Early Printed Bibles, Parts 1-6

Early Printed Bibles
Parts 1-6

We need not, in this context, point to the significance which Holy Scripture has had for the history of occidental culture in its broadest sense. The Bible and its interpretation have played a major role in this process. This holds especially for the sixteenth century - the age of the Reformation. The Reformers dethroned the pope and enthroned the Bible. [Cambridge History of the Bible III.1]. Thus they established the Bible as the sole foundation and guideline for faith and life in Protestantism while at the same time forcing Rome to attribute to Scripture the same significance as Tradition held. All this was aided by two circumstances. On the one hand, the discovery of movable type made it technically possible to produce and distribute Holy Scripture in unprecedented quantities. On the other hand, humanism provided the scholarly know-how: the mastery of the Classic languages, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew and of Classical rhetoric as a method for the exposition and translation of the Bible.

The collection
This edition of Bibles and Bible translations from the sixteenth century is quantitatively as comprehensive as possible. It contains all significant editions of Holy Scripture or of the Old Testament and New Testament in the original language, i.e., editions of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate both in the transmitted versions and in the forms which humanists and reformers revised or published in new editions. Our edition also contains all major translations in the modern languages of Europe. In this connection we considered not only first editions but also later editions which represent noteworthy revisions. Here we included not only those editions which were authorized by ecclesiastical or temporal authorities but also the translations made by dissenters. It goes without saying that polyglots of various kinds were also included.

Qualitative aspect of the project
On the history of printing
In the first place, the Bibles and Bible translations dating from the sixteenth century illustrate a fascinating chapter in the history of printing. Most of the publishers and printers of the time - in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, in The Netherlands as well as in England - published Bibles. For this purpose, as a rule they not only spent substantial amounts of money, but also invested a great deal of effort and technical skill. Apart from the fact that the printing itself was a work of art, the Bibles were further enhanced by prominent painters who designed the title page and illustrated the text.

On the history of language
Second, the Bibles and Bible translations provide an absolutely unique source for the study of the history of language. They inform us not only about the mastery of the Classical languages at the time, but also about the stage and level of development of the modern languages in European countries at the beginning of the modern era. The translations give us comprehensive material in the still inconclusive debate concerning the many possible principles and methods of translation. Above all, they testify to the superb achievement of individual editors and translators (e.g. Erasmus, Luther) or entire teams (Complutensian Polyglot, Zurich Bible).

On the linguistic aspects
Of greater fundamental significance still is the linguistic aspect of the Bible translations. As can be seen from the well-known case of Luther's Bible, translations contributed in a major way - through their extensive vocabulary and the manifold forms of expression - to the formation of most European languages. This is beyond dispute for Germany, England, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. To a lesser extent it applies to Roman languages as well.

On confessional diversity
Finally, Bibles and Bible translations of the sixteenth century reflect the confessional diversity which was to shape Europe in wake of the Reformation. Our collection contains pre- and post Reformation Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Orthodox (and heterodox!) Bibles. Their confessional orientation is usually indicated in appropriate prefaces, admonitions, but can also be demonstrated on the basis of specific textual indications. Our edition of Bibles and Bible translations from the sixteenth century is a unique collection, because no library anywhere in the world possesses the resources to collect Bibles in this number and quality.

Prof. Dr. Fritz Büsser

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