The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Hardcover – Nov 1 2011
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LIBRARY JOURNAL, Starred Review
This is a painstakingly produced full-color facsimile of the original volume that Jefferson created, now at the Smithsonian, where it received top-level conservation treatment prior to its high-resolution reproduction here. Jefferson created his version of the New Testament by cutting and pasting from Greek, Latin, French, and English printed texts of the Gospels, which he placed in four parallel columns and accompanied with his marginal notes. This edition also contains two essays: "The History of the Jefferson Bible," in which curators at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History explain Jefferson's intent and his methods, and an essay on the volume's extensive conservation. The passages that Jefferson selected and pasted together present a much-edited, single chronological account of Jesus's life, teachings, and death—ending with Jesus's burial and avoiding redundancies. The passages are those that Jefferson deemed to be supportable by reason. The "History" essay draws parallels between the way Jefferson revised Virginia's laws and the way he revised the Bible. VERDICT Jefferson's Bible has been published before, but never in full facsimile with all its contents. With great cultural importance for all readers from preteens through scholars in American studies, biblical studies, or the Enlightenment, as well as general readers. Also a handsome gift.—Carolyn M. Craft, formerly with Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA
The most famous single book in America was recently taken apart and put back together to retard its further deterioration. In the process, it was digitally photographed cover to cover, which is why this edition exists. Better than those based on normal photography, this full-color reproduction of The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English, as its compiler, Thomas Jefferson, calls it on the handwritten title page, shows what it really looks like. As the three authors of the accompanying essays on the history and the conservation of the DIY parallel-text edition concur, its tidiness is a tribute to the third president’s steady hand and keen eye at age 77. Intellectually, it embodies his rationalist respect for Christianity as a moral system, not a religion. Excluding everything miraculous in the Gospels, thereby sifting, Jefferson said, “diamonds” from “a dunghill,” it establishes that one Founding Father, at least, was not a biblical inerrantist. A lovely addition to thoroughgoing Americana collections.— Ray Olson
In 1820, former president Thomas Jefferson completed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Popularly known as "Jefferson's Bible," it comprises 82 pages, each with the Greek, Latin, French, and English texts of the New Testament passages that Jefferson viewed as authentic purveyors of Jesus's life and ethical teachings. Jefferson literally cut and pasted this material onto blank sheets of paper. Casting out all passages that were, in his opinion, contrary to reason, he ended up with the one form of religion in which he believed. The largest part of this 2011 book is an exquisitely reproduced full-color facsimile of this older work--the result of painstaking efforts by conservators at the Smithsonian and elsewhere, described in considerable detail in a chapter titled "Conservation." A preceding chapter, "History of the Jefferson Bible," puts this work within the context of Jefferson's life and the lives of contemporaries such as Benjamin Rush, Thomas Paine, and Joseph Priestley. Everything in this volume shows great care and erudition, and it deserves a place in almost every library. Nonetheless, readers might wish that more attention had been paid to the overall teachings of Jefferson's Bible and their influence on subsequent generations upto today. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general readers. --L. J. Greenspoon, Creighton University
About the Author
THOMAS JEFFERSON, third president of the United States, most wanted to be remembered as the author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia. The author lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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Drawing from the synoptic gospels, Jefferson strings together a comprehensive narrative of Jesus' life, removing the fantastic and keeping the empirical and moral: the teachings in the synogogue, the sermon on the mount, and the parables, concluding with the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. For some, the supernatural is proof of the divinity of Jesus; from what is presented here, Jefferson was more concerned with Jesus as man. In this respect, Jefferson is a century ahead of the likes of Bultmann and Tillich, and in many respects echoes the work of John Spong.
To be fair to Jefferson (and clear in my comparison), Jefferson had a very different purpose than these theologians, and he was very much a man of his time - much more the Unitarian than deist, but firmly rooted in the Christian tradition nonetheless. That said, the rational approach to the study of the Bible and his focus on the teachings and morals certainly point the way for later philosophical work on the topic. For those interested in a purely secular examination on Christianity, or simply further evidence of Jefferson's brilliance, breadth of interest and intellectual prowess, you will not be disappointed here. For those of a more "literalist" interpretation of the Bible, one will only find frustration and strong disagrement.
I have read various versions of the Jefferson Bible, and this is easily the best. The book starts off with the history of the Jefferson Bible, then there is a chapter on the Smithsonian Institution's conservation of the original book. After that comes the facsimile reproduction of Jefferson's "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin French and English".
When I say facsimile, I mean it is an exact copy, right down to the yellowish shade of paper and the obvious slight stains on many of the pages. The reproduction even goes as far as to show where the ink bled through as Jefferson numbered the pages at the top. This facsimile is so well done that the pasting of the various verses seem nearly three-dimensional. There are several places where Jefferson pasted a small verse into the margin and then finished one of the words with his own hand. One of these small pastings is actually glued into the margin and then physically folded backwards into the book itself, just as was the original.
The pages themselves are unique in that the corners are rounded off, rather than squared, and there is a substantial feel to each of the pages. The cover of the book comes with a heavy clear plastic jacket.
If you are a connoisseur of Jefferson's words, and you are open-minded enough to look at the life of Jesus from a more objective, rather than supernatural, view, this is a wonderful place to start.
As a side note, go to iTunes and search "The Thomas Jefferson Hour". Humanities scholar and author Clay Jenkinson portrays Jefferson, and his one hour shows are both entertaining and historically instructive.
I am going to purchase a few more of these books to give to open-minded friends.
The Smithsonian edition is quite impressive, both as an introduction to Jefferson's work, and as a work of art in its own right. Pages are a thick (imitation) vellum, with rounded corners; there is a fold-out multi-panel map, and even tiny pasted-in sections that are true to the original (see uploaded photos for numerous details). Each page of the original book was hand numbered, and laboriously constructed from four texts - Greek, Latin, French, English - beginning with Jesus' birth, and ending with the tomb sealed with a stone. We see the man Jesus and his core teachings through the eyes of one of our Founding Fathers. The Smithsonian version introduction details the process of the Smithsonian Institution's restoration of this historic American volume, as well as Thomas Jefferson's creation of the original book. In spite of concerns about printing in China, it is a delight to hold a volume that is such a gorgeous example of the bookbinder's art.
This edition has brought hours of joy to a dear friend, assisted her in curating an important local Bible collection, and is a treasure of a book for the scholar or historian.
*I offer this as a review of a book, a beautiful book; not my faith, or Jefferson's, or the politics or economics of printing; none of which I care to discuss. You might want to read the book.*
The Jefferson Bible is "must reading" for anyone interested in American history and/or who is willing to think critically about Christianity and the gospels. For anyone with those interests, I recommend as a companion book,THE JEFFERSON BIBLE What Thomas Jefferson Selected as the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth which, unlike this edition, has the complete Jefferson Bible in English--organized in a very clear and readable way unlike so many other editions--and also gives an excellent introduction to Jefferson and the story behind this book). As beautiful as this facsimile is to look at, the font in the introduction is so small and faint that it is quite difficult to read and the photocopy is, in my opinion, impossible to read. (Wonderful to have and to look at--but not to read)
As a history buff who appreciates the opportunity to actually own a photocopied reproduction of The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, I would love to give this book 5 stars. But I can't, for two reasons. First, for being printed in China--which I understand is necessary to keep it affordable, but still is a sad commentary on our times that a taxpayer-funded national museum that is reproducing a work by one of America's greatest national leaders and patriots--has to have it printed in China, our biggest creditor.
But worse than that is that the title page calls this book "The Jefferson Bible" and treats its real title, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" as if its a subtitle. This, in something billed as a "facsimile edition" is, in my opinion, quite unfortunate, like reproducing the Declaration of Independence and calling it, "Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence".
No, actually it's worse than that, because at least Jefferson really wrote the Declaration of Independence. He not only did not write the Bible of course--but he called his reorganization of it, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth". It was not called "The Jefferson Bible" until long after his death.
While one might say, "Well, they have to title it that way so people will find it and buy it" well I don't think that's enough of a reason to risk misunderstanding, especially for those who know very little about this book. A separate title page BEFORE the facsimile part of the book begins would have been an easy solution and its puzzling why they didn't try to avoid any misunderstanding.
It's unfortunate if even one person would leave with the impression that Jefferson would have titled this book after himself.
Also, its also unfortunate that, since this is a facsimile of the original, there is no way to read the actual text. It's a beautiful reproduction but the best thing about "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth", in my opinion, is that Jefferson edited it into a concise and meaningful narrative of Jesus' life and made an interesting historical and moral book without anything he felt was supernatural, unscientific or ahistorical. It is actually very good reading, including for young readers.
(And, as I say, for a companion book that not only has the text in English but also an excellent introduction to Jefferson, I recommend "The Jefferson Bible What Thomas Jefferson Selected as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth". There are many copies of the Jefferson Bible, but this one is laid out to make it easy to read and also includes a unique introduction to Jeffeson, his life, and the story behind this book. Taken together, these two books complement each other--you can enjoy reading the text and learning about the original book with one, and then experience the historic facsimile.
"The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" tells the reader about Jesus, his life and teachings, and, taken together, these two "Jefferson Bibles" tell us much about Thomas Jefferson as well.
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