07 January 2013

A Jefferson Bible for the Twenty-first Century

A Jefferson Bible For the Twenty-First Century

The American Humanist Association has just published a new book -- A Jefferson Bible for the Twenty-first Century. It includes the entire text of the original "Jefferson Bible," along with lists of the best and the worst passages from the Gospels, Hebrew scriptures, Book of Mormon, Quran, the Bhagavadgita, and Buddhist sutras.

Thomas Jefferson created "The Jefferson Bible" (or, as he called it, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth"by cutting the best verses of the gospels and pasting them into one coherent story. He removed all of the miracles and traces of the supernatural, including the virgin birth and resurrection, and only included the best teachings of Jesus, leaving behind the more nasty stuff. Here is how he described it:
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 [Jesus's], 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.
The AHA's new book is well worth the price for its inclusion of the Jefferson Bible alone. And the lists of the best and worst in each of the (supposedly) holy books are extremely useful.

I was, however, a bit disappointed by the lists. They were quite short (3 or 4 pages in each list) and they seemed to leave out many verses that should have been included, and to include many that should have been left out

Of course, lists of this nature are necessarily subjective; what seems bad to one person may seem good to another. Still, there are thousands of bad verses in the Bible and hundreds of good ones (with similar, though somewhat smaller, numbers for the Quran and Book of Mormon). So it seems to me that three dozen or so of the "best" (or "worst") verses should, at the very least, seem good (or bad) to everyone.

Here, for example, are some of the book's more questionable "best" and "worst" selections from the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon.

The worst from the gospels?
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven. John 3:27  (OK, this verse is absurd. But is it one of the worst?)
The best of the Hebrew Bible?
The first five passages in the "Best of the Hebrew Bible" are from Genesis (13:8; 18:22-25; 33:3-4, 8-11; 39:7-9; 50:18-21). I don't see much good in them (or anything else in Genesis, for that matter).
And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselvesExodus 18:25-26 (That's nice, but is it that nice?)
The worst of the Hebrew Bible?
Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Leviticus 19:27
Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together. Deuteronomy 22:11
(OK, these are silly rules, but  do they belong on the top 40 list of worst passages in the Old Testament?) 
The best of the Quran? (I guess these are good. I'll take their word for it.)
And let not thy hand be chained to thy neck nor open it with a complete opening, lest thou sit down rebuked, denuded. 17:29
Lo! with hardship goeth ease. 94:6
The worst of the Quran? (The AHA made a good selection here. Of course, there is a lot to choose from.)

The best of the Book of Mormon?
Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger. 1 Nephi 16:38
Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law -- to do your business by the voice of the people. Mosiah 29:26
For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted. Helaman 5:2
The worst of the Book of Mormon?
Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of? 2 Nephi 12:22
What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God. Alma 42:25
O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth. Helaman 12:7
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 3 Nephi 13:27
Still, the lists in the book were useful to me, since there were quite a few verses that I hadn't yet marked in the SAB. And while they wouldn't make my best and worst lists, they they are worth highlighting, and I have since done so.

Here are the new additions to the SAB that I found in the book:

Bad stuff in the gospels:
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven. John 3:27
Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Matthew 15:13
Good stuff the Hebrew Bible:
If thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Leviticus 25:35
Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen. Deuteronomy 27:18
Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen. Deuteronomy 27:19
The path of the just is as the shining light. Psalm 4:18
Fools die for want of wisdom. Proverbs 10:21
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches. Proverbs 13:7
Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Ecclesiastes 5:5
Bad stuff in the Hebrew Bible:
Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it. Genesis 2:17
Bad stuff in the Quran:
Make not Allah, by your oaths, a hindrance to ... making peace among mankind. 2:224
If the debtor is in straitened circumstances, then (let there be) postponement to (the time of) ease. 2:280 
Good stuff in the Book of Mormon:
Teach them to never be weary of good works. Alma 37:34
See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength. Alma 38:11 
Ye should do alms unto the poor; but take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them ... ye shall do your alms do not sound a trumpet before you. 3 Nephi 13:1-2
Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. 3 Nephi 14:12
Why do ye ... suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not? Mormon 8:39
Bad stuff in the Book of Mormon:
For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil. Alma 5:40
Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ. And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk. Alma 15:10-11
On the whole, it's an interesting book that would be a useful addition to anyone's library.

10 Jan 13 update: The American Humanist Association is sending a copy of this book to President Obama and all 535 members of Congress.

17 Jan 13: Todd Stiefel President of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation discusses "A Jefferson Bible for the Twenty-First Century."
Also available at the Apple book store


Stephen said...

Hmmm... I don't know. I've got a copy of the Jefferson Bible with an introduction by Forrest Church and an afterword by Jaroslav Pelikan. Included are some actual reproductions of some pages from Jefferson's original work. The introduction and the afterword are as interesting as the redacted gospels.

Based on what you've included of the "best of..." and "worst of...", I'd say the SAB does a better job. Not only is there "best" and "worst", but you've got all the other categories... IMO, a much more versatile reference.
Steve Weeks

doomcup said...

Shouldn't that be Good Stuff in the Quran?

Steve Wells said...


I'm not sure I understand your question. But the reason I didn't have anything under "Good Stuff in the Quran" was that there was nothing on the book's list that wasn't already marked good in the SAQ.

doomcup said...


I followed the links, and the passages they hilighted showed thumbs up. I guess that's what threw me.