Jefferson's Bible

Historically, our nation owes a debt to Thomas Jefferson ["Jefferson's Secret Bible," Spring 2012], who is by any measure one of America's great founding fathers.

Jefferson, like a number of other of America's first leaders, was a deist. He believed in God, but denied the deity of Jesus Christ. In short, although he greatly respected the teachings and moral example of Jesus, he was not a Christian in the biblical sense of the word.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of his sub-Christian beliefs was the project he undertook to edit out all of the supernatural elements of the Gospels, including the miracles of Jesus, in order to compile what came to be called Jefferson's Bible. Not surprisingly, his work ends with Jesus being crucified and laid in a tomb.

The writer of the article in the University of Virginia Magazine notes that Jefferson was a product of Enlightenment rationalism and thinking and, as such, "rejected miracles and the idea of Christ as the son of God. He saw Jesus as a powerful, persuasive moral teacher, author of 'the most sublime code and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.'"

High praise. Or is it?

Mr. Jefferson was an example of those who arbitrarily "pick and choose" what parts of the Bible to believe and what portions to reject. It was his desire to strip away all but what he believed to be the essential teachings of Jesus by "removing the dross and revealing the gold."

What Jefferson failed to realize was that it was the miracles of Jesus that affirmed him to be the son of God. In fact, if the miracles are denied, then Jesus' words are not trustworthy. Rather than Lord, Christ would have been instead—to use the words of C.S. Lewis—a liar at worst and a lunatic at best.

Like many in our day, Jefferson missed the point of the Bible. The fact that he used Greek, Latin, French and English texts in his personal study testifies to his intellectual acumen. Unfortunately his spiritual insight did not rise to the same level.

The subtitle of The Jefferson Bible is The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. It's a human tragedy that this brilliant man stopped there, stopping short of considering the evidences of his deity.

John 20 did not make the cut in Jefferson's Bible. Had they not fallen victim to his razor, I am certain that Mr. Jefferson would have spiritually—and, consequently, eternally—benefited by considering them: "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).

May we learn from his mistake.

David Gough (Educ '91)
Alexandria, Va.


We included information on Jefferson's Bible in a new history of the U.S. Government Printing Office that we issued last year, which tells the story this way:

"Included in GPO's growing workload was an unusual order for a publication that has remained a curiosity to this day: the production of Thomas Jefferson's Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, a book that later was to become known as Jefferson's Bible … Sometime after his death, Jefferson's work made its way to the Smithsonian, where it was discovered years later by Iowa Representative John Lacey. In 1903, he introduced a resolution providing for its printing as a House document. Lacey apparently later had second thoughts about having the government print the book and, having found a commercial printer to do the work, tried to have the resolution rescinded. But by that time GPO had completed the job, producing 9,642 copies 'by the photolithographic process,' as the resolution required, at a total cost of $21,258.60. Congress suddenly found itself with 9,000 extra copies of Jefferson's Bible, 3,000 for the Senate and 6,000 for the House. Rather than destroy them, a new congressional tradition was started whereby every new member of Congress was given a copy, continuing until the supply was exhausted in 1957."

Over the past year we've had a copy of Jefferson's Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth on display as part of the observance of our 150th anniversary, along with other notable publications that this agency has produced, including a copy of the first official printing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The exhibit remains open to the public at the U.S. Government Printing Office at 732 North Capitol Street, NW, Washington, DC. We hope your readers will get a chance to stop by.

Andrew Sherman (Col '76, Grad '81)
Washington, D.C.


The Jefferson Bible was Jefferson's way of coming to terms with Christian theology, reason and his own mind. Awareness of the complexities and intricacies of various beliefs underscores Jefferson's views of religious freedom and his reluctance to tie religion and government policy together. I wonder what the campaign ads would say about Jefferson and Jefferson's Bible if he were running for office today.

Terrell Bowers (Col '85)
Kiawah Island, S.C.


Pity poor Mr. Jefferson as he labored so diligently with his scissors and little pot of paste to edit the New Testament to his taste. What he was apparently attempting was the expurgation of Jesus' recorded claims of divinity. One wonders what the Sage of Monticello might have to say to the glorious risen Christ when he stands before him in the judgment.

Ernest W. Proctor (Col '60)
Ophelia, Va.

Women on the Front Lines

I am a former officer in the Marine Corps … To me the whole issue of women in combat ["Women at War," Spring 2012] revolves around what you define as a "combat situation." With modern weaponry including IEDs one can be far removed from the front lines and still be in a combat situation. Any woman who is placed in a situation where she could be killed or wounded by enemy fire has, to me, achieved combat status. I can't see the Pentagon forcing any woman to be put in such a situation, but given the manpower problem I'm probably wrong about that.

I feel the line must be drawn when it comes to putting women into front-line combat status. This is speculation, but I venture to say that not one woman in a hundred can stand up to a man in hand-to-hand combat situations. Men are bigger, stronger and, by virtue of testosterone, more aggressive. The Israelis tried putting women into front-line combat positions and it didn't work out, so they quite wisely stopped doing it.

Robert Searle (Med '67)
Unionville, Va.

Which Poem?

Monty Joynes' otherwise excellent article on Robert Frost ["The Power of a Poet," Spring 2012] contains a minor factual error. Frost was not trying to read "The Gift Outright" during John F. Kennedy's inauguration, but rather a new poem he had penned for the occasion titled "Dedication." The glare from the sun forced Frost to abandon "Dedication" and he improvised with "The Gift Outright," a poem he knew by heart.

Andrew M. Bell, Senior Historian
UVA Center for Politics; Charlottesville, Va.


Take it from one who was there, Robert Frost had no intention of reading "The Gift Outright" at Kennedy's inauguration. Glare from the snow prevented him from reading the poem he had written for the occasion, called "Dedication," a much longer one. So he saved the day by reciting from memory a short poem written in 1941 about the American Revolution. Who is to say whether the effect was more powerful in the end than it would have been if he had been able to plow through his scheduled reading?

Robert R. Cullinane (Grad '72)
Princeton, N.J.

For the Comfort of the Queen

In your article "A Royal Visit" [Spring 2012], you present the remembrances of Mr. Gilliam concerning the shading of the Rotunda oculus. There is more to the story.

I was working in the Office of University Planning, precursor to the Office of the University Architect, as a landscape architect. Our office reported to Mr. Vincent Shea, so we were aware of the issue. The dilemma was not simply how to provide shade in the Dome Room, but how to do it without defacing the exterior of the Rotunda. You would laugh at some of the suggestions. When I heard the problem professor Ray Bice foresaw, I suggested to my boss, Werner Sensbach, the use of butcher paper because it had the right amount of translucence. It would appear much like a cloudy day, and it had a waxy side that would make it waterproof for short-term use.

I was asked to install some test strips. I procured the butcher paper from Food Services. Since the paper available was narrower than the skylight sections, I pieced together three segments and went up on the roof and taped them down with duct tape. When the test was deemed a success, Food Services ordered the correct width paper and I cut the 27 segments needed and installed them, again with duct tape.

The photographer hired to document the interior of the Rotunda after the renovations liked the soft light effect so much he asked if the paper could remain until his task was complete, at which point the paper was removed. I hope this added detail in no way detracts from Professor Bice's timely insight, which I marvel at even today.

J. Patrick Graham (Arch '69, '72)
Arnold, Md.

More Rooming House Memories

I enjoyed the article on rooming house matrons ["The Golden Age of the Rooming House Matrons," Winter 2011] especially because I was a graduate student at UVA from 1950 to 1954, and, for three of those four years, lived in the house of one of those rooming house matrons, Mrs. Harry (Nancy) Marshall, at 714 Rugby Road just up the hill from May Speed's house. I count those years at her house as important a part of my education as my courses.

Mrs. Marshall was a tall, imposing, white-haired woman in her 70s—the widow of a medical school professor—and a bit frightening at first, but kind and tenderhearted once you got to know her. She had sometimes up to six roomers, but often just two or three. These included not only students, but single faculty as well, like professor William (Pete) O'Neal from the School of Architecture, who had a tiny apartment upstairs that included nonetheless a superb art collection, now housed at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Because she had no maid on Sundays, we made our own beds on that day, but to make up for that, we had the run of the kitchen for Sunday breakfast, with newspaper privileges.

She had many friends who called (principally female, although none other than professor Fredson Bowers was an occasional bridge partner), but she loved for us roomers to join her for martinis quite frequently because, as she put it, she longed for "youth and masculinity." We also frequently loaded up the car with whomever was around (including her) and went to the movies.

Once in a while she would invite us for tea (or martinis) with a special guest, like Mrs. Charles Dana Gibson (the original "Gibson Girl" and Lady Astor's sister), although she was quick to spot a fake, like the notorious "Lady Mary Wortley Montague," who swept through the drawing rooms of Charlottesville supposedly investing trusting matrons' money in oil stocks. "Nobody falls for a title like a Virginian," was Mrs. Marshall's observation.

I could go on, but I think this is enough to give readers some idea of why I hated to leave her house when the barracks of the U.S. Army demanded my residency.

Robert N. Roth (Grad '52)
Oberlin, Ohio


For the academic years 1938 and 1939 I was most fortunate to occupy one of the rooms in the home of Miss Betty Cocke, a gracious lady. I took excellent meals nearby with other students at the home of Miss Mary Lewis. I was a transfer student, but adhered to longstanding custom, namely that first-year students will wear hats on Grounds, including professors.

F.W. Pennoyer (Com '40)
Flat Rock, N.C.

Secret Societies

I wrote a story for the Cavalier Daily in the 1980s about a man who started a fake secret society ["Wrapped in Mystery," Spring 2012], calling it the Council of the Stone Table. He may have meant it to be real at first, but it ended up a financial fraud. Back then, the University kept accounts for some secret societies, but didn't ask many questions—to protect the secrecy, of course—and this man found a way to turn it into a fraudulent source of funds, until he was arrested. I also remember hearing stories about students "initiating" obnoxious, social-climbing fellow students into false societies using elaborate, embarrassing rituals as a prank.

Rick Hodges (Col '87)
Arlington, Va.


I enjoyed the cover story on secret societies. As the author cites in the article, secret societies lend a unique character to the University—a historic (and nostalgic) aura—that intrigues us while we are students and continues to enchant us as alumni. Thank you for capturing that mystic gestalt!

Bev Carter (Col '89)
Greenwich, Conn.

Virginia Wine

I saw in the UVA Magazine [Winter 2011] that a "200th Anniversary Rotunda Red" wine has been selected. Unfortunately, the wine that was picked is from California.

As we all know, Mr. Jefferson said that (to paraphrase somewhat) fine wine was a necessity of life for him. The French taught him well. He tried, unsuccessfully, to establish a wine-grape vineyard at Monticello so that he could produce his own wines, going so far as to hire an Italian consultant.

Now, 200 years later, Virginia has a very vibrant and successful vineyard and wine industry. There are more than 200 wineries in Virginia, some new and some going back to the 1970s. Virginia wines are now attracting national and international attention. Wine Enthusiast magazine named Virginia one of the top 10 wine travel destinations in the world for 2012.

I myself have a very small part in the burgeoning Virginia vineyard and wine industry. I have been working to establish a vineyard in Giles County. I had my first harvest two years ago and made wine from it—good wine, in my very biased opinion.

Given Mr. Jefferson's legacy as the first to attempt to establish a wine-grape vineyard in Virginia and the current fulfillment of his vision, it is disheartening that the Alumni Association felt the need to go to California to find a University of Virginia 200th Anniversary Rotunda Red wine.

Jesse B. Ring (Engr '69)
Radford, Va.

A University alumna approached the Alumni Association with a fundraising idea involving wine that she and her husband produce. They are the former owners and operators of the Screaming Eagle Vineyards in California and have started a new venture, Cultivate Wines, to use the skills of their winemaking team for philanthropy. This project involves a series of 12 releases of wine. The first release was a California wine, whose label depicts an 1823 study of the Rotunda by John Neilson. The subsequent releases will feature illustrations of each Pavilion in the order in which they were built. The final release, scheduled for April 2019 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the University, will feature the Rotunda. Discussions are underway with Virginia vineyards to include Virginia grapes in the series.—Ed.