The Letter Killeth

One of the most interesting documents recovered from Jonestown is a 24-page booklet titled “The Letter Killeth.” Originally thought to have been authored by Jim Jones, it was apparently co-written around 1968 by Mike Cartmell and Sharon Amos, with input and oversight from Carolyn Layton. The booklet denigrates the Bible’s legitimacy by identifying its errors and inconsistencies, highlighting its defense of slavery, and noting its depictions of rapes and murders, which were condoned or ordered by God. In seeming contradiction, the booklet also provides the biblical basis for the Peoples Temple ministry and defends Jones’ position as an anointed prophet of the Word. However, this takes up only a small portion of the text and was not as important to Jones’ criticism of the Bible.

Certainly, when Jones referred to the booklet, as he did innumerable times, it was in the context of his attacks on what he called “your black book.” Moreover, even when he did not refer to “The Letter Killeth” by name, he used the examples of Biblical error and illegitimacy which he collected for the booklet throughout his speeches and sermons. Many of these addresses were recorded on tape and are available here.

Two versions of the booklet appear here. The first is a reproduction of the original text of the booklet as Jones wrote it, with spelling and punctuation errors, typographical inconsistencies, and non-professional Biblical citations intact. The only corrections made in this version are of factual or material errors, e.g., an incorrect reference to a Bible verse, and the corrections are noted in brackets ([ ]) following the error.

The second version is edited to correct grammatical and spelling errors, and to establish consistencies. The differences are generally minor – there were fewer than a dozen genuine spelling errors – but the second version may be easier to read. The ellipses (…) are in the original version, and are correct except where noted.

Jim Jones used the King James version of the Bible in the preparation of this booklet, the version he studied – and castigated – throughout the latter years of his ministry. We have checked his Biblical citations against the authorized King James version published by the National Bible Press in Philadelphia. There is no copyright date, but a handwritten inscription dates the Bible in February 1961, thereby making it contemporary to the Bibles which many of Jones’ parishioners carried.

The Letter Killeth, California Historical Society, MS 3800 (Peoples Temple) & MS 4123 (Margaret T. Singer materials on Peoples Temple, 1956-1998)
Original text
Corrected version