How Thomas Jefferson Created His Own Bible

Thomas Jefferson was influenced by the principles of deism — the idea that a supreme being created the world, but no longer intervened directly in daily life. A product of the Age of Enlightenment, Jefferson was interested in science and the theological questions it raised. Although he was a champion of religious freedom, his belief system was so out of the mainstream that opponents in the 1800 presidential election labeled him a “howling atheist.” Because Jefferson didn’t agree with how the teachings of Jesus Christ were interpreted by Bible scholars, he created his own Bible. Jefferson elected to not include miraculous events like the feeding of the 5,000 with only two fish and five loaves of bread, and his gospel concludes with Christ’s entombment, but omits His resurrection. Jefferson produced the 84-page volume in 1820 — six years before he died at the age of 83 — bound it in red leather and titled it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. The Smithsonian acquired the surviving custom bible in 1895, and by 1904, by an act of Congress, the book was printed. Until the 1950s, when the supply of 9,000 copies ran out, each newly elected senator received a copy of the Jefferson Bible on the day the legislator took the oath of office. It's important to remember that the Bible was never intended to be a buffet from which to pick and choose the most delectable parts; it was meant to be taken as a whole, or not at all. The Jefferson Bible serves as a reminder of what can happen when we take our own preferences to the extreme: we’re left with no Bible at all.