Friday, July 29, 2016

Jefferson Bible? Was it the "Miraculous" that's the issue?

Once again Warren Throckmorton is pounding David Barton's understanding of the Jefferson Bible. There were two different efforts of Jefferson. One in 1804, the other around 1820. The 1804 book is not available to read in its entirety. The 1820 version is. That's "the Jefferson Bible" we have.

The dates are important for Barton's thesis, which is this: Apparently Thomas Jefferson was some kind of orthodox Trinitarian Christian until around 1813 when he fell away.

There is a kernel of truth to this flawed thesis: Jefferson starts to offer far more smoking gun quotations on his heterodoxy around 1813. But as Throckmorton and others have demonstrated, there is evidence Jefferson was heterodox before that time period. In fact, I suspect that Jefferson was less orthodox and more deistic until around the early 19th Century when he began familiarizing himself with Joseph Priestley's Socinian "Christianity."

Priestley may have made Jefferson more comfortable with a "Christian" identity. Before that, I think Jefferson may have been closer the deist Bolingbroke, though even he, if you read what he wrote about Jesus, isn't quite the "strict deist"; but he's arguably less Christian than Priestley. Allen Jayne makes an impressive circumstantial case for Bolingbroke's influence on Jefferson. But Priestley and Conyers Middleton (who also cut up a Bible) were explicitly NAMED in Jefferson's post 1813 period (Priestley far more than Middleton).

Jefferson may have never shaken off the influence of Bolingbroke. In fact, arguably, one might conclude the final "unitarian" position Jefferson endorsed was some kind of hybrid between the creeds of Bolingbroke and Priestley.

There were two things Bolingbroke posited that Jefferson late in life believed in that, arguably make them less "Christian" than Joseph Priestley. I'm no Priestley expert. I do know Priestley a Socinian, believing Jesus 100% man, not at all divine in His nature, but on a divine mission, taught 1. Original Sin; 2. the Trinity; 3. the Incarnation; 4. Atonement; and 5. the Plenary Inspiration of Scripture were "corruptions" of Christianity.

But Priestley did believe in "special revelation" in a God speaking to man sense. Bolingbroke may have too believed in special revelation of a more limited variety. But I don't think Priestley messed with the canon like Bolingbroke and later Jefferson did.

Firstly, Bolingbroke and later Jefferson (probably under his influence) disbelieved in the divine inspiration of the Book of Revelation, criticizing it in harsh terms. Priestley not only believed in the divine inspiration of that book, but wrote many words trying to interpret its prophesies.

Secondly, Bolingbroke and then again, later Jefferson wrote off everything St. Paul stated as fake and not divinely inspired. I'm going to have to plead ignorance on Priestley's position on St. Paul. But I don't believe Priestley's disbelief in the plenary inspiration of the Bible led him to razor blade everything Paul said as bullshit like Bolingbroke and Jefferson did.

(I documented Bolingbroke's influence here.)

Now, David Barton, in his book, concedes Jefferson post 1813 as unorthodox. AND his book, from what I remember (I didn't read the whole thing) concedes Jefferson's late in life letter dismissing the Book of Revelation as the ravings of a delusional manic. I can't remember if Barton dealt with Jefferson's similar dismissing of Paul's writings.

But if the Jefferson of 1820 who compiled the version of his canon that we have available was, as Barton might concede, willing to dismiss the Book of Revelation and everything St. Paul wrote as fake (in addition to the Trinity and every other doctrine of orthodoxy), why does Barton have a hard time with the notion that Jefferson constructed a "Bible" of his own where he cut out from the canon that which he didn't believe?

Is it the notion that Jefferson cut out "all" of the miracles? I think he cut out most of them. Perhaps not all.

Likewise, believers can dicker over the exact books which belong in the canon (see the debates among Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants over the deuterocanonicals) and quibble over passages of verses and chapters, but what kind of "Christianity" dismisses not just the Trinity and every other orthodox doctrine, the Book of Revelation (a hard book, which I understand even Martin Luther doubted) but also everything St. Paul said?

This is the Jefferson of the 1820s who compiled his own Bible around that time period.

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