“I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in
preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other.”
– Thomas Jefferson, 1803
At seventy-seven years of age, Thomas Jefferson constructed his
book by cutting excerpts from six printed volumes published
in English, French, Latin and Greek of the Gospels of the New
Testament. He arranged them to tell a chronological and edited
story of Jesus's life, parables, and moral teaching. Left behind in
the source material were those elements that he could not support
through reason or that he believed were later embellishments,
such as the miracles and the resurrection.
The act of cutting and rearranging passages from the New Testament to create something fresh was an ambitious, even audacious initiative, but not an act of disrespect. Through this distillation Jefferson sought to clarify Jesus's teachings, which he believed provided "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man."