News / USA

Jefferson Bible Sparks Religion Debate in America

Jefferson's Bible Sparks Debate over Religion in Americai
X
May 02, 2013 10:23 PM
America's founding fathers broke with the tradition of state-sponsored religion when they separated church and state in the new republic. But religion continues to divide Americans, and one of the key disagreements is over what the early leaders themselves believed. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports on a daring experiment by Thomas Jefferson.
America's founding fathers broke with the tradition of state-sponsored religion when they separated church and state in the new republic. But religion continues to divide Americans, and one of the key disagreements is over what the early leaders themselves believed.

In the final years of his life, former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson took a knife and cut up the Gospels, holy scripture to Christians.

"Even though he realizes as Republican party leader, that this would be a very controversial act," noted Harry Rubenstein of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, who led the project to restore the book that the third U.S. president created out of what he saved.

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, or The Jefferson Bible as it's known today, left out the Resurrection and other miracles. Rubenstein says that's because Jefferson wanted to highlight Jesus' moral teachings.

"I think in one sense this is a larger project that he has been thinking about along with his colleagues and very close companions: what should be the moral basis of the new nation," he said.

Earlier this year, Luis Granados of the American Humanist Association published a version and sent it to lawmakers.

"There's some great wisdom in there, and we think members of Congress would be well advised to spend a few hours sitting around thinking about that - and at the same time well advised to recognize that there's some other stuff in there that's maybe not so good," he said.

He said Jefferson wasn't the only iconoclast. George Washington prayed but refused communion, while author Thomas Paine called religions "human inventions."

Thomas Jefferson was inspired by George Mason's views on freedom of conscience and the founding fathers are generally seen as Enlightenment rationalists. But the Christian right - which considers America's founding to be part of God's plan - insists their religious convictions were rock solid, for the most part.

Texas pastor Mark Collins dresses up as George Washington and makes appearances at churches and religious events. He said Jefferson cut up the Bible during a crisis of faith.

"You know, we go through seasons, and we make mistakes and sometimes we get angry at God," said Collins.

At the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, an inscription quotes the president saying, "all men shall be free to profess... their opinions in matters of religion." 

Lindsey Lange, a visitor, said the founding fathers believed in pluralism.

"I believe that they were mostly open to all religions, and that's why people were coming here to the United States, escaping oppression in other countries," said Lange.

Another visitor, Elisha Troyer, agreed partly. "But I do believe with them having the Christian values that they are more on the Christian faith," she said.

Jefferson was the great thinker of America's early presidents. And he only meant to share his more radical thoughts with close friends, fearing they could stir controversy for generations to come.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurdish Leader: Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid