Review: ‘The Jefferson Bible,’ by Peter Manseau

Peter Manseau’s fluent and instructive The Jefferson Bible: A Biography arrives to celebrate the 200th anniversary of this patchwork Gospel, which Jefferson completed, after many years of fiddling, in 1820. Manseau, the curator of American religious history at the National Museum of American History, carefully traces Jefferson’s pilgrimage into the non-miraculous, from the Anglicanism in which he was raised, via exposure to Locke and Newton and the polemics of the roaring infidel Henry Saint John, the first Viscount Bolingbroke, to the point where he writes to his nephew in 1787: “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”

The message minus the mumbo jumbo: that’s what Jefferson was after. The teachings—the “precepts,” he called them—without the supernatural baggage. Jesus the ethicist, Jesus the philosopher, author of “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Of this Jesus Jefferson was indeed a fan. Of Jesus the dusty thaumaturge, the wandering soul-zapper and self-styled son of God, less so. Jefferson esteemed Jesus as he esteemed Socrates and “our master Epicurus”—as a beautiful mind. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John: cringing rustics who had fumbled the story, “forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him … giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves.” Time to dig the real Jesus out from under “the dross of his biographers.” Cut away the walking on water, kicking-out of demons, laying-on of hands, teleportation, claims of divinity, resurrection, etc. Preserve only, in a thousand or so verses, the bare details and pure utterance of a dead-on moralist. “It is as easy to separate those parts,” wrote Jefferson to John Adams in 1814, “as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.”

It was the hobbyhorse of his old age, undertaken in retirement at Monticello, largely for his own satisfaction: the Jeffersonian equivalent of pottering around the garden shed. But Manseau makes the point that The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth—in technical terms—was quite as radical artistically as it was theologically: “The Dadaists might have recognized it as a découpé. Had it come from the desk of William Burroughs a generation later, it would have been called a cut-up. Today, the most appropriate analogue for what Jefferson accomplished might be music sampling.”

So: work of art, or humanist hit job? It doesn’t exactly move, the Jefferson Bible. To the poetry of the Gospels, their sensation of metaphor pressing at the hinge of reality, of Word becoming flesh, Jefferson was utterly impervious, or he wasn’t interested. Mark is the evangelist of whom he makes the least use (31 extracts, compared with 90 from the Gospel according to Matthew), perhaps because the Markan Jesus simply cannot be extracted from the whirlwind of healing and supercharged speech in which he moves. The demons who know his name, who cry out in fearful recognition, and whom he ejects from their possessed hosts with the undemonstrative firmness of a bouncer mid-shift; the centurion at the foot of the cross, awestruck at the last cry—these are Mark’s witnesses to the nature of Jesus. John’s Gospel is featured slightly more (33 times), but with, of course, none of the John-ness: the In the beginning–ness, his droning light-tunnel back to the first syllable of Creation.

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Thomas Jefferson Byrd: Spike Lee film star killed in shooting in Atlanta | Ents & Arts News

Spike Lee and Viola Davis are leading the tributes following the death of actor Thomas Jefferson Byrd, who has died after being shot multiple times.

Homicide detectives in Atlanta, Georgia, are investigating after officers were called to the city’s southwest side, where Byrd lived, in the early hours of Saturday.

Police spokesman Officer Anthony Grant said the 70-year-old was found unresponsive with several wounds in his back.

Responding paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Byrd was known for his work in films by Oscar-winning director and producer Lee, including Clockers, He Got Game, Chi-Raq, Bamboozled and Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus.

Lee paid tribute to Byrd in several Instagram posts, sharing some of his favourite scenes of the actor and recalling how he “did his thang” in his films.

“May we all wish condolences and blessings to his family,” Lee wrote in one post. “Rest in peace, Brother Byrd.”

In another, he said: “May Brother Byrd Be Flying Through Those Heavenly Pearly Gates. AMEN.”

Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis said she had “loved working” with Byrd, and described him as “a fine actor” in posts on social media.

Byrd, also a stage actor, was nominated for a Tony award in 2003 for his performance in the Broadway revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, co-starring Whoopi Goldberg and Charles S Dutton.

The story has also been brought to Netflix in a film starring Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer in August.

Images showing the star in his final role were released by the streaming service last week.

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DC committee recommends changes to Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, other historical assets in city

A committee reporting to Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser has come up with a list of dozens of historical monuments, schools, parks, government buildings and other structures that it recommends making changes to because of the historical namesakes’ connection to slavery or racism — even the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial.

Among the historical figures named on the list are former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Woodrow Wilson. The list also includes Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and George Mason, inventor Alexander Graham Bell and composer of the national anthem Francis Scott Key.

Jefferson Field, named for Thomas Jefferson, is among assets the committee recommends “using existing District government processes” to rename. So is Franklin School, named for Benjamin Franklin.

It recommends the Federal government “remove, relocate, or contextualize” several very famous tourist attractions, including the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and the Benjamin Franklin Statue.

Some were baffled over the report. “Hey D.C.—they’re not your monuments to rename or remove,” tweeted Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton. “They’re America’s monuments.”

“I’m not even sure what relocating the Washington Monument would entail,” tweeted White House aide Alyssa Farah.

While some of the historic figures have been criticized for decades – such as Jefferson, Jackson and explorer Christopher Columbus – others have more recently come under scrutiny amid the protests over racial injustice and police brutality.


Washington, a slave owner and the country’s first president, has become the subject of discussion with committee recommending changing the Washington Monument and George Washington University considering changing the school’s name. Franklin, who owned slaves early in his life but later came out against the practice and founded the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery in 1774, is a new addition to the list and the committee recommended a statute of his likeness be taken down.

“We believe strongly that all District of Columbia owned public spaces, facilities and commemorative works should only honor those individuals who exemplified those values such as equity, opportunity and diversity that DC residents hold dear,” the committee’s chairs wrote in a letter introducing their report.

The committee said it took into account five factors when making a decision whether something should be renamed or taken down: did the honoree participate in slavery, was the honoree involved in systematic racism, did the person support oppression, was the person involved in a supremacist agenda, and did the honoree violate the city’s human rights law.


While the committee’s report is lengthy, it is hardly the end of the debate over whether to rename or remove the monuments and buildings. A number of the statues and monuments sit on federal government property and out of the jurisdiction to rename.

Also, for Bowser to officially change the name of a public space, she must first get the approval of the city council.

Bowser set up the committee back in June amid the widespread protests across the country that came in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being detained by a Minneapolis police officer.  At the time, Bowser specifically mentioned changing the name of Woodrow Wilson High School given the former president’s checkered history when it came to race relations.

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‘You’re Not Better’ Than Jefferson or Grant, ‘You Just Came Later’

On Friday’s broadcast of HBO’s “Real Time,” host Bill Maher stated that we should “live in the present and make the future better.” Maher supported removing Confederate statues, and blasted those who are demanding the removal of statues of people like Ulysses S. Grant by stating that those demanding the removal of Grant statues would have supported slavery if they lived when he did.

Maher said, “Here’s a crazy idea: Let’s live in the present and make the future better. Of course tear down statues of Confederate traitors. But in San Francisco, protesters tore down one of Grant. Because Grant was once gifted a slave, who he then freed. OK, not a perfect score, but Grant was the guy who kicked the asses of the other statues you’ve been tearing down, you know, while they were alive and could fight back, a little braver I’d say.”

After talking about other pushes to remove statues of Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson, Maher said that if being a product of your time isn’t an excuse, people will have to cancel God because of verses in the Bible about slavery. He further stated, “[T]his is how slavery was back then. They didn’t see it as a problem. Because no one did. And if you had been back there, you wouldn’t have either. You’re not better than Jesus or Ulysses S. Grant. You just came later.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett

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Shooting in Kentucky as gunman opens fire on protesters in Jefferson Square Park

Horrifying video shows a gunman firing a volley of shots at a Kentucky protest for hometown woman Breonna Taylor — leaving one man dead and another seriously injured, according to authorities.

The gunman in black shorts and carrying a black backpack is seen raising a weapon in the video and opening fire — with almost two dozen shots heard ringing out in less than a minute.

People were then seen cowering for cover, with the man filming the horror gasping “oh my God!” as he came across someone laying in a pool of blood in Jefferson Square Park following the 9pm shooting.

Louisville Metro Police later confirmed one man had died and another was seriously injured.

It was not clear what weapon was used, nor if some of the shots were return-fire from those within the Louisville camp protesting the March police shooting death of 26-year-old EMT Taylor.

Many protesters had arrived heavily armed Saturday after warnings from an “armed patriot militia” that it would confront the anti-police protests, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

About 30 members of the so-called “American Freedom Fighters” group turned up in the city for a few hours, but never came near the protesters camped out in the downtown park, the paper said.

Hours earlier, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer had called for counter-protesters to stay away. “We don’t need you here. Our focus is on facilitating peaceful protests,” he had tweeted a few hours before the shooting.

Early Sunday, Louisville police also announced it was shutting down the camp that had become a centre-point for protests over Taylor’s death.

“While most protesters in the park have been largely peaceful, things changed last night when shots rang out in the park, leaving one dead and one other shot,” the force announced on Twitter.

“We are now clearing the park and it will stay cleared. Peaceful gatherings can continue during the day, but we will not allow people to stay overnight,” the force said.

“We continue to support the peaceful exercise of free speech. However, our primary focus must be on public safety,” the statement stressed.

The force said it was still “trying to gather as much information as possible in order to identify all who were involved in the incident.”

No information about arrests, possible suspects and the victims’ identities and ages was immediately released. Louisville Metro Corrections’ booking log did not appear to show anyone in custody with charges related to a shooting, the Courier-Journal said.

“I am deeply saddened by the violence that erupted in Jefferson Square Park tonight, where those who have been voicing their concerns have been gathered,” Mayor Fischer said. “It is a tragedy that this area of peaceful protest is now a crime scene.”

The Saturday night shooting was at least the second during nearly a month of protests in Louisville over Taylor’s death.

Seven people were wounded May 28 when gunfire erupted near City Hall, prompting a statement from Taylor’s mother asking people to demand justice “without hurting each other.”

This story originally appeared on the New York Post and has been reproduced here with permission

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