I was surprised to see this Jefferson and the Bible gallery at BeliefNet. The first page cites David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies, which is never a good beginning.
This morning I wrote BeliefNet and asked them to correct what was wrong which would in effect mean removing most of it. I have no reason to think that they will not be responsive. Many well-meaning people read Mr. Barton’s materials and think they have discovered hidden truth. I suspect the BeliefNet folks have simply not checked the sources. Here, with a little editing, is what I sent to them. Feel free to contact them as well or leave a comment at the bottom of the pages.
I am writing to offer comment and suggest that you modify or remove the gallery about Thomas Jefferson and the Bible. The web address is here: http://www.beliefnet.com/News/ElectionCenter/Gallery/Urban-Myths-About-Thomas-Jefferson.aspx.
Along with a colleague I have written a book (Getting Jefferson Right) which responds to The Jefferson Lies. I am an evangelical but believe that the facts are more important than ideology. I hope you will take these concerns seriously and makes changes to make your materials conform to the facts.
The gallery is significantly factually flawed. I will only comment on a few things but hope you will contact me so I can offer a fuller explanation.
The first page of the gallery says that Thomas Jefferson was an active member of the VA Bible Society. In fact, he donated $50 once to the society on request of his insurance agent, Samuel Greenhow. Being an active member would indicate attendance at meetings, being an officer, donating regularly or even joining. There is no indication in Jefferson’s writings that he did anything more than give a donation. Also, regarding the financial struggles of Jefferson and the donation. Jefferson was almost always in financial trouble and died in dept. Below is the letter Jefferson sent to Greenhow in full. Note that Jefferson does not want the society to give Bibles out in other countries.
Your letter on the subject of the Bible Society arrived here while I was on a journey to Bedford, which occasioned a long absence from home. Since my return, it has lain, with a mass of others accumulated during my absence, till I could answer them. I presume the views of the society are confined to our own country, for with the religion of other countries my own forbids intermeddling. I had not supposed there was a family in this State not possessing a Bible, and wishing without having the means to procure one. When, in earlier life, I was intimate with every class, I think I never was in a house where that was the case. However, circumstances may have changed, and the society, I presume, have evidence of the fact. I therefore enclose you cheerfully, an order on Messrs. Gibson & Jefferson for fifty dollars, for the purposes of the society, sincerely agreeing with you that there never was a more pure and sublime system of morality delivered to man than is to be found in the four evangelists. Accept the assurance of my esteem and respect.
On page two, you say that Jefferson personally helped fund a ground breaking Bible. In fact, he paid a subscription fee to get a copy of the Thompson hot-pressed Bible, just like the other 1271 subscribers did. Jefferson was even late in paying his final subscription fee.
Page three is accurate.
Page four is similar to page two: Jefferson purchased Thomson’s work when he saw it advertised. Here is what he told Thomson:
—I see by the newspapers your translation of the Septuagint is now to be printed, and I write this to pray to be admitted as a subscriber. I wish it may not be too late for you to reconsider the size in which it is to be published. Folios and quartos are now laid aside because of their inconvenience. Everything is now printed in 8vo, 12mo or petit format. The English booksellers print their first editions indeed in 4to, because they can assess a larger price on account of the novelty; but the bulk of readers generally wait for the 2d edition, which is for the most part in 8vo. This is what I have long practised myself. Johnson, of Philadelphia, set the example of printing handsome edition of the Bible in 4v., 8vo. I wish yours were in the same form.
Jefferson learned of the project from the papers and wanted to buy one. Buying something is not the same thing as funding the project.
Page 5 is mostly accurate. However, there is much more to the story than the titles convey. One must actually read what Jefferson said about them to know why he created these booklets.
Page 6 is misleading in the extreme. Jefferson said that the last thing one should do to civilize Indians was send missionaries. He did not include all of the words of Jesus in the 1804 version. He left out John chapters 3, 14-17, the virgin birth, the resurrection and the Great commission (and many more words of Jesus). He never gave the book to missionaries and none were printed. There are no copies in print today.
Page 7 has truth and error. It is wrong to make a distinction between the purposes of the two books. Other than the different titles, he said the effort was the same, to remove the diamonds of Jesus moral teaching from the dunghill of the rest of the New Testament. Even the Indians reference is not straight forward, as he did that on one other occasion to refer to his political opponents.
Page 8 is mostly false. On several occasions, Jefferson told his friends why he edited the gospels. He was separating gold from dross and diamonds from a dunghill, leaving only what was “evidently his [Jesus’].” He included references to the afterlife which he believed in, but he removed material that supported the doctrine of Jesus divinity.
I hope the BeliefNet folks respond soon. If anyone else contacts them, let us all know what response you get.