Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Jefferson Bible

A friend in Atlanta sent me the following, partially his own and partially extracted from an article by Erik Reece, entitled Jesus Without the Miracles, in the December issue of Harper's.

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson took a pair of scissors to the King James Bible and cut out the virgin birth, all the miracles, and the Resurrection. He then pasted together the parts that were left and called it The Philosophy of Jesus. Jefferson kept his version mostly private, fearing that the established church would find it further evidence of his atheism. In the years since, Jefferson's redaction has come to be known as The Jefferson Bible.

Jefferson's compilation demanded that we be much better people than most of us are. Jefferson objected to the prevailing orientation of Christianity that was far more concerned with the promise of eternal salvation from this world that with a desire to practice the teachings of Jesus while we are here on Earth.

A clarification of what those teachings are reads like this:
  • Be just; justice comes from virtue, which comes from the heart.
  • Treat people the way we want them to treat you.
  • Always work for peaceful resolutions, even to the point of returning violence with compassion.
  • Consider valuable the things that have no material value.
  • Do not judge others.
  • Do not bear grudges.
  • Be modest and unpretentious.
  • Give out of true generosity, not because you expect to be repaid.

In all of his teachings, the Jesus that Jefferson recovered had one overarching theme--the world's values are upside down in relation to the kingdom of God.

  • Material riches do not constitute real wealth;
  • Those whom we think of as the most powerful, the first in the nation-state, are actually the last in the kingdom of God;
  • Being true to one's self is more important than being loyal to one's family;
  • The Sabbath is for persons, persons are not for the Sabbath;
  • Those who think they know the most are the most ignorant;
  • The natural economy followed by birds and lilies is superior to the economy based on Caesar's coinage or bankers who charge interest.
Seems that Jefferson's Jesus was a socialist, and a Green.

As we head into the Christian holiday season ... I take a small measure of comfort knowing that Christianity as practiced did not have to turn out as it has. Deciding which direction to follow is always a choice.

There's also Jefferson's Cheese.
And also Jefferson's Decalogue of Canons.

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At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Kimberly said...

It puzzles me when someone who calls himself/herself a Christian pays little attention to the teachings of Jesus. I can't help but think that a lot of "conservative" Christians wouldn't like Jesus the rabbi much at all, were he to show up on their doorstep today.

I have to get a copy of this month's Harper's.


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