This is my fourth post about H. Res. 888
. The first
addressed the distortions and outright lies in fourteen of the resolution's seventy-five "Whereases," focusing on those related to our country's founding era; the second
showed Mr. Forbes's misrepresentations of several 20th century presidents; and the third
contained a transcription of Mr. Forbes's recent interview on David Barton's WallBuildersLIVE! radio show, revealing the true goals of the resolution and the ongoing lies about it.
For those not yet aware of just how heinous H. Res. 888 is, the always eloquent Mikey Weinstein, Founder and President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, sums it up perfectly: "Its myriad tortured and deliberate historical fictions, fused by it's Congressional-member drafters into a sorry screed of fascistic Christian exceptionalism and triumphalism, clearly illuminate its private sector and legislative sponsors' unbridled lust to spare absolutely no effort to complete the transformation of our country into 'The United Christian States of America.'"
Since I still have quite a few of the resolution's "tortured and deliberate historical fictions" to get to, I've decided that each time this resolution gets more co-sponsors, I'm going to debunk another one of its historical fictions -- starting with this one for the 18 new co-sponsors it got on February 12.
"Whereas beginning in 1904 and continuing for the next half-century, the Federal government printed and distributed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth for the use of Members of Congress because of the important teachings it contained;"
Anyone at all familiar with the writings of Thomas Jefferson or the debate over the religious beliefs of the founders will, of course, recognize The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as the "Jefferson Bible," the volume created by Jefferson by taking clippings from the four gospels, retaining only the words said to have been uttered by Jesus and certain biographical passages, but omitting everything miraculous or portraying Jesus as anything more than a man. But, for some reason, Mr. Forbes, while elsewhere making every possible connection or allusion to the founders, passes up, in this case, an opportunity to point out a genuine connection to a founder...go figure. It is only by reading Mr. Forbes's footnotes that anyone who is not familiar with The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth would realize this book had anything to do with Thomas Jefferson. And, it is one of these footnotes that brings us to the first lie in this "Whereas."
Mr. Forbes claims that: "beginning in 1904 and continuing for the next half-century, the Federal government printed and distributed" this book.
Mr. Forbes's source for this claim? The introduction, by Judd W. Patton, to an edition of the "Jefferson Bible" published in 1996. The problem? Mr. Forbes's source doesn't say this -- probably because it ISN'T TRUE!
The "Jefferson Bible" was printed by Congress only one time -- in 1904. It was not repeatedly printed and distributed by the government for the next fifty years, as Mr. Forbes claims. There were subsequent distributions of the book to Congress during this period, but these were by private groups, which is what Mr. Forbes's source, Judd W. Patton, actually wrote:
"After Congress published and distributed the 9,000 copies in 1904, a tradition began -- by what group or groups is still unknown -- of presenting a copy of Jefferson's work to our U.S. Senators and Representatives at their swearing in ceremonies with each new Congress. Anecdotal evidence indicates that this custom continued for at least fifty years."(1)
So, either Mr. Forbes has a serious reading comprehension problem, or he's deliberately lying about what his source said. I'm leaning towards the latter.
Mr. Forbes's next fabrication is his claim that the federal government distributed the book to Congress "because of the important teachings it contained."
This wasn't even true the one time that the government actually did print it. There is absolutely no indication that this book was printed by the government for any reason other than it being the only one of Jefferson's works that had not yet been published by order of Congress. The reason for the prior omission of this volume was that it was not in the possession of the government when the rest of Jefferson's writings were published. This is clear in the records of Congress, and was also explained to the press by Congressman Joel Heatwole of Minnesota.
From the Washington Post
"Representative Heatwole, chairman of the House committee on printing, was asked the nature of the publication known as the 'Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,' prepared by Thomas Jefferson which Congress has recently ordered printed. He was also asked why Congress should be called on to have the work printed. In answer to the inquiry, Mr. Heatwole said:
"'A great many years ago Congress purchased all of the books and manuscripts of Mr. Jefferson and placed them in the library of Congress, and Congress has attempted the publication of all the works of Mr. Jefferson, complete. This little volume was not published at the time of the authorized printing of Mr. Jefferson's works by Congress; it was not then in the collection. This book had been retained by Miss Randolph, who is at present living at or near Charlottesville, Va., and she now has in her possession the four original copies of the Bibles from which the clippings were made. The book, which has excited more or less discussion during the last few days, was sold to Congress by Miss Randolph and is now in the National museum, where it is kept as a curiosity.'"(2)
The questioning of Mr. Heatwole and his explanation were actually prompted by protests against the government's printing of the book. The objections, which were appearing in numerous papers, contained statements like: "The constitution takes our government entirely out of religious discussion. Congress has no business printing works which support or oppose any conceivable view of the Christian religion." (3) Must have been some secularists, objecting to the book "because of the important teachings it contained," right? Wrong! It was the clergy of various Christian denominations doing the protesting.
The printing of the "Jefferson Bible" did not go unchallenged in Congress either. During the debate, one representative, in response to the argument that it should be printed because the original was the only copy in existence, sarcastically asked Rep. John Lacey, the Iowa Congressman who had introduced the resolution, if he would "consent to put Dillingworth's spelling book as an appendix to the work," and then said he wished it had never been found, a remark that the Congressional record notes was followed by laughter.
On May 21, 1902, in light of the protests from the clergy, which by then included a petition against the publication from the General Synod of the Reformed Church of the United States, Mr. Lacey actually tried to rescind his original resolution to print the book, which had passed on May 10, with another resolution, saying that arrangements had been made to have it printed privately. No action was taken on this second resolution, however, and the plan for the government printing proceeded.
The following articles, from the newspapers of May and June of 1902, show exactly what the clergy of the day thought about Jefferson's Bible. Apparently, unlike Mr. Forbes, they just couldn't see "the important teachings it contained."
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 19, 1902:
"Rev. Dr. Kerr Boyce Tupper spoke last evening at the First Baptist Church on 'Jefferson's Bible,' taking as his text, 'That in all things He might have the pre-eminence.' Col., i, 18.
"'Our public prints,' said Dr. Tupper, 'have announced far and wide the suggested project of our National Congress to publish nine thousand copies of Thomas Jefferson's Bible, from which has been eliminated the supernatural and everything that bears upon the deityhood of Christ.'
"'Mr. Jefferson, it is announced, regarded Christ only as a man of high character and superlative goodness, without claim to any supernatural character. What may the Christian pulpit say, what should it say touching this matter? Clearly two things by way of introduction First, the revelation of the character of our Lord is revealed to man through the organ of intellect alone -- the only organ it would seem used by our great statesman in this investigation. The strongest appeals in the Scripture are never to logical faculties, but always to the spiritual consciousness. Second, it would appear poor policy on the part of our government to lend hand and authority to the publication of a work such as before described. Ours is confessedly and conspicuously a Christian government, and Jefferson's Bible, if rightly represented, is essentially an unchristian work.'
"'Jefferson may print his Bible, and the House of Representatives may publish it, but four hundred millions of the world's greatest and noblest spirits will look up to the Divine Son and love, adore and worship Him who as no other has presented to the world a miraculous incarnation, a spotless character, a transcendent teaching, majestic miracles, an atoning death, a glorious resurrection, a radiant ascension, a mediatorial Being at the right hand of the throne of God.'"(4)
From the Macon Weekly Telegraph, May 16, 1902:
"Several Philadelphia clergymen, regardless of denomination, are protesting against congress printing what is called 'Jefferson's Bible.'"(5)
From the Duluth News-Tribune, May 25, 1902:
"The lower house of congress not long ago voted to publish nine hundred copies of a work called 'Jefferson's Bible.' The other day, the Presbyterian general assembly protested against such publication, and many other protests are coming in, mostly from orthodox sources.
"These objections seem well taken. 'Jefferson's Bible' is merely an abridgement or adaptation of the scriptures, prepared by the great American statesman, which is preserved in one of the departments at Washington. The conclusion to which the work leads represents Jefferson's belief, which was that Jesus was merely a man, totally destitute of divine origin or attributes as they are generally understood. The tendency of the work, though evincing deep reverence for Jesus as a man, will be held heretical in all orthodox churches.
"The constitution takes our government entirely out of religious discussion. Congress has no business printing works which support or oppose any conceivable view of the Christian religion. No doubt the proposition to publish copies of 'Jefferson's Bible' will be cut in the United States senate. It certainly should be."(6)
From the Philadelphia Inquirer,
June 3, 1902:
"At the meeting of the Presbyterian Ministerial Association yesterday 'The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,' by Thomas Jefferson, which is to be published shortly under the national sanction, was condemned in the report of a special committee which was appointed to consider the matter. The report stated that the book is undoubtedly an assault upon the commonly accepted views of the Christian Church. It also says that the book endeavors to leave the impression that large portions of the Scriptures are historically valueless and that it strips Jesus of deity. The committee presented resolutions requesting the government to rescind the authorization of the book, stating that it would be a direct, public and powerful attack upon the Christian religion. The report of the committee was warmly discussed. Action on the resolution was deferred until next week."(7)
This next article, while reporting on the same Presbyterian Ministerial Association meeting as the Philadelphia Inquirer
article above, is interesting for more than just its reporting of that group's protest against the publication of the "Jefferson Bible." In this one, the New York Times
actually went as far as accusing Dr. Cyrus Adler, the author of the book's introduction, who happened to be a Jew, of being "a prominent opponent of the Christian Church."
"PHILADELPHIA, June 2. -- A warm discussion was precipitated at the meeting of the Presbyterian Ministers' Association today by a report from a committee of which Dr. Charles W. Nevin is Chairman, making an earnest protest against the publication by Congress of the work called 'Jefferson's Bible,' or, as the book is entitled, 'The life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,' by Thomas Jefferson. The proposal of Congress is to print 3,000 copies for the Senate and 9,000 for the House. The committee's report declares that there are many objections to the work. Everything that appeared incredible the writer laid aside.
"Among the portions of Scripture not used are all the passages referring to the deity of the Saviour, the annunciation, the resurrection, and to the appearances of the risen Saviour between the resurrection and the ascension. An introduction of twenty-five pages is written by a prominent opponent of the Christian Church.
"The work, the report says, is undoubtedly an assault upon the commonly received views of the Christian Church in that it strips Jesus of His deity and makes Him simply one of the great moralists of the world and the Gospel an elevating composition without inspiration. After considerable debate the matter went over until next week."(8)
At the same time that the clergy were protesting its printing, countless other articles about the "Jefferson Bible," appearing in papers all over the country, were just matter-of-factly stating that Jefferson was a "freethinker" who had omitted the miraculous from his work.
From The Fort Worth Morning Register, May 15, 1902:
"Washington, May 14 -- 'Jefferson's Bible,' which is to be reprinted in fac-simile as a public document, is sure to meet with approval.
"The volume is a duodecimo of about 164 pages, though Jefferson paged only left-hand pages. He used testaments in as many languages. On the left-hand pages he pasted clippings in two columns, first in Greek and Latin. On the right-hand he put French and English versions. It makes four finely printed columns in Greek, Latin, French and English. There are marginal notes in Jefferson's own handwriting, with a table in front giving pages and citing chapters and verses from which clippings are taken. He omitted everything of a miraculous nature, confining the clippings to the teachings of Jesus. In the concluding verse of the work, Jefferson combined two verses as follows:
"'John xix. 42: There they laid Jesus (Mat. xxvii. 60) and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher and departed.'
"Jefferson, being a freethinker, buried Jesus forever in the grave, and gave no hope of resurrection and life."(9)
From The State, Columbia, May 19, 1902:
"The house has authorized the publication as a document, in an edition of 9,000 copies, of Thomas Jefferson's compilation entitled 'Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,' otherwise popularly known as 'Jefferson's Bible.' More or less imbued with the beliefs current in France and America in the beginning of the last century, Jefferson regarded Christ as a man of superlative goodness, but without claim to the supernatural character with which Christendom has for nearly 2,000 years invested him. ...(10)
From The Fort Worth Register, May 22, 1902:
"Thomas Jefferson gave political gospel to the people of the United States, that now, a hundred years after it was proclaimed, is received with unquestioning faith by millions. Will they accept with the same regard his teachings of the gospel of Christ?
"Congress has authorized the publication, at the public expense, of Jefferson's work on "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth." It is well enough known that Jefferson was a 'free thinker,' rejecting the divinity of Christ. He compiled, in his leisure hours, a biography of Jesus, taken from the writings of the evangelists and other contemporary writers. Jefferson called the compilation 'The Philosophy of Jesus,' and wrote of it as 'the most beautiful and precious morsel of ethics I have ever seen." Among the marginal note he describes the Roman law of sedition under which Jesus was tried. A map of Judea is attached and there is a table giving the pages, chapters and verses from which the clippings were made. Scholars acquainted with the work speak of it as showing no irreverence, but presenting a consolidation of the teachings of Christ, mingled with only so much of narrative as a Virginia lawyer would hold to be creditable. Everything of a miraculous nature Jefferson studiously omitted."(11)
Similar articles began appearing in 1904, as the printing was nearing completion.
From The Biloxi Daily Herald, August 24, 1904:
..."In Jefferson's compilation of the Gospels he omitted everything of a miraculous nature and confined his clippings to the teachings of Jesus. He clipped from all the Gospels, using the verses which make the clearest statement where the texts are practically the same.
"In the concluding verse of the work he takes John, xix., 42, and Matthew, xxvii., 60, and combines them, clipping out all but the plain statement of the burial. The result is as follows:
"'John xix., 42: There laid they Jesus * * *'
"' Matthew, xxvii. 60: * * * and * * rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher and departed.'
"Thus he followed out to the end his general plan and omitted all that could not be explained to the satisfaction of a practical lawyer, leaving Christ buried forever and giving no evidence of belief in the resurrection."(12)
1. Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson's "Bible": The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,
Foreword by William Murchison and Introduction by Judd W. Patton, (Grove City: American Book Distributors, 1997), xv.
2. "Thomas Jefferson's Bible. Chairman Heatwole Explains the Character of the Book to be Published," Kansas City Star,
Kansas City, MO, May 25, 1902, 13.
3. "Jefferson's Bible," Duluth News-Tribune,
Duluth, MN, May 25, 1902, 6.
4. "Jefferson's Bible. Rev. Tupper Says Government Should Not Publish It," Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, May 19, 1902, 6.
5. Macon Weekly Telegraph,
Macon, GA, May 16, 1902, 4.
6. "Jefferson's Bible," Duluth News-Tribune,
Duluth, MN, May 25, 1902, 6.
7. "Ministers Condemn Jefferson's Book," Philadelphia Inquirer,
Philadelphia, PA, June 3, 1902, 11.
8. "Jefferson's Bible. Presbyterian Ministers Object to Its Publication by Congress," New York Times,
June 3, 1902, 3.
9. "Jefferson's Bible, Made up of the Testament in Four Languages, All Miracles Being Omitted," The Fort Worth Morning Register,
Fort Worth, TX, May 15, 1902, 1.
10. "'Jefferson's Bible.' Congress to Publish a Limited Edition as a Document," The State,
Columbia, SC, May 19, 1902, 6.
11. "The Gospel of Jefferson," The Fort Worth Register,
Fort Worth, TX, May 22, 1902, 4.
12. "Bible of Jefferson. It is Being Printed by United States Government," The Biloxi Daily Herald,
Biloxi, MS, August 24, 1904, 2.