Friday, July 28, 2006

Another David Barton Myth Debunked:

This time by a 17-year-old highschool senior, homeschooled, Christian conservative, the exact audience which Barton targets for his propaganda (indeed, he's been nicknamed their "lesson-planner"). And that's a real shame. Some of those homeschooled Christians are real bright; they deserve better than Barton.

The myth in question is about the so called "Jefferson Bible." Barton's website claims:

The reader, as do many others, claimed that Jefferson omitted all miraculous events of Jesus from his "Bible." Rarely do those who make this claim let Jefferson speak for himself. Jefferson's own words explain that his intent for that book was not for it to be a "Bible," but rather for it to be a primer for the Indians on the teachings of Christ (which is why Jefferson titled that work, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth"). What Jefferson did was to take the "red letter" portions of the New Testament and publish these teachings in order to introduce the Indians to Christian morality.

And then we have D. James Kennedy spreading the myth:

So what about the Jefferson Bible, that miracles-free version of the Scriptures? That, too, is a myth. It is not a Bible, but an abridgement of the Gospels created by Jefferson in 1804 for the benefit of the Indians. Jefferson's "Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted From the New Testament for the Use of the Indians" was a tool to evangelize and educate American Indians. There is no evidence that it was an expression of his skepticism.

And others:

There never was a Jefferson Bible per se. Jefferson did cut out miracles from the Gospels in order to produce a book on ethics -- the ethics and morals of Jesus Christ for the purpose of evangelizing and educating the American Indians.

But Derek Wallace actually researches the primary sources in context and discovers that Jefferson's Bible really was for his own use and was an expression of his skepticism. In fact, Jefferson thought much of Scripture was a corrupted "dunghill," with "diamonds" of Truth buried therein. From Jefferson's October 13, 1813 letter to John Adams (and Adams by the way, approved of Jefferson's editing Scripture, because he too thought the Bible was errant, and noted if he had the time, Adams himself would have produced his own Bible with the "error" edited out):

In extracting the pure principles which [Jesus] taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves . . . We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.

And this is not the only time Jefferson discusses, in his private correspondence, his "Bible"; many times, he notes that his Bible is for his own use.

Read the rest of the article; it's quite good. I'd say that at 17, Mr. Wallace's skills at historical research have already surpassed Barton's.


Anonymous said...

First, I'm glad someone bothers to point out the errors, and that a highschooler does it, only shows how idiotic the error and error-makers are.

Second, the idiotic error-makers cannot be so stupid not to know of their subterfuge. E.g., insisting chickens can fly when everyone else knows they can't.

Third, many of the idiotic error-makers are well-educated individuals (e.g., Pat Robertson went to Yale), so they know they're blowing smoke, and know that we know that they know they are blowing smoke. The target "consumer" of this misinformation is not other educated individuals, it is those who will believe anything. Indeed, their desparation "to believe" predisposes their gullability.

Fourth, whether the impetus is to "save the world for Jesus" or make millions and millions of dollars, neither impetus entails "truth." The art of selling (i.e., marketing) operates outside the borders of truth, which is why we buy automobiles based on the hot babe we might attract while driving it, not for its more practical utility.

The symbiosis of marketing, politics, and religion is big business. The average "mega-church" employs around 300 people and takes in $40 million/yr. By my D&B, that's a healthy business.

Jim Babka said...

Wow, so T. Jefferson was the founding member of the Jesus Seminar! And Adams agreed with him in his quest for the historical Jesus.

Hmm. Does this mean that Barton, Kennedy, et al, will start extoling the virtues of the Jesus Seminar as a method of outreach to intellectuals and historians?

Anonymous said...

Babka hits the nail on the head. If there is a historical Jesus, we have no evidence of him. We have "gospels" or "accounts" or "narratives," but evidence of an actual Jesus is not to be had.

The Jesus Seminar is a perfect example of the problem Christianity faces. Like Jefferson, apparently, it wants to remove the "miracles" for the obvious reason that they don't occur. But without the "miracles" what evidence does one have of Jesus's uniqueness (homoousios), let alone, how would Jesus manifest (epiphany) his presence? So the Jesus Seminar is caught in an untenable situation; it wants to rescue Christianity from the patent absurdities, but it is these patent absurdities that manifest Jesus qua Jesus Christ. And this dilemma cannot be sidelined as another "paradox," because it is the ontology.

Jefferson, et al.'s effort to rescue Jesus's "ethics" but delete the "myths" is also untenable. Jesus's ethics are an inversion of traditional ethics (he stands them on their head, as one might say), so the viability of the inversion (not to mention their counter-intuitiveness and irrationality) has to be "grounded" on something outside the ethics themselves, and because they are irrational, reason cannot be the ground. So it must be grounded on Jesus's uniqueness. But stripping the myths undermines Jesus's uniqueness, the very ground for accepting his inversion of traditional ethics.

In other words, it is all or nothing. The whole artifice is delicately balanced on what Tertullian famously called an Absurdity. And each component has to be absurd for the entire Absurdity to hang together. Once one goes "outside" the Absurdity, it cannot stand, because one absurdity grounds the other. Which underscores the point about "faith." The Heb. 11:1-2 statement is necessary, but insufficient. One must accept all its component parts, or none of it holds.

None of these ontological issues involve the tensions within Jesus himself, which in many ways can be resolved satisfactorily. None of these ontological issues concern interpretation per se, such as "literal" and "inerrant." But the program itself is an "all or nothing" proposition. Take a leg away from a tripod and nothing is left standing.