Book review: The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth

by Thomas Jefferson


We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus. There will be remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.

With this goal, Jefferson set about with razor in hand to extract the true words and actions of Jesus from the enveloping hype and miracle stories of the Gospels. Rejecting the virgin birth, the annunciation, and even the resurrection, Jefferson wanted to dig down to Jesus’ message of absolute love and service. The result is a chronological new Gospel formed by merging select portions of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

An excellent, concise introduction by Forrest Church and an afterward by Jaroslav Pelikan (Whose Bible Is It) round out the book. Jefferson espoused a Unitarian philosophy, subjugating the topic of religion in his library to the category of “moral philosophy.” Pelikan, in his afterward about Jefferson’s contemporaries, classifies Jefferson among the “Enlightenment rationalists.” After reading Jefferson’s Bible, I’d say that’s a fair assessment.

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