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Posted at 6:43 PM ET, 03/10/2011

Jefferson bible gets rehabbed

By Jacqueline Trescott
bible
The Jefferson bible. (National Museum of American History)

When Thomas Jefferson was 77, he went back to a project he had been thinking about for decades. Sitting in Monticello, using candlelight and a knife, he cut New Testament verses in four different languages from six books to create his own bible. Jefferson, saying he was selecting his own "morsels of morality," removed verses on any miracles, as well as the resurrection.

For more than 116 years the Jefferson Bible, as it is known, has been one of the iconic possessions of the Smithsonian Institution. Now a group of conservators and curators have removed the 86 pages from the original binding and are examining every inch to stabilize its condition, study its words and craftsmanship, and guarantee that future generations can learn more about the artifact and the man.

Standing in the paper conservation laboratory at the National Museum of American History Thursday, the team showed pages from the small red book, put together like a scrapbook.

The pages, with verses glued on each side, are brittle and stiff -- 90 percent show some damage. Jefferson used an mix of animal glue and starch as an adhesive. The handsewn binding is tight, making the spine rigid.

On one table in the basement workshop, Jefferson's title page for "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" is elaborately written in his clear hand.

There are 12 different types of paper and 7 different types of ink," said Janice Stagnitto Ellis, the museum's paper conservator. "We took tiny samples of ink from the ruled line. The paper fibers are weak."

Jefferson was meticulous, she said, leaving precise gaps in each book as he removed the verses that supported his religious and moral beliefs. He used two English texts, as well as two French and two Greek and Latin, arranging his selections in chronological order over four columns.

He was also an editor. "Apparently he didn't like the construction here of "for as in a day," so he edited out the 'as.' " explained Ellis, pointing with a silver microspatula to the little square where he had eliminated the word.

As old as it is, the bible has still held its secrets. This week the team found a watermark on one of the paper inserts and discovered the manufacturer was P. A. Mesier, who owned a papermill in the Bronx.

This is a private document he created for himself," said Harry R. Rubenstein, the chair of the museum's political history division. "He never sold it because he didn't want it to be public. He wanted to avoid bringing back the arguments that he was anti-Christian."

This is the second important conservation project the museum has undertaken in recent years. A team repaired the Star Spangled Banner in an open laboratory in full view of the public. "This is a smaller object but of equal importance," said Brent D.Glass, the museum director. The Bible project "really captures what we do. We collect, we preserve and give access to the public."

The conservation is estimated to cost about $225,000 from public and private funds. Completed in 1820, the book stayed in Jefferson's family until the Smithsonian purchased it from a great-granddaughter in 1895. The Smithsonian librarian paid $400 and displayed it at the 1895 Atlanta Cotton Exposition. In 1904 the Government Printing Office made copies and, for decades, they were distributed to new congressmen.

Once the study and conservation are completed, along with complete color digital scanning of every page, the book will be reassembled, using its original sewing holes and Moroccan leather cover. It will be displayed for four months, beginning in November, along with a new 21st century website to accompany.

By Jacqueline Trescott  | March 10, 2011; 6:43 PM ET
Categories:  Museums  
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Comments

Jefferson was a Deist and not a Christian. In fact, many of our founding fathers were Deists, not Christians. That is why this county is NOT a Christian nation! They wanted a nation with a faith in a Higher Being, but each choose his own way.

Jefferson used the Bible and Quran for study and meditation. He brought in other viewpoints also. Too bad we can't all be as he was.

Rep. Ellison, who is a Muslim, used Jefferson Quran to take his oath of office on.

Posted by: Channah | March 11, 2011 12:39 AM | Report abuse

The man was a true believer in a lot of things he wrote, such as the Declaration of Independence, and his participation in curving out the Bill of Rights, the Separation of State and Church. Which these malignant narcissist, chronic scapegoating, uncorrectable grab bagging, hypocrite Sunday Christian conservative republican menace, with the perversity of inequality, rights only of their bigoted kind, with their greed creed, fundamentally flawed economic system, the hypocrite family, Sunday Christian values have destroyed the basic fabric of this nation, ideologically divided, polarized and set it on a fast track of self destruction from within.

The only resoerection these SOBs need now is the one that they can shove it up their perverted rectums.

Posted by: winemaster2 | March 11, 2011 5:15 AM | Report abuse

Winemasters are usually debating within themselves their sexual identity on a daily basis. Hence a rant or two that exposes their little minds.

Posted by: IamWright | March 11, 2011 7:43 AM | Report abuse

' In 1904 the Government Printing Office made copies and, for decades, they were distributed to new congressmen."

Why would this Deist book be "distributed to new congressmen"?

Posted by: jmcdon7230 | March 11, 2011 8:20 AM | Report abuse

It's amazing and sad to me that conservative schoold boards are trying to remove Jefferson and his role as a founding father from the history books. Orwellian.

Posted by: sux123 | March 11, 2011 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Why are we wasting over $200K of my taxes on this old book? Throw it out with the trash. Or better yet, sell it. Then close down the Smithsonian. That way, some rich guy can have yet another tax cut.

Posted by: Dan4 | March 11, 2011 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Dear jmcdon7230,
The Government printing office would do us all a favor by resuming distribution of this Diest book to new congressmen/women. Perhaps wider distribution of Jefferson's views on religion would end the persistent fundamentalist claim that this is a "Christian country."

Posted by: dunkberg | March 11, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Dan4, a little reading comprehension.

Posted by: pinkdna | March 11, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Dear jmcdon7230,
The Government printing office would do us all a favor by resuming distribution of this Diest book to new congressmen/women. Perhaps wider distribution of Jefferson's views on religion would end the persistent fundamentalist claim that this is a "Christian country."

Posted by: dunkberg

==========================

I think it's more likely they would remove Jefferson's image from coin and currency and replace it with the image of Oral Roberts. Then they would start a campaign that the Declaration of Independence was written by Jefferson Davis completely ignoring when JD was born.

Posted by: James10 | March 11, 2011 9:03 PM | Report abuse

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