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Book Review: "The Jefferson Bible", by Thomas Jefferson

I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and I am not afraid, for The Lord thy God walks with me.

Psalms 23:4

I'm a Christian, technically speaking. Technically speaking, because I have a hard time going to church, reading the Bible, and “toeing the party line” on *checks notes* pretty much everything. I very much enjoy dancing to the beat of my own drum, and that's about as much as I want to say on that subject publicly without unnecessarily offending people.

Nevertheless, I like negotiating on principle, and I think there's substantial value sometimes in having a more-or-less air-based basis of absolute faith (where you flip a light switch in your brain and simply choose to believe in something regardless of what facts are out there), and value in believing in something that lasts. I've found that the truth doesn't care one jot about my feelings, and I retreat to faith for finding emotional comfort. I've also found I need some direction for “mental energy”, and dumping it off a cliff seems appropriate. Rephrased, “everybody worships something”, which I've found to be true, and I'd like to exercise that truth in a healthy way. I don't think this is Pascal's bargain, that would make me an agnostic. I've made my choice, and after all, isn't the act of choosing what makes us human?

There are some logistical challenges with this, though. I don't like the Bible.

(*cue angry screeching noises*)

More specifically, I don't like how long and dry it is. I've tried reading through the whole thing from cover to cover, once, and made it to the middle of the Book of Psalms. The Book of Job was extremely dry, besides the beginning three paragraphs and ending three paragraphs, and it kind of did me in.

Apparently, Thomas Jefferson had this problem too, which is why he made his own Bible. He cut and pasted sections of Jesus's teachings only from the King James Version (KJV) into a new book. No Old Testament (which I've heard is already fulfilled anyways), no miracles, just words straight from the horse's mouth.

I finished reading it, and it's quite fascinating.


So Jesus talks a ton about money and personal finances. Like a furious amount. It's not all what you might expect, either. Sure, there's the passages about giving up everything and following him and stuff. But in his parables, he also talks about…inequality and unfairness:

For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given, and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.

Jefferson Bible 11:68

It's not just once, either.

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

Jefferson Bible 14:29

It might be about faith, and how faith is rewarded. Maybe it's the same story repeated twice, because different apostles wrote about much of the same stuff, but it's a striking passage either way. There's also stories of preparedness, like the 5 wise guests and 5 foolish guests with the oil lamps, that give you a bit of pause when you analyze the traditional and traditional-contrarian viewpoint of Jesus. You really do have to look at all his teachings right to each other to get that kind of context, which you would get in-person but can't get if there's a bunch of other stuff in between.

There's a bunch of other stuff you can see. Pilate being the weak-willed politician who does the easy thing instead of the right thing, the corruption of faith into a drive for wealth and power by the few, the hope for change through action, (e.g. the woman nagging the corrupt judge into granting a fair judgement), the importance of heart in making decisions (camel eye of needle rich person vs. Zacchaeus who was welcomed by Jesus despite only giving away half of his wealth), all of it just as revelant today as it was two thousand years ago. You can kind of understand Jefferson's philosophy too, why he wanted the United States to be a pastoral, agrarian state instead of an industrialized, moneyed great power. It's really an amazing read.


I kind of wish there was a New International Version (NIV) translation of the Jefferson Bible, maybe with the additional tips found in study bibles. It would make reading it a good deal easier. Maybe I should go make it.

I wonder if they make cut-outs of other religious books like the Koran or the Talmud that distill passages without imparting any kind of historiography. I'd buy those.

Even if you're not Christian, I recommend giving this book a read. It's probably less than ten pages of 8.5’’ x 11’', singly spaced, and the knowledge derivation rate is pretty high IMHO.