The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, by Thomas Jefferson, The Ascensius Press (1994)

There has been many a wine drinking night where friends and I have pondered the question of “if any two historical figures could join us for a night of conversation, who would they be?” My answer has always been Jesus and Thomas Jefferson. So when I discovered that Ascensius Press had published an extremely limited edition of  Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth it was immediately obvious to me that I must, and I mean MUST, have a copy. With an edition limitation that was at most ten copies, that was easier said then done. But with help of Scott Vile, proprietor of Ascensius Press, I was eventually able to purchase a copy. Before discussing the beautiful edition Mr. Vile designed and published, a few words about the work itself.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), America’s greatest renaissance man (I do not care what anyone will argue against such a statement!), believed that Jesus preached the greatest ethical system the world has ever known.   Jefferson stated Jesus preached “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Jefferson wanted to separate out these teachings from the  more supernatural elements of the Gospels. Razor blade in hand, he went through the four Gospels, cutting out what he saw as the essential ethical teaching, and then pasting such into a single continuous narrative on the life and moral teachings of Jesus. The words are not his, they are directly from the Gospels; just slimmed down and re-arranged into this more focused intention.

As alluded to above, all mystical elements, including miracles, the Resurrection, references to the divine nature of Jesus or to the Trinity, etc., were excluded from Jefferson’s final pasted compilation. While some would say Jefferson’s rejection (or in this case ‘exclusion’) of the miracles defeats the entire point of what Jesus was to represent, Jefferson felt otherwise, saying “A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” Jefferson’s unique approach fits well with his statement that  he was “of a sect by myself.”

Jefferson did his first attempt at this cut and paste compilation while serving as President when in 1804 he created The Philosophy of Jesus. This was done privately, with no intention to publish. That work is lost to history. Late in life, well after his presidency was over, Jefferson started over again, and in 1819/1820 he created the version we now know as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, often referred to as ‘The Jefferson Bible‘. It again was not intended for publication, and was largely kept secret and only passed among some relatives and close friends. In 1895, a librarian at the Smithsonian discovered a copy and it was published in 1895 by the National Museum in Washington. Beginning in 1904, by an act of Congress, it was published as a lithographic reproduction and given to every new member of Congress. This continued every other year through the 1950s, with copies provided by the Government Printing Office. The original Jefferson Bible from Jefferson’s great-granddaughter Carolina Randolph is available to view on the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s website (note, really cool, you must look at it!). Also of note, watch the documentary called Jefferson’s Secret Bible on the Smithsonian Channel.

This edition from Ascensius Press is simply outstanding, and I think Jefferson would agree! The design by Scott Vile is majestic, yet clean. The type, appropriately Linotype Monticello, is crisp and easy on the eye. The calligraphed initial letters in red are beautifully executed and, besides being pleasant on their own, provide overall monotony relief on the pages. The margin spacing is perfect, and the use of red Gospel references in the margins add to the beauty of the page. As for the packaging, the binding is full Nigerian Goatskin by Gray Parrot. No need for my superlatives, those familiar with Mr. Parrot’s work already know the quality. For this edition, Mr. Parrot also provided the ‘wow!’ Turkish marbling seen on the end-papers below.

Readers of Books and Vines may be familiar with Ascensius Press via this review of their spectacular edition of The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau. Mr. Vile has also created excellent editions of other works such as Ethan Frome by Edith WhartonThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and Consider the Lobster, a collection of essays by influential modern novelist David Foster Wallace.  Ascensius Press is currently working on a book on The Stinehour Press, the prospectus of which follows (click on the items for an enlarged view).

Prospectus for 'Printing as a Way of Life; Rocky Stinehour & The StineHour Press'
Prospectus for ‘Printing as a Way of Life; Rocky Stinehour & The Stinehour Press’
Prospectus, Page 2, for 'Printing as a Way of Life; Rocky Stinehour & The StineHour Press'
Prospectus, Page 2, for ‘Printing as a Way of Life; Rocky Stinehour & The Stinehour Press’

In addition, and very exciting to me, Mr. Vile is  also currently typesetting Robert Frost‘s North of Boston. 2014 is the centennial of the publication date, 1914. The overall look is still being worked out, but will likely be roughly 7 x 10 in, with about 80 pages with illustrations. Based on his previous work, I am sure it will be a knockout. Look for a limitation of around 26, so it will not last long.

About the Edition

  • Designed by Scott Vile
  • The typeface is Linotype Monticello set off with calligraphed initial letters in red
  • Calligraphy by Deborah Deatrick
  • Printed by David Wolfe
  • Bound in full leather (Nigerian Goatskin) by Gray Parrot of Hancock, Maine
  • Turkish marbling by Gray Parrot
  • Two column format, 11 x 15 inches. vii, 36 pp.
  • Limited to 10 copies, signed by Scott Vile

Pictures of the Edition

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The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Slipcase Spine (Custom)
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Slipcase Spine (Custom)
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Spine and Cover
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Spine and Cover
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Spine
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Spine
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Cover (smudge is a camera artifact, not on the book!)
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Cover (smudge is a camera artifact, not on the book!)
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Cover
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Cover
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Side View
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Side View
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Marbled Endpapers
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Marbled Endpapers
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Marbled Endpapers
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Marbled Endpapers
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Title Page
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Title Page
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #1
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #1
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #2
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #2
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #3
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #3
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #4
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #4
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro Sample #2
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Macro Sample #2
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #3
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Sample Text #3
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Colophon
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ascensius Press, Colophon

3 thoughts on “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, by Thomas Jefferson, The Ascensius Press (1994)

  1. This is as well-designed and executed a private press book as one could ever hope for – a focal point in anyone’s private press book collection. But why, or why, does Scott Vile of the Ascensius Press only publish ten of these books ?? I understand the concept of exclusivity, but………..

  2. I absolutely love the drop caps. What beautiful fonts. Congrats on scoring a true limited edition. You have 1 in 10.

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