Bibles > Early Printed Bibles
Gutenberg Bible. Perhaps the most famous printed book, and the first book produced using moveable type, the Gutenberg Bible was produced during the 1450s and with the new technologies pioneered by Johann Gutenberg. RBML houses three “noble fragments” of Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible. Depicted here is the first page of Revelations, the last book of the New Testament. This Bible is a large-format two-column Bible, designed to be propped up on a lectern. Gutenberg ran the sheets through the press twice, one for the black body text, and another with red ink for the rubrications. The colors and page layout were standard for books of the day. He also left space for hand-illuminated initials, expecting that each volume’s owner would then customize the book according to budget and taste.
The book dealer Gabriel Wells broke up a damaged copy of the Gutenberg Bible into these “noble fragments,” a savvy business move that allows more institutions to own and exhibit a portion of the text. Looking carefully, you can see that the bottom section of the first page of Revelations has been carefully repaired and the missing letters written in. There are three essentially complete Gutenberg Bibles in New York City: one complete and one incomplete copy at the Morgan Library and one incomplete copy at the New York Public Library.
Gutenberg's equipment was used to produced the Canon Missae included in this exhibit, in 1458 A.D., just three years after the 42-line Bible. The firm of Fust and Schoeffer printed the Canon Missae. Fust was a moneylender from whom Gutenberg had borrowed and Schoeffer his former assistant.
Complutensian Polyglot Bible. A printing as well as a scholarly tour de force, the six-volume Complutensian Bible took many years and as many experts to produce. Cardinal Xímenes de Cisneros (1436-1517) initiated the project, which wrapped up in 1517, but was not approved by the Pope Leo X for publication until 1522. Xímenes had studied civil and canon law at the University at Salamanca and after decades in the monastery emerged to a career in the highest ecclesiastical offices. In 1492 he became Queen Isabella's confessor, and she conferred with him about political as well as religious matters. When he became Archbishop of Toledo in 1494. only the Pope wielded more power.
The goal of the Completensian Bible (named after the Latin name for the city where it was printed, outside Madrid) was to facilitate reading scripture in the original language. For Job from the Septuagint Old Testament (pictured here) that entailed the presentation of the Hebrew text, the Hewbew text with interlinear Latin translation, and Latin from the Vulgate. Aramaic is also included where relevant. For Ecclesiastes, and for the New Testament, the Complutensian presents three columns of text: the Greek, Greek with interlinear Latin translation, and the Latin Vulgate text.
British Polyglot Bible. Over a century and a half after Cardinal Xímenes’s efforts with the Complutensian polyglot Bible, the Anglican priest Brian Walton begun the production of another polyglot Bible, which would both include more languages and be available at a lower price even though it demanded more elaborate typesetting. This polyglot includes many more languages than the Complutensian, including Arabic, Ethiopic, Chaldean, and Syriac. It was published as a set of six large folio volumes between 1654 and 1657. In between the Complutensian and Walton's polyglot, the Plantin publishing firm produced a polyglot Bible in Antwerp (produced between 1569 and 1572) under the patronage of Philip II of Spain.