More Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Apr 05, 2007 at 01:53:13 PM EST
In this installment of my series on historical revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS), I'll be looking at a few misquotes of letters written by John Adams, and how, through the deceptive wording of a sentence following a discussion of the founding fathers, the NCBCPS curriculum implies that certain government acknowledgements of religion from the McCarthy era date back to the time of the founders.

All quotes from the NCBCPS in this piece are found on page 101 of the curriculum, in Unit 6: Hebrew Law, Exodus Chapters 20-40. This is the unit that opens with the infamous James Madison Ten Commandments misquote mentioned in my previous pieces. The bogus Madison quote, however, isn't the only misquote in this unit.

Page 101 begins with a paragraph about the resolution of Congress calling upon Ronald Reagan to declare 1983 the "Year of the Bible," and then continues:

Several of the Ten Commandments speak of duty to God. And yet, the Mosaic Law also separated the religious and civil institutions. According to the Bible, the priests of Israel came from the Tribe of Levi, and the kings from the tribe of Judah. Still, both were subject to the Mosaic Law.

Thomas Jefferson is said to have been a leading advocate of the separation of church and state. And yet, Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that America is entitled to be an independent nation under the "Laws of Nature and of nature's God." He also wrote that "all men are created equal" and that "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Among his most famous statements is the quote, "God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?

I'm not quite sure what any of these statements about Jefferson have to do with the Mosaic Law, or what point the NCBCPS is trying to make with them, and I'm not going to get into the phrases from the Declaration, except to say that some of them weren't Jefferson's words, but revisions made to Jefferson's original draft by the Continental Congress. As for the other Jefferson quote, this was covered in my previous piece, More Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools. The misquotes I want to focus on in this piece are the two from John Adams that appear in the next paragraph on the page, which begins with the following:

Our second President, John Adams, often articulated a similar view. In a letter to Jefferson, dated December 25, 1813, he declared that "the Bible is the best Book in the world. It contains more philosophy than all the libraries I have seen."...

The source cited in the curriculum's footnote for this Adams misquote, which is not only a misquote, but taken completely out of context, is William Federer's America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations.

Like the Jefferson quotes before it, this Adams quote has no relevance to the preceding statement about the Mosaic Law, a statement it is apparently supposed to support. Besides their inaccuracy, there doesn't seem to be any legitimate reason for this Adams quote or the Jefferson quotes to appear in this unit of the curriculum at all.

Getting back to the misquote itself, the general subject of Adams's December 25, 1813 letter to Jefferson was the incomplete and inadequate treatment of various philosophies and religions by certain authors, particularly Joseph Priestly. What Adams was saying was that after comparing all the religious and philosophical books available to him, he concluded that the book containing what most closely, but not entirely, matched his own philosophy was the Bible. William Federer, and in turn the NCBCPS, removed from the statement the words indicating that Adams was referring to his personal philosophy, not philosophy as a whole, and, more importantly, the part in which Adams said that there were parts of the Bible that did not match his personal philosophy.

The following is the part of Adams's letter, beginning with the sentences misquoted in the NCBCPS curriculum, and continuing with a bit more of the letter to give a sense of its tone and the context in which the statement appeared. Adams preceded this statement with other comments about the shortcomings of Priestly's work which were very similar to those in this excerpt.

...Phylosophy looks with an impartial Eye on all terrestrial religions. I have examined all, as well as my narrow Sphere, my streightened means and my busy Life would allow me; and the result is, that the Bible is the best book in the World. It contains more of my little Phylosophy than all the libraries I have seen: and such Parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little Phylosophy I postpone for future Investigation.

Priestley ought to have given Us a Sketch of the Religion and Morals of Zoroaster of Sanchoniathon of Confucius, and all the founders of Religions before Christ, whose superiority, would from such a comparison have appeared the more transcendant.

Priestley ought to have told us, that Pythagoras passed twenty Years, in his travels in India, in Egypt, in Chaldea, perhaps in Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sydon. He ought to have told us that in India he conversed with the brahmans and read the Shast[r]a, 5000 Years old, written in the Language of the sacred Sanscrists with the elegance and Sentiments of Plato. Where is to be found Theology more orthodox or Phylosophy more profound than in the Introduction to the Shast[r]a? ...(1)

The curriculum, again citing Federer, continues with its second inaccurate Adams quote:

A few years earlier, in a letter to Judge F.A. Van der Kemp, February 16, 1809, Adams wrote, "The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation... [God] ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe....[which is] to be the greatest essential principle of morality, and consequently all civilization."

The following is the entire, unedited statement from Adams's letter:

The two most powerful, active and enterprising nations that ever existed are now contending with us. The two nations, to whom mankind are under more obligations for the progress of science and civilization than any other except the Hebrews. This consideration affects me more than the danger from either or both. I excepted the Hebrews, for in spite of Bolingbroke and Voltaire, I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of morality, and consequently all civilization. I cannot say that I love the Jews very much, neither, nor the French, nor the English, nor the Romans, nor the Greeks. We must love all nations as well as we can, but it is very hard work to love most of them.(2)

Well, since the practice of bracketing words in a quote indicates that the bracketed words are synonymous with the word or words that they are being substituted for, William Federer and the NCBCPS must either consider "God" and "chance" to be synonymous, or they are misusing the practice of bracketing words to deliberately alter the meaning of Adams's statement. I'll go out on a limb here and guess that it's the latter.

Finally, the concluding paragraph of this page of the curriculum, which immediately follows the paragraphs about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, begins with this sentence (emphasis is mine):

Still today, our Pledge of Allegiance declares that America is "One nation under God," and our coins read "In God We Trust."

Still today??? The NCBCPC wouldn't be trying to plant in the minds of today's public school students that these 1950s "red scare" era religious acknowledgements date back to the days of the founders, would they?

1. Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams, (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press,1988), 412.
2. Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, No. 4, (1896), 220-221.

Previous articles in this series on Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools:

Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 3/31/07
Barton Revises History to Promote the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/24/2007
More Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/18/2007
Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/10/2007


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