Monumental: Shouldn’t a movie about history be historically correct?

Crosswalk published my commentary today on the revisionism of the movie Monumental.

In it, I look at three claims made in the clips released in advance of the movie. Specifically, did Thomas Jefferson and a dozen founders financed the Thompson Hot Press Bible of 1798? Did Congress print the Aitken Bible and recommend it as a “neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for use in schools?” Was the Jefferson Bible just a devotional book and not an extraction of miracles and divinity?

I hope you will go read, tweet and like it.

Kirk Cameron’s Monumental Revision of Thomas Jefferson

Kirk Cameron is giving some in the media advanced looks at Monumental (which premieres tonight), including Christianity Today. In a follow up interview, Cameron extends his revision of Thomas Jefferson to a discussion of Jefferson’s faith and the Jefferson Bible.

Interviewer Andrew Thompson gets credit for asking a couple of hard questions about Jefferson’s faith. Cameron dodges them with historical fiction. Thompson asked:

The documentary mentions that the founding fathers were Christians, even implying that Jefferson was a Christian. But most scholarship would say he was a deist who hardly held evangelical views.

Cameron directs Thompson to someone who Cameron says has studied Jefferson’s life and faith, Stephen McDowell, who is involved i the Providence Foundation, another revisionist history organization. It is no wonder that he then spins a yarn about Jefferson’s extraction of miracles and the deity of Christ twice, first in his 1804 Philosophy of Jesus and then again sometime between 1820 and 1824, in order to form what Jefferson considered to be Jesus’ real moral teachings. Cameron answered:

For that, I would direct you to other people who have studied his life and his faith for thirty years—like Stephen McDowell [author of America’s Providential History], who’s at the end of the film. We’ve all heard about The Jefferson Bible that Jefferson edited by taking scissors and cutting out the parts didn’t like—removing the miracles, and only keeping the moral teachings of Jesus. Well, that actually is not true. The story is that Jefferson was so enamored with the teachings of Jesus that he wanted to have a personal devotional book. And he cut those sections out of several of his Bibles and glued them into a personal handbook that he could keep in his back pocket for his own devotional reading. He was opposed to the idea of calling it a Jefferson Bible.

Thompson is ready with a pretty good reply (although with an incorrect quote) to that story:

In a 1787 letter to Peter Carr, Jefferson wrote that “trying to find the truth in the Bible is like picking diamonds out of dunghills.” Sounds like a pretty low view of Scripture, doesn’t it?

In fact, the phrase — diamonds from a dunghill — although quoted incorrectly here by Thompson, is very relevant to what Jefferson said he did with the Gospels. In 1813, Jefferson told Adams that he had edited the Gospels with this description:

I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.

Jefferson extracted the diamonds from the Gospels and left in the dunghill. For Jefferson, diamonds included the Golden Rule, and the Sermon on the Mount, and dunghill included the virgin birth, John 3:16 and the resurrection. Viewers of Monumental might find that surprising. Sounds like Cameron might find that surprising. Cameron’s answer to Thompson dodges the central problem with what I have seen of Monumental:

Yeah, it sure does. I’m not running around waving the Thomas Jefferson flag. Even if Jefferson is a complete infidel—and I’m not saying that he is—he certainly promoted the basic principles of Christianity and funded major Christian efforts to get the principles of Christianity deep into the hearts and minds of people. He understood that it was only those principles that could provide the basis and foundation for a free and just society.

What are the basic principles of Christianity? This is a pretty important question since he said Jefferson promoted these principles. Jefferson believes you get to heaven by doing good works, and sure did many of them. He believed in treating others the way you want to be treated. He also believed that one’s life of virtue is proof enough that one’s religion is personally valuable, no matter what that religion was. Are those the basic principles of Christianity?

Jefferson is a fascinating figure who remains at the center of conversation after all these years. Pity for viewers that Monumental does not appear to get Jefferson right.

**Regarding the quote attributed to Peter Carr, I cannot find that exact quote. Jefferson did tell young Carr to “Read the Bible, then, as you would read Livy, or Tacitus. The facts which are within ordinary course of nature you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy and Tacitus. But those facts in the bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces.” He added that Carr should question Joshua’s story of the sun standing still because it violates the laws of nature. Regarding the New Testament, Jefferson advised reading extra-biblical literature to contrast with the canon of Scripture. However, I think CT’s Thompson has blended a couple of quotes together incorrectly.

Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President

That is the title of an upcoming eBook I am publishing on Amazon.com along with fellow Grove City College professor of political science, Michael Coulter. We are greatly expanding the posts I did here examining and debunking claims by David Barton and others about Thomas Jefferson. Most of the book is new material and examines claims about Jefferson in the areas of church and state relations, education, the Bible, his religious views and current politics. There is an extensive section on the Jefferson Bible and other claims related to the Bible rarely included in any resource on Jefferson. We are including an annotated bibliography of accurate and helpful resources as well.

One book that won’t be on that list but we discuss frequently is David Barton’s new book, The Jefferson Lies, which is now available on Amazon. I’ve read it and we include substantial rebuttals to claims made in the book. In fact, one of the claims I responded to when I wrote about Kirk Cameron’s new movie Monumental which comes out tomorrow. In that post, I noted that Barton misled viewers about a Family Bible and indeed in his book, he identifies it as the Thompson hot press

Bible. In the advanced copy I have, Barton claims that Bible was funded by a dozen signers of the Declaration and Constitution, including Jefferson. Barton says Jefferson “personally helped finance the printing of one of America’s groundbreaking editions of the Bible.” (p. 68). In truth, he bought a Bible from Thompson and Small along with over 1270 other people.  In fact, Jefferson didn’t finish paying for it until after the Bible was printed. It was completed in 1798 and Jefferson didn’t pay his final $10 until early 1799.

A website is in the works and it will be available as an eBook on Amazon in mid-April. Ebooks can be read on any smart phone, IPad, IPod, computer, Kindle or reading device. For now, go Like our Facebook page and and answer a question we deal with in the book. More questions will be added between now and mid-April.

Monumental Question: Did Signers of the Declaration and Constitution Finance a Bible for Every American Family?

David Barton told Kirk Cameron they did for Cameron’s new movie Monumental. Watch the video clip from the movie:

For this post, I am interested in what Barton and Cameron say about the first Bible mentioned by Cameron and Barton dated 1798.

Kirk Cameron: What are these?

David Barton: This is a family Bible done in 1798.

Barton: This Bible was funded by about a dozen signers of the Constitution and signers of the Declaration as well as by President John Adams and Vice-President Thomas Jefferson. They’re the guys that put up the financial backing to do this Bible.

Cameron: Funded by signers of the Declaration…

Barton: and Constitution

Cameron: and Constitution

Barton: yeah, Gunning Bedford, signer of the Constitution, John Dickinson, signer of the Constitution, you had so many of the signers who were part of this, you had Alexander Hamilton helped fund this Bible.

Cameron: Because they wanted families to gather around the Bible…

Barton: They wanted the Word of God out to every family.

Cameron: Because they believed that would make for a better country.

Barton: Makes for a better country, makes for a better faith. And again, this is a product of our atheist, agnostic, deist Founding Fathers, or at least, that’s who we’re been told they were today, When you see this stuff, you go wait a minute. These guys…why would any atheist, agnostic, or deist promote the Word of God, fund it and want it distributed to every family and everyone in America? Why would they fund a Bible that you can take and give out to your neighbors, and evangelize them, it doesn’t make sense. Now, on the other hand, if these guys happened to be Christians, that makes a lot of sense.

Did a dozen or so Signers of the Declaration and Constitution finance this Bible to give to every family in America? Since Barton did not say who published the Bible mentioned in the clip, I cannot respond with 100% certainty. However, given the size and the publication date, I doubt the claim that the Founders put up money to get that 1798 Bible to every family.

The only Bible of that size published in 1798 that I can locate is the Thompson Hot Press Bible. At the time, it was the largest Bible printed in the new nation and it was the first hot press Bible published. The ink and type were heated and then seared — hot pressed — onto the page, making a very clean impression.

The 1798 Bible was issued originally in 40 sections starting in June 1796 at half a dollar a number. One of the sources I consulted indicated that Thomas Jefferson paid $5 in February of 1798 as a payment on a subscription of $20 for a hot press Bible. Jefferson’s name is listed among the subscribers.

Buying a Bible by subscription was common then and was a way to provide the printer with some idea of how many copies to print. An analogy today might be to think of a magazine subscription is a purchase of a year’s volume of issues. You are committing to pay one price but might pay in payments instead. Here is a description of a Bible being offered by subscription in 1688 by William Bradford:

The first proposal to print the Bible in English in America was made in 1688 by William Bradford of Philadelphia. The publication that announced this intention was worded as follows: —

“These are to give Notice, that it is proposed for a large house-Bible to be Printed by way of Subscriptions, [a method usual in England for the Printing of large Volumns, because Printing is very chargeable] therefore to all that are willing to forward so good (and great) a Work, as the Printing of the holy Bible, are offered these Proposals, viz.: 1. That It shall be printed in a fair Character, on good Paper, and well bound. 2. That it shall contain the Old and New Testament, with the Apocraphy, and all to have useful Marginal Notes. 3. That it shall be allowed (to them that subscribe) for Twenty Shillings per Bible: [A Price which one of the same volumn in England would cost]. 4. That the pay shall be half Silver Money, and half Country Produce at Money price. One half down now, and the other half on the delivery of the Bibles. . . . Also, this may further give notice that Samuell Richardson and Samuell Carpenter of Philadelphia, are appointed to take care and be assistant in the laying out of the Subscription Money, and to see that it be imploy’d to the use intended, and consequently that the whole Work be expedited. Which is promised by

“william Bradford. “Philadelphia, the 14th of the 1st Month, 1688.”

Bradford wanted half down and the rest later. Buying by subscription allowed printers to go ahead with a project but the result was that the subscriber got what he paid for. Barton told Cameron that the 1798 Bible was funded and financed by the Signers so that it could be “distributed to every family and everyone in America.” If, indeed I am correct and the Bible in the movie Monumental is the 1798 hot press Bible, then this claim is quite misleading.

Barton says the Bible was “funded by about a dozen signers…” However, the 1798 hot press Bible had, by my count (I have the two page subscriber’s list), 1272 subscribers. Some of the signers of the Declaration and Constitution were on that list, but they were subscribers just like the other 1200+ people who paid their subscription money to get the entire Bible. Barton’s narrative makes it seem as though the signers mentioned (e.g., Adams, Jefferson, Bedford, Dickinson, etc.) put up money over and above the price of a personal copy in order for the printer to distribute them to others. That is not what happened with the 1798 hot press Bible.

If there is some other folio sized Bible published in 1798 that was created in the manner described by Barton, then I hope he will identify it. I can’t find it. However, if the Bible mentioned in Monumental is that hot press Bible, then Cameron’s movie will be at least one part historical fiction.

 

What Barack Obama and Thomas Jefferson have in common

Both of them were/are considered infidels and anti-Christian during their tenure in public life by the religious right of their era.

I started this post when some Christian right leaders went ballistic over Barack Obama’s reference to his religious views at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month. Then, Rick Santorum called Obama’s theology “phony.” And then today I see that my friend at Messiah College John Fea is at the heart of a storm over his statement that Barack Obama is “the most explicitly Christian president in American history.”

Glenn Beck is all over the Messiah history prof because of course one cannot view Barack Obama’s statements in the same way one views the religious statements of other Presidents.

For sure, though, there is a parallel between Obama and Jefferson.

During the campaign of 1800, Rev. Thomas Robbins wrote in his diary:

The Anti-Federalist ticket has prevailed in the city of New York, and they have chosen Democratic members for their assembly. It is said this will make a majority of Democratic electors in their legislature, and bring Jefferson into the Presidential chair. Blessed be God that all things are in His hands, and may He avert such an evil from this country, for His name’s sake. I do not believe that the Most High will permit a howling atheist to sit at the head of this nation.

As we know, the Most High did permit Jefferson to sit at the head of the nation.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Jefferson was very cautious about his correspondence surrounding his Presidential years because he feared the reaction of religious leaders – “genus irritabile vatum” (irritable tribe of priests ) he called them. Many in religious establishment in his day believed that Jefferson was antagonistic toward religion and opposed him politically. Sound familiar?

I am not sure I agree with John, although I am not convinced I disagree with his statement regarding Obama. I am sure though that Jefferson and Obama have at least one thing in common.

Fight the good fight, John.

Locke and Jefferson on Toleration of Religion

For our edification:

In Thomas Jefferson’s Notes of Religion (Oct. 1776), Thomas Jefferson quotes John Locke on toleration of religious views.

He [Locke] sais ‘neither Pagan nor Mahomedan [Muslim] nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.’ Shall we suffer a Pagan to deal with us and not suffer him to pray to his god? Why have Xns. [Christians] been distinguished above all people who have ever lived, for persecutions? Is it because it is the genius of their religion? No, it’s genius is the reverse. It is the refusing toleration to those of a different opn [opinion] which has produced all the bustles and wars on account of religion. It was the misfortune of mankind that during the darker centuries the Xn. [Christian] priests following their ambition and avarice combining with the magistrate to divide the spoils of the people, could establish the notion that schismatics might be ousted of their possessions & destroyed. This notion we have not yet cleared ourselves from. In this case no wonder the oppressed should rebel, & they will continue to rebel & raise disturbance until their civil rights are fully restored to them & all partial distinctions, exclusions & incapacitations removed. (Online Library of Liberty: The Works, vol. 2 (1771-1779).

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

 

Was the Jefferson Bible just the words of Jesus? Part 2

In the mail Saturday, I received my copy of the Smithsonian edition of the Jefferson Bible. It is a marvelous reproduction of the original on display at the Smithsonian. Here is a picture of one of the pages which is photograph of the original manuscript:

You can’t see the words well but Jefferson cut out the portions of the New Testament he wanted to include in Greek, French, Latin and English. Verses are arranged so that the reader can see how they are translated in each language.

I am interested in the Jefferson Bible because it gives some insight into what Jefferson believed about Jesus. Also, I wanted to inspect the manuscript more closely to address the false claims of David Barton about the Jefferson Bible. In his American Heritage DVD series, Barton said this about Jefferson’s efforts:

What happens is, this little document here is called the Jefferson Bible. We call this the Jefferson Bible and the last 30 years, people have consistently said this is the Scriptures that Jefferson cut out everything with which he disagreed. Well if you go to the front of this work, it doesn’t have the title Jefferson Bible. If you’d used that title with him, he’d have probably punched you out for saying it. The title he gave it is the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. What he did was he went through and cut out all the red letters of Jesus and pasted them from end to end so he could read the red letters of Jesus without stopping. He’s not what he cut out but what he put in. But why did he do that?

He tells us, he did this twice, he did this in 1804 and he did it again in 1819. He said that he did this to be a missionary tool to evangelize the Indians. Because if we can get them to read the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, it’ll changed their lives. So this was not a work that he turned and cut out everything he disagreed with. It’s a work where he took all the words of Jesus and put them there so you could read the words of Jesus non-stop.

I addressed this claim first in January, and want to expand on that post here. About Jefferson’s effort, Barton said:

What he did was he went through and cut out all the red letters of Jesus and pasted them from end to end so he could read the red letters of Jesus without stopping.

and then, he added:

So this was not a work that he turned and cut out everything he disagreed with. It’s a work where he took all the words of Jesus and put them there so you could read the words of Jesus non-stop.

Barton’s claim that Jefferson “cut out all the red letters of Jesus and pasted them end to end so he could read the red letters of Jesus without stopping” is provably false. There are many red letters which Jefferson omitted. Jefferson wrote in the margin of his work the references to the passages he snipped from the manuscripts. Reviewing my edition, I did not find any references to Jesus’ words in John 14-17. Jefferson included lengthy passages from Mt. 5, and Luke 12 but omitted the lengthy sermons in red letters in the chapters 14-17 of John (see John 14-17 in this online red letter edition of the New Testament). Most of the words in this section of John are words of Jesus. Jefferson omitted them.

Jefferson may have done so because in these passages Jesus speaks of Himself as deity. For instance, in John 14:1-4, Jesus says He is going to prepare a place in heaven and calls God His Father:

14:1-4 – “You must not let yourselves be distressed – you must hold on to your faith in God and to your faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s House. If there were not, should I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am. You know where I am going and you know the road I am going to take.”

And then John 17: 1-3 proved unreliable as an actual teaching of Jesus to Jefferson:

17:1-3 – When Jesus had said these words, he raised his eyes to Heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son now so that he may bring glory to you, for you have given him authority over all men to give eternal life for all that you have given to him. And this is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent – Jesus Christ.

Given that Jefferson left out long passages of the words of Jesus, it is clear that David Barton is misleading his audiences when he says Jefferson’s book of teachings of Jesus is all the red letters laid out in order. And when one examines what Jefferson left out (what he considered a “dunghill” from which he extracted “diamonds”), it seems clear that Jefferson believed these passages were not original with Jesus. He told John Adams that his work represented the collection of the real teachings of Jesus, saying:

In extracting the pure principles which he [Jesus] taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurgos, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines, such as were professed and acted on by the unlettered Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers, and the Christians of the first century.

If you are interested in seeing for yourself how Jefferson edited the New Testament, I recommend the little manuscript. It is a fascinating piece of history, but it is nowhere near what David Barton says it is.

Related:

Is the Jefferson Bible just the words of Jesus?

In his American Heritage series, David Barton  told Matthew and Laurie Crouch that the Jefferson Bible was Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to construct a Bible to evangelize the Indians. He said that Jefferson put together the “red letters” or the words of Christ (often written in red in King James Bibles) for this Bible so he could get across the moral teachings of Jesus. Listen to Barton’s claims in this video:

Regarding Jefferson and his edited Bible, Barton said:

I have to stop on Jefferson for just a minute because when you say the Jefferson Bible, people say, I’ve heard of the Jefferson Bible, that’s where he cut out everything he disagreed with. He was so anti-Christian, so anti-Bible that he cut it all out. Well, temporary time-out; if he’s so opposed to the Bible, why is he one of the founders of a society that promotes the entire Bible? I mean if the Jefferson Bible charge is right, that he cut out the parts with which he disagreed, then why would he fund and contribute and help run a society that gives out all the Scriptures unedited. That’s inconsistent.

What happens is, this little document here is called the Jefferson Bible. We call this the Jefferson Bible and the last 30 years, people have consistently said this is the Scriptures that Jefferson cut out everything with which he disagreed. Well if you go to the front of this work, it doesn’t have the title Jefferson Bible. If you’d used that title with him, he’d have probably punched you out for saying it. The title he gave it is the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. What he did was he went through and cut out all the red letters of Jesus and pasted them from end to end so he could read the red letters of Jesus without stopping. He’s not what he cut out but what he put in. But why did he do that?

He tells us, he did this twice, he did this in 1804 and he did it again in 1819. He said that he did this to be a missionary tool to evangelize the Indians. Because if we can get them to read the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, it’ll changed their lives. So this was not a work that he turned and cut out everything he disagreed with. It’s a work where he took all the words of Jesus and put them there so you could read the words of Jesus non-stop.

In April, 2011, I addressed Barton’s claim that the Jefferson Bible was an evangelism tool (it wasn’t) and yesterday I examined the claim that Jefferson founded the Bible Society of Virginia (he didn’t).

Today, I want to show that Jefferson did not include all the words of Jesus and that he did cut out miraculous elements, presumably because he disagreed with them. Indeed, he told John Adams in 1813:

We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.

So Jefferson included the words of Jesus but not all of them because some, he asserted, included the disciples’ “misconceptions as his [Jesus’] dicta.” Just for example, let’s look at a selection from Chapter one of Jefferson’s version. Here is an image from Jefferson’s manuscript. As you can see, this portion combines parts of Matthew 12, and Mark 2. As I will demonstrate, Jefferson omitted many words of Christ and the miracles He performed.

Now look at the Mt 12:10-15.

10And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.

11And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?

12How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

13Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

14Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.

15But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all;

(non-italicized words designate what was removed by Jefferson and the red letters are words of Jesus that Jefferson removed)

In reading through the Jefferson Bible, many words of Jesus are missing (e.g., Jn 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me“, Mt 28:19 – “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.“). In fact, there are no post resurrection words of Jesus because Jefferson ended his Bible with the end of Mt 27:60 – “…and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”

If a modern day President chopped up the New Testament in the way Thomas Jefferson did, that President would be excoriated by Christian leaders. Examining Jefferson’s work, it is clear that the Jefferson Bible is not as Barton described.

To read Jefferson’s edited Bible, go here and/or here.

 

Did Thomas Jefferson found the Virginia Bible Society?

David Barton says he did. Watch this clip from the American Heritage series. Barton is speaking to Matthew and Laurie Crouch.

About the Virginia Bible Society, Barton says

You get back here and you find the Virginia Bible Society. Now what makes that one particularly interesting is Thomas Jefferson was one of the founders of the Virginia Bible Society. Oh no, not Jefferson! He’s secular, he wanted…you see Jefferson founded the Bible Society, he gave large contributions to get the Bible out to every American.

Did Jefferson found the Virginia Bible Society?

According to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Jefferson donated money to the society but was not a founder. The founding managers are listed there:

The Bible Society of Virginia was founded in 1813 in Richmond as … “[a] Society for the distribution of the Holy Scriptures to the poor of our country.” Thirteen men were designated to serve as the inaugural managers in 1813: Reverend John Buchanan (president), Reverend John D. Blair (vice-president), Reverend Jacob Grigg (vice-president), Reverend Jacob H. Rice (corresponding secretary), William Munford (recording secretary), Samuel Greenhow (treasurer), Archibald Blair, William Mayo, Robert Quarles, George Watt, Reverend John Bryce, William Fenwick, and Alexander M’Rae.

Jefferson did not seem to be aware that such a society was needed when he wrote to society treasurer, Samuel Greenhow, providing a gift of $50. In this letter, it seems clear that Jefferson was in the dark about the aims of the society and hoped that the group would not send Bibles to other nations.

TO SAMUEL GREENHOW.

Monticello, January 31, 1814. Sir,—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.

It seems unlikely that Jefferson was a founder given that he did not know the objectives of the group. His donation was apparently a one-time contribution and which would be worth just over $500.00 today, if this calculator is to be trusted. I can find no evidence that Jefferson founded the Virginia Bible Society. If Barton has evidence that is not generally available, he should produce it. If such evidence is offered, then I will retract this post. I seriously doubt that is going to happen.

On point, Jefferson did not seem to think very highly of bible societies when it came to evangelizing outside the United States. John Adams also had a dim view of them. He wrote to Jefferson on November 4, 1816 and complained:

We have now, it seems a National Bible Society, to propagate King James Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better, to apply these pious Subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the corruptions of Christianity; than to propagate those Corruptions in Europe, Asia, Africa and America! (p. 493-494)*

Both Adams and Jefferson agreed that the New Testament was riddled with corruptions and falsehoods. Jefferson’s attempt to edit the New Testament was driven by his desire to get back to the basic moral teachings of Jesus, sans miracles.

Jefferson wrote back to Adams in response, complaining about the value of the “bible-societies.” Describing those who took the Bibles to Asia, Jefferson wrote to Adams on November 25, 1816:

These Incendiaries, finding that the days of fire and faggot are over in the Atlantic hemispheres, are now preparing to put the torch to the Asiatic regions. What would they say were the Pope to send annually to this country, colonies of Jesuit priests with cargoes of their Missal and translations of their Vulgate, to be put gratis into the hands of every one who would accept them? and to act thus nationally on us as a nation? (p. 496)*

Whereas Adams dismisses the whole enterprise, Jefferson wonders how the Protestants in America would like it if the Vatican made a special effort to bring in the Vulgate and give it away.

In the video above, Barton discusses the Jefferson Bible and makes the claim that the Bible was designed to evangelize the Indians. He also says that Jefferson just included the red letter parts – i.e., the words of Christ. I addressed the Jefferson Bible as an evangelistic tool here (it wasn’t) and in a future post, I will demonstrate that Jefferson left out many red letters and did indeed seek to purge those aspects of the Gospels with which he disagreed.

*The Adams-Jefferson Letters, Edited by Lester Cappon. Published by The University of North Carolina Press, 1959.

 

Did Thomas Jefferson give the Jefferson Bible to missionaries?

I can’t find the original quote, but Craig Fehrman wrote in the LA Times yesterday that Daivd Barton said Jefferson gave his edited Bible to missionaries to evangelize Indians.

Fehrman says that is a fabrication. I wonder if Barton will answer this charge.

In any case, the LA Times article is worth a read.

As I have written here, if Jefferson meant for his Bible to be an evangelism tool, then he was pushing a different Christianity than the orthodox version.

Here is at least one place that Barton made the claim about Jefferson and the missionaries: