Thomas Jefferson and The Gospel of Thomas

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Thomas Jefferson and The Gospel of Thomas

Post by zoofence »

The cover story of the December issue of Harper’s magazine is an interesting article about Thomas Jefferson’s cut-and-paste Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas.

Jefferson, who was no friend of establishment religion, took a scissors to his bible, and excised references to all the miracles, including the virgin birth and the resurrection, and what was left he called first, “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth” and later (after he had personally translated it into French, Latin, and Greek!) “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth”. A recent edition of that is available at From what I’ve read, I’m pretty sure Jefferson did not publish this work at the time, probably because he knew how the church would react.

The Harper’s article suggests that the miracles were included in the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to “prove” that Jesus was “the divine son of God”. Undoubtedly, that is true to some extent, particularly as regards the virgin birth. That is, I can understand why disciples and followers of Jesus would have wanted to ensure that his life seemed to be a fulfillment of passages in the Old Testament or Tanakh foreseeing or prophesying the Messiah. They loved him, and they lived in a tradition and culture built on the Tanakh, and they wanted him to be its fulfillment. I have witnessed similar tendencies among the disciples of current Teachers. At its best, it is a sign of their devotion and faith in their Guru.

But as regards some of the other miracles, I don’t doubt for a moment that they occurred. There are numerous confirmed reports of current Teachers who have performed and are performing miracles similar, even identical, to those reported in the Gospels. Let’s remember that miracles are only extraordinary and even impossible to those of us who are bound by the separative egoic perspective (“I am me, and you aren’t” “This is here, not there, now not then” and so on). A Teacher, by definition, transcends that limitation and all of the boundaries which it includes and implies, and so altering reality is a simple (that’s simple, not easy) matter.

The Harper’s article includes an interesting discussion of the Gospel of Thomas, which is comfortable in a consideration of Jefferson’s gospel because it too includes no references to Jesus’s birth, infancy, death, resurrection, or any miracles. The Gospel of Thomas is a “sayings” gospel, meaning that it is a collection of sayings and teachings attributed to Jesus. This gospel is believed to predate all the canonical gospels, and is considered by many scholars to have been a source for those. Indeed, readers familiar with the canonical gospels will recognize much – but not all – of what is in Thomas. The Complete Gospels includes a nice translation. Undoubtedly, this gospel – perhaps in a variety of editions – was passed among the early followers of Jesus, and studied and memorized and adored. Here again, to understand the inevitability and logic of such a document, one has only to visit a community of a current Teacher, where you will frequently hear disciples and followers devotedly repeating their Teacher’s instructions and admonitions, “Guru said ...” or “Teacher thinks …”.