“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”
- Thomas Jefferson, 1819
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, created by Thomas
Jefferson in 1820, is an 84-page assemblage of passages from
the first four books of the New Testament. It was the work of
Jefferson's own hands and a product of his extraordinary mind.
It was a personal exercise in understanding Jesus's moral
teachings separated from religious doctrine. The resulting work
represented a meeting of Enlightenment thought and Christian
tradition as imagined by one of the great thinkers of the
Jefferson made no plans to publish this work; it was solely for his own reading and reflection. He knew that his beliefs would offend some religious authorities and be used against him by his political rivals.
The book remained privately held throughout his life. Its existence was only known to a few of his closest circle of friends. The book remained in his family until his great-granddaughter sold the volume to the Smithsonian Institution in 1895.
Over the years, the book's condition became so fragile that it could no longer be safely handled or displayed. In 2011 the Museum completed a complex and challenging conservation project, which has made it possible to present the newly restored volume to scholars and the general public.
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