Smithsonian is restoring Jefferson’s unique Bible

March 15, 2011

A Smithsonian museum is restoring the "Jefferson Bible," a unique
volume that the third president himself cut and pasted—omitting lots of
theology—from portions of the New Testament.

Thomas Jefferson assembled the book in 1820 after retiring from the presidency. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth
resembles a scrapbook that puts Jesus'  life in chronological order.
Its 86 pages include clipped passages from the Gospels in English,
Latin, French and Greek. It includes the crucifixion and burial of Jesus
but not the resurrection and leaves out the miracles attributed to him.

Conservators
at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will repair
the fragile book's torn pages. It is scheduled to be displayed starting
in mid-November for four months. The project, paid for by private and
federal funds, will cost about $225,000.

"The volume provides an
exclusive insight to the religious and moral beliefs of the writer of
the Declaration of Indepen­dence, the nation's third president, as well
as his position as an important thinker in the Age of Enlightenment,"
said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum, in a March 10 announcement
about the project.

The Smithsonian's librarian purchased the book
from Jefferson's great-granddaughter for $400 in 1895, said museum
spokeswoman Valeska Hilbig. "He never sold it because he didn't want it
to be public," Harry R. Rubenstein, the chair of the museum's political
history division, told the Washington Post. "He wanted to avoid bringing back the arguments that he was anti-Christian."  —RNS