormal tomfoolery boils down to a child being born, who grows up, and manages to rub the wrong people the wrong way with all his talking, which lands him in a bit of a pickle and an early grave.

What’s left is more or less the sermon of the mount and a bunch parables, some of which appear twice. It’s probably because of my bias, but I wasn’t much impressed. Without the feeding of the five thousand, the healing of the sick, and the necromancy, there’s not much left but a guy who talks a lot, and doesn’t always make a lot of sense.

Book read
Thomas Jefferson — The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth: Extracted Textually from the Gospels Greek, Latin, French, and English
First line
1: And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.