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The Jefferson Bible
March 16, 2008 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Thomas Jefferson so wanted to fix what he thought was wrong with religion that he rewrote the Bible. He went through and cut out the parts that he liked most and pasted it to a fifth volume. He cut out Miracles. He cut out the Christmas story. He cut out most of the Easter story. Resurrection is gone. Wikipedia. previously
posted by nax (64 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
ObChristianNation
posted by DU at 1:47 PM on March 16, 2008


So, the chain goes Jesus -> Jefferson -> Tzara -> Gysin -> Burroughs. WWJD? Apparently a camel load of benzedrine and half the boys in Morocco.
posted by bunnytricks at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2008 [8 favorites]


I seem to recall that the Enlightenment was full of people trying to salvage what little they could of their faith after falling in love with reason; a classic Enlightenment thinker like Jefferson is exactly the sort of individual who would engage in such activity.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:56 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you think there's lots wrong with religion, why would you go out and invent a new one?
posted by DreamerFi at 1:56 PM on March 16, 2008


Funny thing is I didn't like his version so I rewrote it. It went something like this . . .

A luscious bitch she is, true
But it's not nice to fool mother nature
The proud mother of god like all ho's
Is jealous of her own shadow
Who is this young Vic Tanny bitch
Who wish to be queen for a day?
Who would sacrifice the great grandsons and daughters of her jealous mother
By sucking their brain until their ability to think was amputated
By pimping their instincts
Until they were fat, horny and strung-out
In a neurotic attempt to be queen of the universe
Who is this bitch?

Red hot mama from Louisiana
Thumbin' her way to Savannah
She been cooped up too long

Amen.

posted by nola at 1:59 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, if the New Testament didn't exist, we'd have to invent it. But I repeat myself.
posted by Brian B. at 2:00 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Contrast Bush, who finds things he likes and pastes them into the Bible.
posted by brain_drain at 2:08 PM on March 16, 2008 [12 favorites]


LOLJEFFERSON!
posted by Balisong at 2:09 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jefferson thought that humans had corrupted the message of Jesus by adding supernatural events to the story of his life and deeds, and by mangling some of his teaching in the retelling. Jefferson firmly believed that Jesus was human, and human only--but incredibly enlightened.

The Jefferson Bible was Jefferson's attempt to edit out the supernatural events that he believed had corrupted the original story and teachings of a thoroughly enlightened and inspired man.
posted by Catrissa at 2:13 PM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


The fact that he'd attempt something like this is why I dig Tommy J, despite his many moral failings.
posted by papakwanz at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wasn't Jefferson a Muslim? I heard he never said the Pledge of Allegiance.
posted by orthogonality at 2:18 PM on March 16, 2008 [11 favorites]


I dig Tommy J, despite his many moral failings

Which I'm pretty sure is how Jesus would have liked us to dig everyone.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:22 PM on March 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Jefferson's effort here is admirable, both in his rejection of aspects of traditional Christianity that he considered unwarranted or pernicious, and in his willingness to find value in a belief system that he might simply have dismissed with indiscriminate contempt.
posted by washburn at 2:41 PM on March 16, 2008


3and Gary begat Jeremiah, the wise, who begat Trent...57and Mary begat Jesus, who said, 58"I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it, we can dig it, they can dig it, you can dig it 59Oh, let's dig it. can you dig it, baby?"
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:50 PM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


DreamerFi wrote "If you think there's lots wrong with religion, why would you go out and invent a new one?"

I'd guess it was because there hadn't been enough progress yet that the idea of life completely without religion was concievable. The Enlightenment largely consisted of people trying to preserve what they saw as the good parts of religion whild discarding the bad parts. Today I suspect he'd be in with those who argue that religion is what holds back our progress in matters spiritual and moral.
posted by sotonohito at 2:54 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jefferson's re-writing the Bible was discussed recently on Fresh Air. The guest, Steven Waldman, also claimed that Jefferson was a firm believer that God had a design for the universe, and he claimed that Jefferson in that regard would fit very well with the "intelligent design" movement. But since Jefferson died more than 30 years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species we can only speculate how he would've reacted to evolution.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 2:56 PM on March 16, 2008



I'd guess it was because there hadn't been enough progress yet that the idea of life completely without religion was concievable. The Enlightenment largely consisted of people trying to preserve what they saw as the good parts of religion whild discarding the bad parts. Today I suspect he'd be in with those who argue that religion is what holds back our progress in matters spiritual and moral.


This is utter tripe and foolishness. "Our Progress"? As a historian, you should probably have moved a little past Macaulay in theoretical sophistication by now. And whatever be that elusive quantum of progress necessary for total atheism, it was already old hat in the eighteenth century. (La Mettrie, for instance, and to a lesser degree Hume, were unapologetic atheists, and there were many more "freethinkers").

Thankfully, Jefferson and the other philosophes had an appreciation of the role of religion in society above the LOLXIANS level.
posted by nasreddin at 3:14 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I read the Jefferson Bible as a teenager, and was very amused that Jefferson's Jesus doesn't talk back to his parents when they come to fetch him at the temple. Never mind talking about God--we can't have the kids sassing mom and dad!

TJ's version:

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature.

As opposed to the original (Luke 2:46-52, my emphasis):

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?
And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.
And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:15 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Oh, and of course there was Voltaire, who thought the upper strata of society should be atheists but that the people needed to be kept in line with a rationalistic pseudo-religion)
posted by nasreddin at 3:17 PM on March 16, 2008




Wasn't Jefferson a Muslim? I heard he never said the Pledge of Allegiance.


Well, I presume this is a joke, but just in case I feel like mentioning that the words "under God" didn't appear until the 50's, when they were added as a way to "scare commies."
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:31 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


>If you think there's lots wrong with religion, why would you go out and invent a new one?"

I'd guess it was because there hadn't been enough progress yet that the idea of life completely without religion was concievable. The Enlightenment largely consisted of people trying to preserve what they saw as the good parts of religion whild discarding the bad parts. Today I suspect he'd be in with those who argue that religion is what holds back our progress in matters spiritual and moral.


I think you're missing the point. You can call this book "religious" if you want, since the main character's name is Jesus and all, but it basically describes the life and times of a guy with some interesting ideas. He talks to some people, he dies, and he doesn't come back. It's no more inherently religious than Jefferson's own autobiography.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:41 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, I presume this is a joke, but just in case I feel like mentioning that the words "under God" didn't appear until the 50's, when they were added as a way to "scare commies."

Actually, the Pledge itself wasn't written until 1892.
posted by nasreddin at 3:42 PM on March 16, 2008


Actually, the Pledge itself wasn't written until 1892.

The poster was referring to the 1950's.
posted by Brian B. at 3:53 PM on March 16, 2008


The poster was referring to the 1950's.
Obviously, but Thomas Jefferson died in 1826.
posted by nasreddin at 3:58 PM on March 16, 2008


So there's this guy, you know.
And a bunch of people like him, so they tell each other and a religion is born.
Three hundred years later, when it can't have been at all distorted, they start to write it down.
But there's some stuff in there about Mary Magdelene being second in command, and nobody likes that so they cut it out.
And there's some stuff about Jesus not suffering, him being godlike and all. Because a load of Christians are suffering at the hand of Rome, they cut that out too. To make Jesus more in touch with the common man.
There's also some stuff about Jesus being nothing but a man. That gets incorporated into the text, but the God stuff's important too, so they fudge it, try and say that he's both divine and human. It's a Bobby in the shower moment for the early Christians and the writers hope nobody will notice.
There's also a bunch of stuff recommending they get rid of the old testament, but the Romans like their new religions to be Olde Fashioned, so that gets left on the cutting room floor.
We won't even mention Marcion.

And they have a book. The unassailable word of God.
Which is translated a bunch of times. And some of those times, the translation is good, but most of the time, the translation is culturally biased.
Some stuff gets removed, and some stuff gets misinterpreted.
Some interpretations are questioned.

The book is translated into English and because it meant people could decide what the bible meant for themselves, a country went to war.
So a swiss guy scribbled in the margins, gave instructions on what "the bible really meant" and well, nobody really liked the people who liked this annotated version, so they all emigrated and started killing brown people.

Somewhere in there Jefferson had a go at it. He was a good man & he saw that the book needed to be bought in line with current moral teachings. He tried to cut some stuff out.
Despite what they told you in church, This was not an unusual thing to do.
posted by seanyboy at 4:03 PM on March 16, 2008 [13 favorites]


we can only speculate how he would've reacted to evolution.

"I share a common ancestor with niggers?"

Let us not forget that Jefferson, despite his fancy writing and high-minded ideals, was a racist who personally held scores of Africans in slavery. He didn't even have the Bible to justify his racism, just his cold empty heart. He knew it was wrong and did it anyway.

In short, these people are to be free, and then deported. Jefferson's teaching on that matter is quite clear and often repeated. The negro president indeed.
posted by three blind mice at 4:09 PM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Shepherd Book could have told him that you don't fix the Bible, it fixes you.
posted by adipocere at 4:09 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, everyone knows the Tyndale Bible is the one true book.
The William Tyndale article is worth a read.
posted by seanyboy at 4:11 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think you're missing the point. You can call this book "religious" if you want, since the main character's name is Jesus and all, but it basically describes the life and times of a guy with some interesting ideas. He talks to some people, he dies, and he doesn't come back. It's no more inherently religious than Jefferson's own autobiography.

I agree. The idea that Jesus was a secular reformer is valid by analogy when considering the notion that ancient religion was dead, based on sacrifices, empty prayer and traditional ritual, with no personal importance. Greek influences raised the demand for such a messiah to deliver people from religious bondage, and the age of reason acknowledged it.
posted by Brian B. at 4:11 PM on March 16, 2008


Obviously, but Thomas Jefferson died in 1826.

Uh, the poster was quoting a joke upthread about Jefferson, which was alluding to Obama being accused of not reciting the pledge of allegiance, which itself was a misinterpretation of a video that only showed him not placing his hand over his heart during the national anthem. End of story.
posted by Brian B. at 4:16 PM on March 16, 2008


I've always thought of the Jefferson Bible as a keen example of the sheer hubris and sense of self-entitlement and intellectual self-importance that the Enlightenment (despite its obvious goods) brought us. 'Oh, something that millions of people have analyzed and learned about and revered for thousands of years? I can obviously improve on that!'
posted by shakespeherian at 4:18 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


The problem with your theory, shakespeherian, is that Jefferson did improve upon the Bible.
posted by Flunkie at 4:21 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


the pledge of allegiance was written in 1892 for a Children's magazine celebrating a pirate who raped and killed native Americans.
posted by any major dude at 4:23 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


wow. Vic Tanny. that's what he said!
posted by ianaces at 4:26 PM on March 16, 2008


Let us not forget that Jefferson, despite his fancy writing and high-minded ideals, was a racist who personally held scores of Africans in slavery. He didn't even have the Bible to justify his racism, just his cold empty heart. He knew it was wrong and did it anyway.

In short, these people are to be free, and then deported. Jefferson's teaching on that matter is quite clear and often repeated. The negro president indeed.


Yeah, but he lived around the dawn of the 19th century and we can't hold him to modern standards. People didn't even begin to develop opposable thumbs until the opening volleys of the civil war. If you think Jefferson's views are hateful and extreme, hope you never read John Adams' culinary classic "How to Serve Black Men." Why do you think Ben Franklin was so rotund? Hardtack and mead?
posted by bunnytricks at 4:35 PM on March 16, 2008



Uh, the poster was quoting a joke upthread about Jefferson, which was alluding to Obama being accused of not reciting the pledge of allegiance, which itself was a misinterpretation of a video that only showed him not placing his hand over his heart during the national anthem. End of story.


Yes. The poster wanted to pretend that this wasn't a joke, so he cited the 1950s change to the Pledge, which is irrelevant given the fact that the Pledge wasn't even written until 70 years after his death. But you know this, and are just being willfully obtuse as usual.
posted by nasreddin at 4:41 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes. The poster wanted to pretend that this wasn't a joke, so he cited the 1950s change to the Pledge, which is irrelevant given the fact that the Pledge wasn't even written until 70 years after his death. But you know this, and are just being willfully obtuse as usual.

Okaaaaay.
posted by Brian B. at 4:56 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]



Let us not forget that Jefferson, despite his fancy writing and high-minded ideals, was a racist who personally held scores of Africans in slavery. He didn't even have the Bible to justify his racism, just his cold empty heart. He knew it was wrong and did it anyway.


By the standards of the time, he wasn't much of a racist. He thought blacks were intellectually inferior, but was very careful to say that this was an unproven conjecture. It's probably the best he could have done, given that he depended on slaves for his survival.

But by all means, let's sneer haughtily at historical figures. Doesn't that feel good? You'll never be a genius philosopher who changed the world and gave liberty and voice to millions of people, but at least you're not a racist. From the high perch of your computer chair you can contemplate the whole panorama of history, of peoples and ideas, those thousands of years of struggle--and still be smugly satisfied with your own righteousness. Truly a win-win.
posted by nasreddin at 4:57 PM on March 16, 2008 [9 favorites]


The problem with your theory, shakespeherian, is that Jefferson did improve upon the Bible.

You should see his version of the Shakespeare folios!
posted by shakespeherian at 5:47 PM on March 16, 2008


shakespeherian: I've always thought of the Jefferson Bible as a keen example of the sheer hubris and sense of self-entitlement and intellectual self-importance that the Enlightenment (despite its obvious goods) brought us. 'Oh, something that millions of people have analyzed and learned about and revered for thousands of years? I can obviously improve on that!'

The same could be said of anyone trying to advance science or technology. "How could you possibly think you've discovered something new about the universe when millions of people before you have studied it and tried to understand it? How arrogant to think you found something that all of them - some of which had to be smarter than you - must have missed!"
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:48 PM on March 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


The same could be said of anyone trying to advance science or technology. "How could you possibly think you've discovered something new about the universe when millions of people before you have studied it and tried to understand it? How arrogant to think you found something that all of them - some of which had to be smarter than you - must have missed!"

Like I said, the Enlightenment brought us a lot of good— one of the more obvious bits being scientific advancements. That doesn't mean it's an unqualified good, and the assumption that oneself is the ultimate arbiter of truth and knowledge is in some instances ridiculous or even dangerous: For a more egregious example, witness how many folks have their own scientific rationales that prove that anthropogenic global warming is a myth, and they see no reason to believe the far-more-qualified-than-they scientific community on the matter.

Jefferson was, of course, a pretty smart guy who gave us a lot of great things, but what, exactly, did he add to the Bible? He cherrypicked passages from ancient literature that he thought deserved to be there based only on his gut (look at nasreddin's example above), and produced a document that is no more historically accurate nor morally relevant than what we already had.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:26 PM on March 16, 2008


given that he depended on slaves for his survival

I don't think survival is the right word here. Perhaps extravagant quality of life?
posted by jkafka at 7:32 PM on March 16, 2008


Jefferson was, of course, a pretty smart guy who gave us a lot of great things, but what, exactly, did he add to the Bible? He cherrypicked passages from ancient literature that he thought deserved to be there based only on his gut, and produced a document that is no more historically accurate nor morally relevant than what we already had.

You know who else did that? That's right, Mr.
posted by washburn at 7:44 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


By the standards of the time, he wasn't much of a racist. He thought blacks were intellectually inferior, but was very careful to say that this was an unproven conjecture. It's probably the best he could have done, given that he depended on slaves for his survival.

He needed them for personal reasons? Well I guess that's a good reason to ignore the morality he was well aware of (& applied that genius to as well.)

By his time there were many avowed and explicit abolitionists including Adams & Hamilton. But of course unlike them Jefferson needed slaves.

Oh but absolutely fuck us smug inferiors (now as then.)

After all the converse of sneering is a thoughtful consideration of history & not a willful deification of our dead great white men & dismissal of the history of non-whites. Having pointed out (now for 40+ years) that he was a slave holder we ought to just drop the point & join consensus reality in enjoying the beauty of his words & liberty & justice for all.
posted by Wood at 7:59 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
posted by hortense at 8:01 PM on March 16, 2008


He needed them for personal reasons? Well I guess that's a good reason to ignore the morality he was well aware of

When they're not protesting abortion clinics or writing letters to the editor about the homosexual agenda, the Christian right in America spends the rest of their time agitating against Jefferson's legacy for building a "wall of separation" between themselves and civilization.
posted by Brian B. at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2008



Actually, the Pledge itself wasn't written until 1892.


Er, yeah, that too.
posted by Citizen Premier at 9:32 PM on March 16, 2008


shakespeherian: "Jefferson was, of course, a pretty smart guy who gave us a lot of great things, but what, exactly, did he add to the Bible? He cherrypicked passages from ancient literature that he thought deserved to be there based only on his gut (look at nasreddin's example above), and produced a document that is no more historically accurate nor morally relevant than what we already had."

Well, I think it's a fair assumption that he probably thought his version was more morally relevant (or just relevant overall) to him than the original; I don't think you can make any claims either way as to whether his version or the 'original' that he started off with are objectively better. It's inherently a subjective claim.

He found -- and I'm tempted to agree, not that it really matters one way or the other -- that there's a lot of supernatural stuff in the Bible that stretches plausibility and distracts from its important core moral message. And with that in mind he cut out what he thought was erroneous or irrelevant, creating in the process something that probably felt more relevant and useful.

Given that there can't ever be much in the way of objective superiority when it comes to religious texts, all anyone can do is try to produce something that they think is relevant to themselves and to other people. Jefferson did that, or tried to anyway, and I don't think there's anything wrong in the attempt.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:57 PM on March 16, 2008


Uh, the poster was quoting a joke upthread about Jefferson, which was alluding to Obama being accused of not reciting the pledge of allegiance, which itself was a misinterpretation of a video that only showed him not placing his hand over his heart during the national anthem. End of story.

Brian B., you're taking a story based on faith, removing all the supernatural elements, and substituting reason. I can tell you now this idea is not going to sell.
posted by dhartung at 10:30 PM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's probably the best he could have done, given that he depended on slaves for his survival.

I'm an admirer of Jefferson in a lot of ways, but I think it's a mistake to gloss over his racism; the fact that it was common at the time doesn't give him a free pass. Even if he weren't to go the abolitionist route that, let's face it, would have been consistent with his views on personal liberty, he still could have freed all of his slaves upon his death as Washington did (just to name one possible way he could have done better).

Point being, he was a complex person with some contradictions, like most of the founders. That's because yes, it is possible to be a genius philosopher and a racist, and the one doesn't excuse the other. The flip side of not sneering at historical figures should be that we see them for who they are, right?

(Obligatory Sally Hemings reference: I wonder if "thou shalt not commit adultery" was in the Jefferson Bible.)
posted by whir at 10:54 PM on March 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Hey nasreddin, old chap, please pick up the call-out courtesy phone in Meta.
posted by orthogonality at 1:03 AM on March 17, 2008


You know who else was racist?
[awesome youtube link]
posted by seanyboy at 1:44 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


By the standards of the time, he wasn't much of a racist. He thought blacks were intellectually inferior, but was very careful to say that this was an unproven conjecture. It's probably the best he could have done, given that he depended on slaves for his survival.

This is utter tripe and foolishness. "The best he could have done"? As a historian, you should probably have moved a little past Blahblahblah in theoretical sophistication by now. And whatever be that elusive quantum of progress necessary for the rejection of slavery, it was already old hat in the eighteenth century. (Harriet Martineau, for instance, and to a lesser degree Sharp , were unapologetic abolitionists, and there were many more "freethinkers").

I know f-all about abolitionism. I snagged the names from here
posted by Deathalicious at 2:00 AM on March 17, 2008


I can see why this didn't catch on. If I'm a Christian, then who is he to rewrite the Bible, and if I'm an atheist then what do I need the Bible for? And if I just want the moral story, I can read the Bible as written and see the supernatural bits as part of the story, which they are. As long as we're already reading it as fiction, the supernatural bits don't do any harm.

Jefferson was a firm believer that God had a design for the universe, and he claimed that Jefferson in that regard would fit very well with the "intelligent design" movement. But since Jefferson died more than 30 years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species we can only speculate how he would've reacted to evolution.

In the 17th and 18th century there were lots of philosophical arguments for "intelligent design" that weren't necessarily too closely connected with Christian dogma. There was a distinction between efficient causality (what we think of as causality) and final causality (purposes, ends), and it was argued by a lot of people that efficient causality by itself was not sufficient to explain the universe. You can find all the efficient causal laws you want, you still haven't explained why these laws are as they are; hence it was thought that you need to introduce final causality, i.e. divine ends. But this is metaphysical and doesn't compete with physical theories like evolution and the Big Bang. I don't know much about Jefferson but I suspect he had something like this philosophical notion of "intelligent design" and wouldn't fit in very well at all with today's intelligent design crowd.
posted by creasy boy at 2:35 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rev 22
(18) For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
(19) And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.


Bet he took that part out.
posted by Phanx at 2:44 AM on March 17, 2008


You know who else was racist ?

Bernard Manning? Morrissey? Bernard Manning and Morrissey?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:09 AM on March 17, 2008


(Obligatory Sally Hemings reference: I wonder if "thou shalt not commit adultery" was in the Jefferson Bible.)

Wow, I was surprised at how far I had to scroll down before someone made this comment. TJ writing his own version of the Bible seems awfully Henry the VIIIth-ish to me. Let's see, Catholic church, won't let me divorce my wife and marry the babe I knocked up cuz I just gotta have a boy kid? OK, I'll start my own church, C'ya. Let's see, wanna tell me screwing my hawt black slave makes a mockery not only of my wedding vows but also my stature as one of the country's "Founding Fathers"? Eff King James, I'll write my own Bible. Oh yeah, and that anti-miscegenation crap? Bite me.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:39 AM on March 17, 2008


Hamilton called him out on this stuff. I don't think I would have liked Tom J if I had been around in those days. The thought of Jefferson far outweighs the reality of him.
posted by Senator at 7:21 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


For reference purposes, the answer here is supposed to be "Shakespeare."

See, this was a little joke for shakesphereian. Not a Hitler thing. Haha, right?
posted by washburn at 7:49 AM on March 17, 2008


“But since Jefferson died more than 30 years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species we can only speculate how he would've reacted to evolution.”

The idea of evolution was around long before Jefferson
(Anaximander, Democritus, Empedocles - as commented on by Aristotle, later on the Medievals had the Great Chain of Being metaphor vs. the Ladder of Life, etc. So the conceptual conflict is ages old as well)
I suspect Jefferson would have considered that part of the design. Fits in with the Deist idea of the sort of hands off God.
Scientific validation of it, I think, he would have augmented. And indeed, he was a polymath, he knew breeding and plant cultivation, heredity too is an ancient idea, so he probably strongly suspected (alibeit absent Darwin’s observational data) evolution from a scientific basis.
His genius is up there with Goethe.
‘Course, he had human failings and was a man of his times, and it’s tough to be a saint and a politician.

Plato (in Timaeus) on the other hand, might as well have come straight from modern rhetoric on ID.

“but it basically describes the life and times of a guy with some interesting ideas.”

And the universal truth of the story is the same. Jesus doesn’t just die, he’s executed by the Romans and popular prejudice.

Seems like a whole lot of guys who have interesting ideas and push hard for them sorta die all of a sudden and then are later revered where the very forces that were responsible for murdering them go about twisting their words to suit themselves.

I suspect Jefferson was aware of that as well. Which might ‘splain the slaves and so forth. It’s not beyond conception that he foresaw the kind of trouble Lincoln ran into. ‘Course that didn’t mean he had to wet his wick. But a lot of bright guys have lust as a consolation (I mean ‘consolation’ in the old school sense of the word) and pride as a vice. Dante Alighieri comes to mind.
Imperfect men speaking of an ideal they can’t live up to themselves.
I think Jefferson’s own example - in the very text under discussion - is absorb what is useful and true and discard the rest (or oppose and criticise it where necessary).

Not to say the criticism of the man isn’t valid or we should gloss over anything. But it’s nowhere near as useful as his ideas.

Hell, some beautiful plants spring from mounds of shit. (Oscar Wilde, we’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars, all that).
I think it’s amazing that he produced such concepts - in spite of - being a slave to his phallus and prejudices.

In any event, something sort of hidden in the writing (without addressing intent) - J.C. seems to have a very real awareness of his impending martyrdom.
One can take the ressurection as metaphor for his recreation as an idea (more homey - seen ‘V’? You can’t kill an idea) and the religious-social revolution that followed. I mean, you want to argue who killed who - sure, the Romans crucified Jesus, but man did he make a comeback and mess up the whole empire but good. Even now secular power has to contend with some of the concepts that extend from him (ostensibly, in his name, if not his spirit or the spirit of his words).
And there are other men who have proven that truth. Ghandi was more than willing to die to exert his influence. Myriad examples.
And I think Jefferson recognized that concept. The power people can exert over the state if they are willing to go to great lengths (the tree of liberty quote, et. al.)
That’s a core piece of the Christ story that is often completely ignored by both secular and religious power (and really, go figure). (Touched on a bit by Last Temptation of Christ I s’pose re: Judas)
posted by Smedleyman at 8:49 AM on March 17, 2008


Ah, The Pledge of Allegiance -- written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy (Baptist minister and Vice President of Education, Society of Christian Socialists) at 142 Berkeley St., Boston -- the building (known as The Historical Pledge of Allegiance Building) in which is now located (among others) the New England Bartending School.

/trivia
posted by ericb at 11:19 AM on March 17, 2008


I think equating Deism with "Intelligent" Design is really quite inaccurate and, given my sentimental admiration of Deism, a really bad idea. The two ideas have very little in common. Deism was an honest attempt to reconcile religion with rationality. ID is a deliberate effort to bolster religion at the expense of rationality. Deism asserts that the world, while divinely created, can be understood--in its entirety--through the application of reason. ID asserts that many evolutionary and biological processes can only be understood by a leap of faith.
posted by wheat at 1:14 PM on March 17, 2008


wheat - if you’re addressing my comment - I’m speaking more of the Deist conception of the design of the universe rather than referencing intelligent design. Poor word choice on my part there. That business aside, I think the science of evolution would fit nicely within the Deist conceptual framework so that bit of my comment was refuting Steven Waldman’s comment (referenced above by DiscourseMarker) that Jefferson would fit in with the ID crowd and explicating for DiscourseMarker the familiarity with evolution, as a concept, Jefferson likely had (and the evolution of the concept of the relationship between God and man within Deism as well - hence my comment on Plato (which I speculate might be where Waldman could have gotten tripped up)).
And of course conjecturing - along the same lines as you - that Deism in general and Jefferson in particular would likely have agumented Darwin’s findings (with speculation or research) had they been available to him at the time.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:23 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman: I, like you, was addressing the comment by the NPR guest, Steven Waldman, mentioned in this comment by DiscourseMaker.

I agree with you that the general notion of evolution neither begins with Darwin nor is antithetical to Deism. Darwin's particular formation was revolutionary, but the idea itself is older (or, at least, there are clear precursors). Jefferson believed that the universe was rational. So I can't see that he'd have any issue with evolution. The ID crowd, on the other hand, are irrationalists dressed up in scientific rigor.

You and I are, as far as I can see, in agreement on this one.
posted by wheat at 1:01 PM on March 20, 2008


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