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Was Thomas Jefferson an atheist?

America's Founding Father Thomas Jefferson may be revered now, but was heavily criticized by religious conservatives during his lifetime

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson
Published: July 20, 2014 at 10:41 am
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Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is one of American history’s greats: he was the 3rd President and the lead author of the Declaration of Independence.


So, you’d expect that he was universally loved in his lifetime, yet religious conservatives attacked him as a “howling atheist”. The truth, however, was more complex: Jefferson self-identified as a “Christian”, and yet was suspicious of the clergy and Church.

It seems he was probably a Deist who believed that God had created the Earth but didn’t meddle in human affairs. Accordingly, Jefferson rejected Christ’s divinity and instead praised him as a brilliant moral philosopher whose teachings had been corrupted by later biographers.

Jefferson Bibles

In fact, in 1804 the President assembled the first of two so-called ‘Jefferson Bibles’, in which he pored over the Greek, Latin, French and English translations of the sacred text and then literally took a sharp razor to anything he found implausible.

Jefferson was probably a Deist who believed that God had created the Earth but didn’t meddle in human affairs

His second homemade scrapbook of 1820, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, reduced the New Testament to 84 pages and was devoid of any miracles, including Christ’s resurrection and the feeding of the 5,000. The original is now held by the Smithsonian Museum, but you can read a digital version online.

This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine


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