The Jefferson Bible: A Biography

Princeton Univ. Sept. 2020. 232p. ISBN 9780691205694. $24.95. REL
During his retirement, president Thomas Jefferson took a penknife to the New Testament and clipped passages that he thought represented Jesus’s own words and actions, before they were overlaid with miracles and later doctrines. Never meant to be published, the resulting scrapbook was lost for a while, and then rediscovered. Manseau (curator, American Religious History, National Museum of American History) situates what became known as the “Jefferson Bible” in the context of Jefferson’s Anglican upbringing, and his interest in Enlightenment ideas. He then traces the history of the physical object itself, and its influence, sorting out the various editions, some more faithful to the original than others, and considers the use made of Jefferson’s work in the various religious disputes over the years. As with other works in this series on influential religious texts, the author concentrates as much on the reception and influence of the work as on the work itself. It ends with a fascinating discussion of what was discovered about the book when it was disassembled for preservation work.
VERDICT An illuminating look at a work of one of our most intellectually inquisitive presidents that will appeal to Jefferson aficionados, as well as anyone interested in the history of American religion.
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