Extract from Thomas Jefferson to William Short
|Monticello Aug. 4. 20.|
this free exercise of reason is all I ask for the vindication of the character of Jesus. we find in the writings of his biographers matter of two distinct descriptions. first a ground work of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms, & fabrications. intermixed with these again are sublime ideas of the supreme being, aphorisms and precepts of the purest morality & benevolence, sanctioned by a life of humility, innocence, and simplicity of manners, neglect of riches, absence of worldly ambition & honors, with an eloquence and persuasiveness which have not been surpassed. these could not be inventions of the grovelling authors who relate them. they are far beyond the powers of their feeble minds. they shew that there was a character, the subject of their history, whose splendid conceptions were above all suspicion of being interpolations from their hands. can we be at a loss in separating such materials, & ascribing each to it’s genuine author? the difference is obvious to the eye and to the understanding, and we may read; as we run, to each his part; and I will venture to affirm that he who, as I have done, will undertake to winnow this grain from it’s chaff, will find it not to require a moment’s consideration. the parts fall asunder of themselves as would those of an image of metal & clay.