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Thomas Jefferson and the Good Book

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These photographs by Alexandria Searls are of the two Bibles from which Thomas Jefferson clipped text to create "The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth."

These cuttings, done in the winter of 1804, represent Jefferson’s first experiment with excising and compiling passages from the New Testament. After receiving two New Testament copies from Ireland, he removed what he believed to be the original messages of Jesus – leaving what he considered “corruptions,” including miracles and any suggestions of the supernatural – and pasted the clipped passages into a new compilation.

Jefferson continued the project 15 years later, creating "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," extracted textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French and English, which has come to be known as “Jefferson’s Bible.”

The two Bibles from the first experiment, published in 1791 and 1799, are in the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, and these two volumes were the subject of a series of photographs taken by Searls in three sessions over a 10-year period. Two dozen of these photos will be exhibited in the public areas of the Jefferson Library through April 21, 2007.

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