The Jefferson Bible: A Reconciliation of Jefferson & Christianity
As a work of theological literature, Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, or otherwise popularly known as the Jefferson Bible, has historically either been considered a philosophical masterpiece or shrugged off as irreverent blasphemy. From a fundamentalist point-of-view, Jefferson had desecrated the world’s most glorified and holy text, butchering doctrines by which countless people live with his illicit cutting-and-pasting. On the other hand, thinkers from the Enlightenment camp saw Jefferson’s aggressive interpretation of the New Testament as a necessary adaptation to modernity, a much-needed reconciliation of an outdated text with a changing world that no longer blindly accepted the obsolete values of antiquity. Either way, Jefferson distinguished himself by doing what no one else had dared to attempt – instead of playing a game that he did not enjoy, he went ahead and changed the rulebook. In this manner, he sparked a theological revolution that ultimately transformed spirituality in the United States, from the rigid conception of righteousness as defined by the Pilgrims to what we know as virtue today. The intent of the Jefferson Bible was primarily didactical, meant to teach what Jefferson saw as the most beneficent and transcendent system of morals to ever arise from human civilization – the teachings of Jesus – to a cynical modern world and perhaps more direly, the fledgling nation-state of America, a society pervaded by sectarianism. But Jefferson also had a vision for theological progress, one that involved religion moving away from blind faith, belief in the supernatural, and trust in the Church. Instead, he championed a version of Christianity modified to represent the ideology of the Enlightenment, with rationalism, tolerance, and individual liberty at its core. Thus to this end, the Jefferson Bible is devoid of any sign of divinity, absent of even...
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