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Book of Mormon goes 'under the knife' in new humanist 'Bible'

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15 2013 3:25 p.m. MST

Thomas Jefferson created his "Bible" by cutting and pasting selected passages of scripture together, forming a sequential narrative that he used for his personal study.

Courtesy The Smithsonian Institution

The Book of Mormon is among five holy books that go "under the knife" in a new publication by the American Humanist Association that attempts to do for these religious texts what Thomas Jefferson did with his personal cut-and-paste Bible.

“A Jefferson Bible for the Twenty-First Century,” an e-book available through HumanistPress.com, includes a copy of the original Jefferson Bible, which the third president of the United States created for his personal use by cutting favored passages of scripture from the four New Testament gospels and pasting them together to form a single sequential narrative. According to the American Humanist Association website, the new publication “also includes similarly edited versions of the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh), the Quran, the (Hindu) Bhagavad Gita, the Buddhist sutras and the Book of Mormon.”

The new book’s final chapter includes the “Humanist Manifesto,” which states “knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation and rational analysis.”

Henry S. Randall, author of the three-volume “The Life of Thomas Jefferson,” published in 1858, noted that Jefferson never actually called his creation a “bible.” The full name of his 1804 version was a bit more unwieldy: “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, being Extracted from the Account of His Life and Doctrines Given by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Being an Abridgment of the New Testament for the Use of the Indians, Unembarrassed (uncomplicated) with Matters of Fact or Faith beyond the Level of their Comprehensions.”

Kimberly Winston of the Religion News Service reported that in creating his original volume, Jefferson “cut what he considered supernatural events — the virgin birth, miracles and healings — from the story of Jesus’ life, and pasted together what remained. In letters to John Adams, Jefferson described this as tearing down the ‘artificial scaffolding’ from Jesus’ teachings.”

The new Humanist Press version, Winston wrote, “takes Jefferson’s idea further” by including “what its editors consider the best and worst of the sacred texts of other world religions.”

“Humanists believe that, like the Gospels, these other scriptures are the product of fallible humans, and should be read just as critically,” said Humanist Press director Luis Granados. “Whether or not our choices are truly the best or worst to be found is of course open to debate — a debate we hope to stimulate.”

Winston put together some examples of the best and worst scriptures that were included in the new Humanist publication. Some of the best include:

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh);

“Let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression” (Quran);

“From goodness is produced knowledge, from passion avarice, and from darkness heedlessness and delusion and ignorance also” (Bhagavad Gita);

“The fields are damaged by weeds, mankind is damaged by hatred: therefore a gift bestowed on those who do not hate brings great reward” (Buddhist sutras);

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Book of Mormon).

The following passages are among those the Humanist publishers consider the “worst”:

"John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven’” (New Testament)

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh);

“As to the thief, male or female, cut off his or her hands” (Quran);

“The fourfold division of castes was created by me (Krishna) according to the appointment of qualities and duties” (Bhagavad Gita);

“Whatever of sensual pleasure there may be on earth, or in the kingdom of the gods, it is not worth a sixteenth part of the joy which springs from the destruction of desire” (Buddhist sutras);

“And it came to pass that those Lamanites which had united with the Nephites, were numbered among the Nephites; and their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites” (Book of Mormon).

Sam Rohrer, president of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, told Winston that he didn’t think much of the new “Jefferson Bible,” saying it is “just another way that a small minority of atheists is attempting to rewrite American history, deny the existence of God and build a society based solely on the humanist religion.”

Granados said the new e-book is being delivered free of charge to President Barack Obama and all members of Congress.

“In 1901, the U.S. Congress felt that the Jefferson Bible was of such great value that it authorized the printing of 9,000 copies for itself,” he said, adding that free copies were delivered to each new member of Congress until the supply ran out in the 1950s. “With today’s Congress representing a much more religiously diverse population, including a fifth of the population that is not religious, we thought it was appropriate to deliver a new Jefferson Bible that acknowledges that diversity.”

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