(CT) Thomas Jefferson Tried to ‘Fix’ the Bible. He Only Succeeded in Making It Sad.

His first effort at revising the text came while he was president—in a 46-page booklet he called The Philosophy of Jesus. The volume has been lost to history, but at one point he explained the project in detail to his frenemy John Adams. He said he had extracted, reduced, and cut down the gospel until the only thing left was “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals that has ever been offered to man.”

It was an easy process, Jefferson said. He cut the text up verse by verse, and the good parts stuck out “as diamonds in a dung hill.”

It wasn’t until 1820, more than a decade out of office, when he finished the fuller second version of his edited gospel. He called it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. He read from it devoutly, Manseau says, until he died in 1826.

But the Jefferson Bible may have proved the opposite of what Jefferson intended. It doesn’t show Jesus to be a great moral teacher once his story is stripped of the miracles, exorcisms, and other acts that the former president found hard to believe. It presents Jesus rather as someone who didn’t do anything. As Manseau writes, “Jefferson’s is a hard gospel. The blind do not see; the lame do not walk; the multitudes will remain hungry if loaves and fishes must be multiplied to feed them. Even those who look to Jesus for forgiveness of sins are left wanting.”

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Posted in Books, Church History, Office of the President, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture