Among the sayings and discourses imputed to [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples.”
When, at the age of fifty, I first began to study the Gospels seriously, I found in them the spirit that animates all who are truly alive. But along with the flow of that pure, life-giving water, I perceived much mire and slime mingled with it; and this had prevented me from seeing the true, pure water. i found that, along with the lofty teaching of Jesus, there are teachings bound up which are repugnant and contrary to it. I thus felt myself in the position of a man to whom a sack of garbage is given, who, after long struggle and wearisome labor, discovers among the garbage a number of infinitely previous pearls.”
In The Gospel According To Jesus, Stephen Mitchell sets out on the quest of Jefferson and Tolstoy: to separate the “diamonds” of Jesus’ teachings from the “dunghill” of the gospels (Jefferson’s words).
The resulting gospel is 25 pages long.
The rest of the book is a wonderful 100 page introduction, an exhaustive 140 page commentary, and a 25 page appendix of words on Jesus by Spinoza, Jefferson, Blake, Emerson, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Nitezsche, Gandhi, and more.
Of course, Jefferson himself produced a collaged gospel text, commonly known as The Jefferson Bible:
“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. he took up the project again in 1816, when he was seventy-three…pasting in the Greek text as well, along with Latin and French translations, in parellel columns. The “wee little book,” which he entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” remained in his family until 1904, when it was published by order of the Fifty-seventh Congress and a copy given to each member of the House and Senate.”
Speaking of presidents, it was Bill Clinton who recommended reading this book…