The "Jefferson Bible," The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, 1820

Around 1820 Thomas Jefferson cut and pasted verses from the New Testament to create this work, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Extracted textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French, & English. His purpose was to distill Jesus' ethical teachings from accounts of miracles and other elements that he considered distortions of Jesus' history and thought. Jefferson was a Deist--he believed in a Creator but did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. He thought he could distinguish between Jesus' true message and the apostles' later additions or misunderstandings by using reason as a guide.
Jefferson created this book for his own reading and reflection. He used texts in four different languages and placed them side-by-side so that he could compare which version seemed to him to express Jesus's moral views most clearly. He believed that those views provided "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man."
Jefferson made no plans to publish this work. He knew that his beliefs were unorthodox and that they offended both religious authorities and political opponents. He considered his own and others' religious beliefs to be a matter of private conscience and thought they should not be subjected to public scrutiny or governmental regulation. "I not only write nothing on religion, but rarely permit myself to speak on it," he told a friend.
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth descended in Jefferson's family until late in the 19th century, when it came to the National Museum. The U.S. Congress first provided for the publication of the book in 1904. Since then, many editions have appeared in print. Some of them carry a title that Jefferson himself never used: "The Jefferson Bible"
Object Name
Date made
ca 1820
Jefferson, Thomas
Jefferson, Thomas
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
paper (overall material)
overall: 8 3/8 in x 5 1/8 in x 1 in; 21.2725 cm x 13.0175 cm x 2.54 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Government, Politics, and Reform
National Treasures exhibit
See more items in
Political History: Political History, Presidential History Collection
National Treasures exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Thomas Jefferson, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Extracted textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French, & English
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History
Publication title
Treasures of American History online exhibition
Publication author
National Museum of American History
Publication URL

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