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Was Thomas Jefferson a Pagan?

Thomas Jefferson is remembered as the third president of the United States.   He took office in 1801, at the age of 57.

Jefferson was born in 1743, the third of eight children.   He had six sisters, and only one brother.   He died at the age of 83.

His father died when he was 14.   Jefferson lived at home, with his widowed mother, until he was age 27.   He moved out because he had to; the house burned down.

We have copies of 18,000 letters that Jefferson wrote during his lifetime (that's an average of 1.68 letters per day, every day of his life, beginning with the day he was born).   In fact, he himself made an index of the letters, and the INDEX runs 656 pages.   We also have the first 120 pages of an autobiography that he was working on at the time of his death.   In all these writings, Jefferson mentions his mother only twice.

He is also remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence.   The job of writing it was first given to Benjamin Franklin, but he refused when he found out that it would be edited by others after he had finished it.

The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal, yet Jefferson owned slaves all his life.   He once wrote of Negroes that "in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous ... they secrete less by the kidnies [sic] and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour."   Once, when one of his slaves ran away, he sent another slave to track him down and bring him back.

For 38 years of his life, he had an ongoing relationship with one Sally Hemings, a slave woman, and fathered several children by her.   Their affair began before his marriage to his wife Martha, and continued after her death.   This is no recent historical revelation; a newspaper story about the affair was first published in 1802, while Jefferson was in the White House.   He never directly responded to the allegations, either to confirm or deny them.

He carried on a romantic liaison with one Maria Cosway, a married woman, in Paris in 1786.   They exchanged passionate love letters.   There is a dispute as to whether or not he ever actually had sex with her.

He once had a problem with domestic dogs attacking and killing his livestock.   He wrote a letter to a friend in which he stated that the world would be a better place if all dogs were killed.

One of his most famous quotes is inscribed around the inside rim of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC:   "I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."   He fashioned a coat of arms for himself which bore this motto: "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."

He considered himself to be a Christian, but he hated ministers and priests.   In 1816, he wrote that "They have tried upon me all their various batteries, of pious whining, hypocritical canting, lying, and slandering, without being able to give me one moment of pain."   Jefferson's version of Christianity was at odds with the orthodox views of the day, and he was accused of being an atheist; in response, he published a treatise entitled Syllabus of an Estimate of the Doctrines of Jesus, Compared with Those of Others.   In it, he stated that Jesus was not God; that Jesus' doctrines had been "mutilated and misstated" and "frittered into subtleties and obscured by jargon."   He wrote of "the corruptions of Christianity by the learned among its professors."   He said that clergymen had "compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man."

In 1804, while he was in the White House, Jefferson decided to create his own version of the New Testament.   He deleted all references to the virgin birth, miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus.   He wanted to include only "the matter which is evidently his [Jesus'], and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill."   In the end, the document contained, basically, only the words of Jesus. It was 46 pages long.   Jefferson worked on it for twelve years, and ultimately decided to keep it a secret.   It was published after his death as The Jefferson Bible.

Jefferson's wife Martha was the one true love of his life; she died in 1782 after a long illness.   Jefferson sat at her bedside for four months, watching her waste away.   The tender inscription that he ordered for her tombstone is in Greek, and it translates as follows:

If in the House of Hades men forget their dead,
Yet will I even there remember my dear companion.

This is based on the ancient Greek concept that in Hades (the place of the dead) there is no memory of one's earthly life.

Because of his great love for Martha, we have to assume that Jefferson chose her epitaph very carefully, and that it reflects something very deep and personal to him.

Some scholars find it highly interesting that the inscription makes reference to a Pagan afterlife rather than to a Christian one. Could Thomas Jefferson have been ... secretly, of course ... a Pagan?

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