Today I met with Dr. Christian Herrmann, the head of the Historical Collections department at the Württembergische Landesbibliothek (State Library of Württemberg). I reached out to him a little over a week ago to see if I could set up a visit to look at the Bible Collection, which he also oversees. I was expecting a simple visit where he would set me up in a room with a few editions and let me just look over them. I was in for a surprise. He took me downstairs to the full collection and spent almost 2 hours with me showing me several different versions of the Bible.
I wish I had recorded our conversation because this guy was impressive. He has his Ph.D. in theology and really knows his stuff. I had asked to see the Gutenberg Bible, but he told me it was too valuable for them to take it out. Makes sense, but I had to ask. What I saw instead was still pretty amazing. I’m going to do my best to explain what he showed me using the pictures I took. Let’s see what I can remember.
First, I just want to put a few images in here showing some of the many English language Bibles they have.
1526 William Tyndale Bible (NT only)
This Bible didn’t have William Tyndale’s name in it because it was heretical for him to translate the Bible into English. He did this from the original Hebrew and Ancient Greek. Cool story: Until the 1990s the thought was that this version was from 1550 because that’s a date included in here. That was the date it was bound. An expert from the library in London came and verified that this is actually the ONLY complete version of the 1526 Bible translated by William Tyndale in the world. Dr. Herrmann explained to me several reasons for why this was heretical. One was because of the removal of some of the language showing a hierarchy in the church. Another was because of the schism between him and King Henry VIII.
Dr. Herrmann let me take a picture of Hebrews 11 from the Tyndale Bible. This is my favorite chapter in the Bible because it talks about what faith is.
1536 version of the William Tyndale Bible (NT only)
William Tyndale’s name is printed in this version because even though he was dead by this time, it was no longer considered heretical (I think).
Dr. Herrmann accidentally got this one out for me, but it was still cool to look at. The drawings themselves were really interesting.This translation was from Thomas Mathew who worked with William Tyndale. The first picture is of the title page. It shows a lot of different stories of the Bible. The second picture with drawings is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
This version was commissioned by King Henry VIII after he declared himself the leader of the Church of England and officially split from Rome in 1534.
This picture is of the title page. It shows a hierarchy with the King in a place of prominence (Jesus is above him, but not as big). The King hands the Bible off to the Bishops, who hand it off to the priest, and then the people listening to the priests. The detail is incredible.
This picture shows the title page to the second part of the Bible plus several drawings illustrating different stories from the included books.
This picture shows the title page to the New Testament. It is the same as the first title page above. The only difference is the list of books included.
1611 First Edition King James Bible
So this was cool. Dr. Herrmann brought out the first edition of the King James Version of the Bible. It was huge (see pictures).
This is a picture of the title page to the original KJV Bible. There’s a lot going on in this illustration and I can’t seem to find a thorough description of everything. The 12 illustrations on the left represent the 12 tribes of Israel. The 12 illustrations on the right represent the 12 Apostles. In the center of the very top you see the Tetragrammaton written in Hebrew which is the four-letter name of the God of Israel. I know there’s a lot more here. I either need to go back to the library and meet with the director again or get someone else who knows all of this stuff to sit with me and explain it all.
This picture is the beginning of Hebrews chapter 11. Dr. Herrmann remembered that I liked this passage a lot so he turned to it for me to take a picture. I was in such awe that I didn’t ask to see the rest.
1717 Bible printed by John Baskett
This Bible was interesting. The imagery is fascinating and the use of the red colors even on the title page really make it stand out. The binding was also fascinating.
This is the title page of this version of the Bible. As I said earlier, the red really made it stand out. Dr. Herrmann pointed out that the landscape depicted in the image at the bottom of the page is English. Makes sense because this was printed in London. One interesting point about this Bible that I didn’t know at the time, this version is called “the Vinegar Bible” because of an error in The Gospel of Luke. Instead of “the parable of the vineyard,” this text accidentally read as “the parable of the vinegar.”
This pictures shows the illustration on the page immediately preceding the title page. It shows angels at the top with the Tetragrammaton written in Hebrew which is the four-letter name of the God of Israel. Light radiates out from that point to Earth. The bottom right shows Moses (I assume this is correct) recording God’s words.
I took this picture to show a sample of an illustration that could be found at the beginning of each book in the Bible.
1655 Polyglot Bible
Another fascinating Bible. Dr. Herrmann said that he wanted to show me a polyglot Bible. At first I didn’t remember what this meant. It wasn’t until he opened it up that I realized I was looking at a Bible with text in 9 different languages. The nine languages are used: Hebrew, Chaldee (apparently ancient Aramaic), Samaritan, Syriac (a dialect of “middle Aramaic”), Arabic, Persian, Ethiopic, Greek and Latin. It was edited by Brian Walton.
This illustration immediately precedes the title page. It shows the editor, Brian Walton.
This is the title page. As with all of the others, the illustrations are absolutely amazing. It’s interesting to point out that at the very bottom is a handwritten signature. It is the signature of either a Dutch or Danish pastor from the 1700s. According to Dr. Herrmann he had a large Bible collection which was purchased by the founder of this library. I can’t really find any information on him.
The next four pictures show how the text was arranged with all the different languages. I don’t really have much to say about this at the moment. Just take it in. Quite impressive. One thing is note the location of the Latin translation matching each part in the different languages. Very impressive.
1660 Book of Common Prayer and Bible
This one was special to me as I’m a member of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church is affiliated with the Anglican Community. We use the Book of Common Prayer in the Episcopal Church. After some research I learned that the 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer is the official prayer book of the Church of England. Additional research suggested that this particular version shown here was part of a set published for the King at the time, Charles II. All of the images show different stories from the Bible. Each one is impressive.
1483 Bible – German version
Initially I didn’t think there was anything too special about this Bible, other than the age. I was really wrong. Once Dr. Herrmann opened this up and explained it to me, I knew this was special. First, the binding is pretty cool. I still find it very interesting that pretty much all of these books had clasps to hold them shut. Dr. Herrmann explained that this was done to make sure the pages kept their shape. He explained that the type of paper was prone to curl and lose its shape, so the clasps had to be included in order to stop this from happening. I know that people who are familiar with old books probably don’t find this to be too interesting. Don’t really care. It’s cool.
This is where this version of the Bible gets really interesting. A little research revealed that this version was published by Anton Koberger in Nurnberg. Apparently there were many copies published. What makes this remarkable is the different colors. Dr. Herrmann explained that the colors were put in by hand post-printing. As in, the owner of this particular copy had to pay someone to add the illustrations. He explained that sometimes an owner couldn’t afford to pay someone to do this, so those sections stayed blank. Each of the three pictures below show different illustrations. If you look closely you will also notice little red lines throughout the text. I didn’t ask about the importance of this part as I was enthralled by the rest. I mentioned to Dr. Herrmann that because each of these were painted by hand that even if the same artist did all of them, there should be tiny differences in each one. As in, you could argue that we were examining the only copy of this Bible with these exact illustrations to exist. Ever! Now that’s cool!!
1715 Indian Bible
This Bible was printed in India in 1715. It is the oldest surviving text printed in Asia using the printing press. It is printed in the Tamil language. Dr. Herrmann explained to me that this was done by a German missionary who went to India to convert the local population. He had printers in Germany create the necessary master cuts and then sent them over to India along with a printing press. Now that’s cool.
The next several pictures show the title page, a page with Tamil and German, a page from early in the Bible, and a page from later in the Bible. One thing to notice is the change in text size between the third and fourth pictures. The text size is significantly smaller in the last image. Dr. Herrmann explained to me that this was because they started to run out of resources to print this Bible in India (I think he said the necessary paper). He explained to me that instead of getting more resources, the missionary had the people in Germany create the master cuts with smaller text size in order to conserve the paper.
1663 Native American Bible (“Eliot Indian Bible”)
As with the Indian Bible, this was created by a missionary to the Native American tribes in the colonies. It was put together by John Eliot, a Puritan missionary from England. It was the first Bible published in the colonies. Eliot was tasked with converting the indigenous Massachusett tribe to Christianity. To do this he created this version of the Bible written in their native language. One noteworthy tidbit about this Bible is that in order for Eliot to do this translation, he had to learn an unwritten language (aka only oral), create an alphabet the people could read and understand, and then create this version of the Bible. Impressive feat. Another interesting tidbit, this language is no longer spoken. The language officially “died” in the 1700s and this Bible is one of the few resources left to effectively keep this language alive.