Thomas Jefferson was obviously one of the most influential men in early American history which is why I find this to be one of his most intriguing projects (besides, of course, the Constitution). It is a little book Jefferson pieced together commonly called The Jefferson Bible.
In a nutshell, the book is a succinct version of the first four books (the Gospels) of the New Testament. Jefferson splices together all four books and, by removing the redundancies, streamlines the story of Jesus and his philosophy into an easy-to-read 40 pages.
Since Jefferson was a Deist, besides splicing the story together, he removes quite a bit from the Gospels as well.
This is because Jefferson rejected the divinity of Jesus and did not believe all the miracles that had been attributed to him. In fact, in Jefferson’ words those passages belonged on the ‘dunghill.’ Since those passages are eliminated (the virgin birth, the resurrection, water to wine, etc.), what is left is the core of what Jesus said and taught.
Although Jefferson did not believe Jesus was divine, he did believe that the ethical system of Jesus was the ‘finest the world has ever seen.’
From a historical perspective, the book is also interesting simply because you get to read Jefferson’s handwritten notes in the margin of the book and you get a feel for how his mind worked. The Smithsonian version that I read, includes a couple chapters in the front that explain why Jefferson laid out the book as he did and its unique history — including how the Smithsonian finally acquired it. The Smithsonian version also explains the process of preserving the original book.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, it is an excellent book to read if you want a clearer understanding of what Jesus said. Besides the English passages, Jefferson also compiled the story of Jesus in Latin, Greek and French. All four translations exist inside the same book.
You can read the English-only, 1902 publication online for free here (pdf).