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The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Hardcover – November 1, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 141 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews



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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Books; MUL edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158834312X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1588343123
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (141 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By doc peterson VINE VOICE on November 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Jefferson was as complex as he was brilliant. His list of accomplishments is legendary; his foilbles underscore his humanity. A product (and among the leading minds of) the Enlightenment, Jefferson sought to understrand the essence of Christianity in a rational light, separating the philosophy and teaching of Jesus from the miraculous and supernatural. The result is his editing of the Bible into "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth."

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is my first ever review for Amazon, done after having been a customer since the very beginning.

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.
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I will not comment on Jefferson's editing of the Bible, only on the Smithsonian's work in producing this facsimile. This review is for the Smithsonian edition of Jefferson's Bible published in 2011. The book comes with a thick plastic dustcover with the title and Jefferson's picture on it. If you remove the plastic, the book underneath looks exactly like Jefferson's original volume. The first part of this work has the history of Jefferson's Bible and the conservation efforts taken to preserve it. Full color pictures show key figures in the story, part of the conservation work and even one original Bible that Jefferson used to cut out the passages. The second part of the book is, of course, Jefferson's Bible. I expected glossy, full color pictures of each page. And they are full color. But the paper used makes it look like you are looking at the original. In my opinion it is better than a glossy photograph would be. The foldout maps, his marginal notes and even his hand written table of contents are all included. On page 56 I thought I found a mistake. A rectangle of paper was glued down in mine that did not match the original online. It didn't open out. Later I tried again and discovered it was a flap, just stuck. A little extra pull and it opened up. It exactly matches the flap that Jefferson glued onto his original, including where the ink stuck to the page behind it! I am impressed with all the work that went into preserving the original and reproducing this facsimile for us. I hope those behind this work will produce other facsimiles. I believe this is well worth the price and recommend getting a copy now while they are available!
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