Saturday, March 26, 2011

Conserving Jefferson's Bible

There is a nice post over at the Smithsonian Museum blog Oh Say Can You See?: A peek inside the conservation of the Jefferson Bible.

A national treasure, the Bible recently received microscopic-level examination by a team of conservators trained in both book and paper conservation and by conservation scientists who specialize in materials analysis. A University of Hawaii intern created a purpose-built database to capture all the data observed. How much data? The Jefferson Bible conservation survey database holds over 200 points of observation for each page, and over 20,000 for the entire book.

For those arriving late to the game, the "Jefferson Bible" was a project of Jefferson's to edit the Gospels to his taste. He took a sharp knife and cut up the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John into the individual verses. He discarded the verses with which he disagreed and then reassembled what was left in chronological order to create a single narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus. Jefferson was guided by his (more or less) deist principles and left out most of the miracles. There are no references to divine birth or resurrection. Jefferson considered the Apostles "unlettered and ignorant men" and sought to free the historical Jesus from what he considered their superstitions and falsehoods. Jefferson once described his own beliefs in a letter to Benjamin Rush: "To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed, but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other."

I really like the way the Smithsonian is blogging the conservation of the book. Jefferson, a fanatic letter-writer and a lover of technology, would surely approve. The museum has even made a video of the process. The video is silent (I think there is supposed to be sound and they screwed up) but gives us a wonderful look at the book:

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