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Selections from The Gospel According to Jesus by Stephen Mitchell, Copyright 1991 by Stephen Mitchell. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 


"Because Jefferson was our great champion of religious freedom, he was attacked as a rabid atheist by the bigots of his day."

Stephen Mitchell, The Gospel According to Jesus, Part One

One of the icons on the walls of my study is a picture of Thomas Jefferson, an inexpensive reproduction of the portrait by Rembrant Peale. The great man looks down over my desk, his longish, once-red hair almost completely gray now, a fur collar draped softly around his neck like a sleeping cat, his handsome features poised in an expression of serenity, amusement, and concern. I honor his serenity and understand his concern. And I like to think that his amusement -- the hint of a smile, the left eyebrow raised a fraction of an inch -- comes from finding himself placed in the company not of politicians but of saints.

For among the other icons on my walls are the beautiful, Jewish, halo-free face of Jesus by Rembrandt from the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin; a portrait of that other greatest of Jewish teachers, Spinoza; a Ming dynasty watercolor of a delighted bird-watching Taoist who could easily be Lao-tzu himself; a photograph, glowing with love, of the modern Indian sage Ramana Maharshi; and underneath it, surrounded by dried rose petals, a small Burmese statue of the Buddha, perched on a three-foot-tall packing crate stenciled with CHUE LUNG SOY SAUCE, 22 LBS.

Because Jefferson was our great champion of religious freedom, he was attacked as a rabid atheist by the bigots of his day. But he was a deeply religious man, and he spent a good deal of time thinking about Jesus of Nazareth. During the evening hours of one winter month late in his first term as president, after the public business had been put to rest, he began to compile a version of the Gospels that would include only what he considered the authentic accounts and sayings of Jesus. These he snipped out of his King James Bible and pasted onto the pages of a blank book, in more-or-less chronological order. .

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