Sunday, April 1, 2012

Traveling for History: The Jefferson Bible

Along with Thomas Paine, Frederick Douglass and Christopher Hitchens (among others), Thomas Jefferson is one of my historical heroes.  Although the Bible is not my book, nor am I a religious man, I find artifacts like this fascinating and thank goodness for museums like the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. for conserving it and putting it on display, for anyone who travels to the museum to see.   I will not speak too much about this book, but should you want to learn more, you can click here.   I've read for several years references to this book, but when I saw it in person, I admit, I felt the goose bumps rising on my arms.  For those who love to travel, for whatever reason, know the feeling upon reaching a destination. 

Toward the end of Jefferson's life, when he was 77 years old, he created what today would be thought of as a scrapbook of passages he literally cut with a razor from bibles in four languages (below), leaving out all references to anything supernatural, miraculous or divine.  He intentionally left out anything he considered "contrary to reason." No walking on water, no raising the dead, and no Resurrection.   He titled the book "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth."   Today, it is simply known as The Jefferson Bible.

The Jefferson Bible recently underwent a very extensive conservation.  It was unbound, each page individually cleaned and restored, then the entire thing put back together.
I photographed the bibles by carefully placing my camera against the cases to steady it, then took several pictures.  


  1. So is there a version of the Jefferson Bible available for the GP?

    1. I know one can buy a copy of it from the Smithsonian, Amazon or read a free copy of it online should they want to. I think it all comes down to universal principles of respect and common courtesies; to live and let live. One of my favorite quotes from Jefferson is posted below. The Jefferson Bible was a work discussed by Jefferson and other Founding Fathers years before he actually constructed it. This is a man who saw the birth of a nation, through writing it's founding documents and seeing it through war and serving as it's third president. Then, after all this and at 77 years old, considered everything, and pulled out his trusty razor!

  2. 32 years before constructing The Jefferson Bible, he wrote this in a letter to his nephew: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must approve the homage of reason rather than of blind-folded fear. Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences.... If it end in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others it will procure for you."
    --Thomas Jefferson, to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787