David Barton, head of the Texas-based, far-right revisionist organization WallBuilders, has been suggesting that Thomas Jefferson — one of the least religiously orthodox of American presidents — was really an evangelical Christian. Writer Craig Fehrman, however, squashes that tall tale in a Los Angeles Times op-ed about the “Jefferson Bible.” Fehrman writes that there were two such Bibles, both radical in their own ways. From the op-ed:
Today, the facts about “The Jefferson Bible” might seem like an impossible obstacle to anyone who wants to fashion Jefferson as a hero for right-leaning Christians — and America as a “Christian nation.” Instead, the book has been distorted to fit the religious right’s agenda.
There’s no better example of this than David Barton, an amateur historian who’s become quite popular with Perry, Santorum and Michele Bachmann. Barton loves archival flourishes — his Texas offices include a concrete vault filled with 18th century arcana — but his true concerns lie in the present. Though Barton admits that “The Jefferson Bible” often comes up as proof that its namesake wasn’t the evangelical Christian conservatives want him to be, he also says he can refute this. In a TV appearance in 2010, Barton fixated on Jefferson’s “Indians” title page, mixed in some unrelated material about Jefferson’s Indian policy, then pivoted to an outrageous fabrication: “He then gave it to a missionary,” Barton said of Jefferson and his Bible, “and he said, ‘Here, if you get this printed, and you use this as you evangelize the Indians.'”
There’s absolutely no evidence of Jefferson giving either version of his Bible to anyone other than his bookbinder. Perhaps it’s no surprise that last year, in Iowa, Newt Gingrich said, “I never listen to David Barton without learning a whole lot of new things.” That’s because Barton loves to cherry-pick a phrase and manipulate it support his side in a partisan, present-day debate.
Read the whole Fehrman piece here. We’ll also tell you that a new book about Jefferson by Barton and Glenn Beck (!) is due out in April. The title is The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. No, we’re not making this up.