Dear Ace: What is this Jefferson Bible? And why are the Unitarian-Universalists so into it?—Newt Estament
Dear Newt: Jefferson had a Bible? It might be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but that TJ sure was a shameless self-promoter!
To find out about the Jefferson Bible, Ace called David Takahashi-Morris, co-minister of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalists. As it turns out, the Jefferson Bible is not actually called the “Jefferson Bible.” In a blaze of uncharacteristic modesty, Jefferson actually named the text The Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth by Thomas Jefferson.
According to Takahashi-Morris, Jefferson became convinced that a great deal of the Bible had been added over the centuries, so that the actual religion of Jesus had been lost. As an educated (and self-important) person, Jefferson went back to the original Greek, and translated the text himself.
Methodologically speaking, Jefferson took out all of the sections that he thought didn’t belong. Thus, the text is a distillation of what Jefferson presumed to be the actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Like Ace’s foolproof super-sleuth intuition, Jefferson used his instinctive sense of what was right and true in Christianity. In a letter to John Adams, he described the project as “abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried…[to separate] the diamond from the dung hill.” Oh,
As to why the UUs are so fond of “Jefferson Bible,” Newt, it’s quite simple. Even though Jefferson wasn’t a member himself, he extensively spoke of his admiration for the Unitarian Church. In 1822, TJ forecasted, albeit falsely, that “there is not a young man now living in the United States that will not die an Unitarian.” With that kind of endorsement, it is only natural for UU church to claim Jefferson and his gospel as a spiritual ancestor, especially here in little old Charlottesville.
Takahashi-Morris insists that it is just as common for the UUs to study the Hebrew Tanakh as the Jefferson Bible. So don’t worry, Newt, the Unitarian Univer-salists are not all about Jefferson worship—for that, Ace recommends visiting Monticello.