Thomas Jefferson, with an introduction by F. Forrester Church and an afterword by Jaroslav Pelikan
Beacon Press, 1989: paperback.

The third president of the United States was a genuine Renaissance person, who produced a remarkable range of intellectual and creative achievements. One of the lesser-known of these was the Jefferson Bible, a bold accomplishment, now made available in a pocket-sized edition with a new introduction and afterword.

In his introduction to the new edition, F. Forrester Church, Senior minister of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City, writes that his own introduction to the Jefferson Bible came when his father, the late Senator Frank Church, presented him with a copy that the elder Church had been given on the day of his swearing in as a U.S. senator in 1956, “as had been the Custom since 1904.”

Jaroslav Pelikan, in an afterword, notes Jefferson's “sheer audacity,” in editing the New Testament accounts, to tell “the life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth” without the “corruptions” Jefferson felt marred the text. Jefferson “wanted to find the essence of true religion in the Gospels, an essence whose basic content he had already formulated for himself with considerable simplicity and clarity.”

Jefferson himself, in a letter to John Adams, described his task as that of “paring off the amphiboligisms into which [the evangelists] have been led” and leaving “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to many”-“and which is as distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.”

My own discovery of the Jefferson Bible was in a remaindered facsimile edition which. I happened to pick up in a bookstore for one dollar many years ago. It has been long out of print, and this new edition from Beacon Press, with the Church and Pelikan pieces added, is most welcome.


Autumn 1990`