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Rare Books - English Bibles

- Torah


It is with God's Divine guidance to the heart and hand of man to preserve His inspired Word that we begin our journey into the History of the English Bible.

Torah translations have existed for well over 2000 years. An early example is the Septuagint, believed to have been produced at a Ptolemaic king's request.

The best-known translation of antiquity is probably the Targum. The Targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, written or compiled in the land of Israel from the Second Temple Period until the early Middle Ages.

The Torah on display at the Christian Heritage Museum dates to the mid-18th century.

1300 - Wycliffe Bible, Manuscript


The first English Bible was produced by John Wycliffe in the late 1300s. It was a very important achievement that provided a great light to the English nation of that day. The Wycliffe Bible was merely preliminary to that which would come a little more than a hundred years later. The Wycliffe Bible was translated from Latin rather than from Hebrew and Greek. Thus, it was a translation of a translation. And it was published solely in handwritten manuscripts. It took a scribe ten months to produce just one complete copy of the Wycliffe Bible.

14th Century - Manuscript Bible


During the 14th century, the St. Jerome Bible was not transcribed as often as one would expect in the country of its origin and the very land which held the seat of the Roman Church. Throughout the greater part of the 13th century, popes were greatly concerned with gaining political power, art was at a low ebb in Italy, and religious manuscripts were comparatively few and far inferior to the work of monastic scribes in Germany, France, and England. But with the great wealth accumulating in Italy during the 14th century through commerce and the Crusades, this country soon surpassed in richness as well as in numbers the manuscript output of all other nationalities. The estimated time to complete an entire manuscript Bible would vary from nine to twelve months.

1455 - Gutenberg Bible: Mazarin Bible


With the printing of his 42-line, or Mazarin Bible, Johann Gutenberg introduced printing with moveable type to Western Europe. The impact of the products of printing cannot be underestimated, for this technology allowed the written word to be reproduced and disseminated quickly, cheaply, and in enormous quantities. In less than fifty years after the printing, more than ten million printed books had been produced. The pages of the Gutenberg Bible, printed with a Gothic type similar to handwriting of the period and region, are divided into two columns. It is thought that Gutenberg printed 165 copies on paper and thirty-five copies on parchment. Of this total, only forty-eight Gutenberg Bibles are known to have survived.

1526 - Tyndale Bible, New Testament


William Tyndale (1494-1536) was the first to translate the Old and New Testaments into English from the original Hebrew and Greek. His 1526 New Testament was the first ever printed in English. The work was printed in Germany, since translating the Bible into English was then illegal. Tyndale’s opposition had him strangled and burned at the stake as a heretic. Tyndle’s last words were, “Lord, open the King's eyes.” Yet, Tyndale’s translation lives on: 85% of the King James Version is pure Tyndale.

In 1530 King Henry VIII gave orders that all English Bibles were to be destroyed. People caught distributing the Tyndale Bible in England were burned at the stake. This attempt to destroy Tyndale's Bible was very successful as only two copies have survived.

The Bible on display at the Christan Heritage Museum is a 1555 Tyndale New Testament. A very rare Bible indeed!


1535 - Coverdale Bible


To Miles Coverdale belongs the distinction of the publication of the first Bible printed in English. Of Coverdale's place and method of work we know almost nothing. No royal permission for publication was secured, even the place of printing is uncertain, but was most likely in Marburg, Germany. The major importance of Coverdale's Bible is its place as the first of that vast stream of English Bibles which, in one translation or another, has issued from the presses for four hundred years to bless the English-speaking people.This Bible is an 1847 edition of Coverdale’s translation.

1537/1549 - Matthews Bible


Before Tyndale was martyred, he appointed John Rogers his literary executor, and left to him his unfinished manuscript of Joshua to II Chronicles. In 1547, Tyndale returned to England, and was the first victim of martyrdom in the reign of Bloody Mary (1555).

Rogers knew that if the name "William Tyndale," or that of his associate, should appear with the title, it would hinder the sale of the book. He therefore used the name "Thomas Matthew," and the volume was known as the "Matthew's Bible." It is not known whether this was a pseudonym for John Rogers, or whether it was the name of a helper, or that of some merchant who backed the work financially. Of the 1500 copies printed, only a few survived Bloody Mary's persecution.

1539 - Great Bible, Cranmer’s Bible


Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the bequest of the King Henry VIII commissioned Myles Coverdale to publish a large pulpit Bible. It became the first English Bible authorized for public use, distributed to every church and chained to the pulpit. The Great Bible was approved by Henry VIII, “sent abroad among the people” to be read by all and “set forth with the king’s most gracious license.”

This Bible — mostly comprised of Tyndale’s translation — was known as the "Great Bible" due to its great size--a large pulpit folio measuring over 14 inches tall. Seven editions of this version were printed between April of 1539 and December of 1541. Printers and sellers of books were encouraged to provide for the “free and liberal use of the Bible in our own maternal English tongue.” By the decree of the king, every church was to provide a reader so that the illiterate could hear the Word of God in their own tongue. It would seem that William Tyndale's last prayer was granted three years after his martyrdom.

The Bible on display at the Christan Heritage Museum is titled "The Bible In Englyshe Cranmers Version 1566."



1560 - Geneva Bible


First issued from the press of Rouland Hall in 1560, this Bible was the first to print each verse as a paragraph, and to print in italics words not in the original text. The Geneva Bible's origin was due to a body of English Reformers of the Puritan Party who sought refuge in Geneva from the persecution of Queen Mary. This was the Bible of Shakespeare, John Milton, John Bunyan and Oliver Cromwell. The Pilgrims and Puritans brought it with them to America.
This edition is a 1602 Geneva Bible.

1568 - Bishops' Bible


The widespread popularity of the Geneva Bible was undermining the authority of the Great Bible, and also the power of the Bishops. Puritanism, influenced by the reformers on the Continent, was springing up; nonconformity was in the air. Archbishop Parker and the Bishops felt that something should be done in Bible translations.

In 1564, Parker organized a revision committee containing some eight or nine Bishops, hence the name, Bishops' Bible. The plan was to follow the Great Bible, except where it clearly varied from the Hebrew and Greek, to attend well to the Latin versions of Munster (often inaccurate) and Pagninus, to avoid bitter notes "in places of controversy," to mark genealogies and "places not edifying" so that they may be passed over, and to displace words which would offend "good taste" by more convenient words and phrases. There were numerous tables, calendars, maps and other helps.

1611 - King James Bible


In 1604, King James of England ordained that the whole Bible be translated from the Greek and Hebrew and that this version be placed in all the churches. Fifty-four men, divided into six committees, spent six years on the work, which was first published in 1611. The King James Bible became the most published book in the world.

1613 - Kings James, "She" Bible


In 1613, the first edition of the King James Version of the Bible was issued a second time. This particular Bible represents the curious discrepancy over the "she" vs. "he" rendering of Ruth 3:15, "and she went into the city" vs. "and he went into the city." While both "she" and "he" renderings appear to have been printed in 1611, "she" has been traditionally kept throughout the years as the correct translation, though some still contend that "he" is the correct Hebrew translation.

1637 - English Bible, New Testament


Purple velvet forms the exterior of this small volume which was printed by Robert Barker, a printer to King James. A decorative border enhances the title page, which reads in the seventeenth century style of English. Its title page reads, “The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Newly tranflated out of the Originall Greeke: and with the former Tranflations diligently compared and revifed by his Majefties fpeciall commandement, Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings moft excellent Majeftie: and by the Alsignes of John Bill 1637. Cum Privilegie.”

1800 - Macklin Bible, Largest Bible Ever Printed,


This is the largest Bible ever printed. The complete Bible holds many large illustrated steel-cut engravings in six volumes measuring approximately two feet tall by 16 inches wide. With the total volume weighing well over 100 pounds, this Bible was translated for King Charles.

1896 - Bryce Bible, Smallest Bible Ever Printed:


Mini “Mite” Bible, “Thumb Bibles”
Printed in Glasgow, by David Bryce & Son

Lithography emerged as a new method of reproduction. Later, in the 18th century, photoreduction and photolithography were added to the means available to the printers of miniature books. At the same time, new technologies were being introduced, typefounders continued to cast type for miniature books of exceptional quality, as seen in the works published by William Pickering. Spanning the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, the achievements of David Bryce and Son of Glasgow provide a fitting high point in miniature book production at the close of a century noted for its miniature books.


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