Thomas Jefferson is perhaps most famous for slicing and dicing the Bible and creating his own–with a paste pot and a brush. And the American Humanist Assocation is getting his version of Jesus out there by distributing electronic and book copies of the Jefferson Bible to incoming members of Congress as well as President Obama. Religious News Service reports:
A new version published by Humanist Press takes Jefferson’s idea further. In addition to Jefferson’s text, “A Jefferson Bible For the 21st Century,” includes what its editors consider the best and the worst of the sacred texts of other world religions — the Hebrew Tanakh, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist sutras and the Book of Mormon.
A final chapter includes the “Humanist Manifesto,” a declaration of principles, including the statement, “knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation and rational analysis.”
Editors say the decision to include other sacred texts makes sense in an America more religiously diverse than Jefferson’s, and that the book is intended as a sort of compass for what many consider to be the most intransigent Congress in history.
“We would like members of Congress and everyone else to read this,” said Luis Granados, director of Humanist Press.
“It’s not that we think it will make them vote for or against any particular bill, but there is timeless wisdom in this that they should be thinking about to help shape their worldview as they go about the process of making laws.”
Background of the Jefferson Bible
How did the Jefferson Bible come about? In what some might consider denying the divinity of Jesus, Jefferson cut all supernatural events and events he could not support by reason from the life of Christ and put into a book whatever remained (about 84 pages). The Smithsonian, who has recently restored the real Jefferson Bible, gives the background behind the book:
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, created by Thomas Jefferson in 1820, is an 84-page assemblage of passages from the first four books of the New Testament. It was the work of Jefferson's own hands and a product of his extraordinary mind. It was a personal exercise in understanding Jesus's moral teachings separated from religious doctrine. The resulting work represented a meeting of Enlightenment thought and Christian tradition as imagined by one of the great thinkers of the Revolutionary Era.
Jefferson made no plans to publish this work; it was solely for his own reading and reflection. He knew that his beliefs would offend some religious authorities and be used against him by his political rivals.
The book remained privately held throughout his life. Its existence was only known to a few of his closest circle of friends. The book remained in his family until his great-granddaughter sold the volume to the Smithsonian Institution in 1895.
The AHA's distribution of the book to Congress has a precedent–in 1901 over a million dollars (in today's cash) was spent by the government to print copies of the Jefferson Bible and distribute them to Congress. The book was regularly distributed to Congress through the 1950s.
The distribution of the book has not gone without controversy. Just as people, when Jefferson was elected were so scared of his seeming"atheism" that they buried their Bibles in their back yards when he was elected, so today the action (and the book) are being criticized. The RNS continues:
Sam Rohrer, president of the evangelical Pennsylvania Pastors Network, has called the book, “just another way that a small minority of atheists is attempting to re-write American history, deny the existence of God and build a society based solely on the humanist religion.”
It was not clear whether Rohrer was talking about the Jefferson Bible or the inclusion of the best and worst of other sacred texts.