Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review of the Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition

I will not comment on Jefferson's editing of the Bible, only on the Smithsonian's work in producing this facsimile. This review is for the The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Just note, if you haven't heard the history, that Jefferson did select, cut out and paste verses from other Bibles to form his work.

The book comes with a thick plastic dustcover with the title and Jefferson's picture on it. If you remove the plastic, the book underneath looks exactly like Jefferson's original volume. It almost feels like a leather cover. It is neat to imagine I am holding his actual bound volume in my hand.

The first part of this work has the history of Jefferson's Bible and the conservation efforts taken to preserve it. Full color pictures show key figures in the story, part of the conservation work and even one original Bible that Jefferson used to cut out the passages. The conservation effort section was especially interesting. It highlighted several difficulties Jefferson's work presented. Many different papers are in it since he glued from several books onto yet another type of paper. Two different adhesives were used. And several different formulations of ink were used as well.

The second part of the book is, of course, Jefferson's Bible. It is a high resolution, exact facsimile. It was photographed while disbound for restoration. I expected glossy, full color pictures of each page. And they are full color. But the paper used makes it look like you are seeing the original. In my opinion it is better than a glossy photograph would be. The foldout maps, his marginal notes and even his hand written table of contents are all included.

On page 56 I thought I found a mistake. A rectangle of paper was glued down in mine that did not match the original online. It didn't open out. Later I tried again and discovered it was a flap, just stuck. A little extra pull and it opened up. It exactly matches the flap that Jefferson glued onto his original, including where the ink stuck to the page margin behind it!

I have two other editions of the Jefferson Bible. The first was published by Wilford Funk in 1940. It simply re-typeset Jefferson's Bible in paragraph format with no indication of where he cut and pasted. This probably helps present what Jefferson intended but loses all the history of his work. The second edition I have was published in 1964 by Clarkson N. Potter. It has re-typeset text with marginal notes to show where in the gospels each passage is found. It is followed by a black and white facsimile. It is readable, but nowhere near as clear as this recent publication. The technology was not available then to do what has been done now. The Smithsonian edition far outshines these two.

I am impressed with all the work that went into preserving the original and reproducing this facsimile for us. I hope those behind this work will produce other facsimiles. I believe this is well worth the price and recommend getting a copy now while they are available!

The Jefferson Bible

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