The Bible before the Reformation The spiritual culture of the European Middle Ages, both Western, and Eastern is inextricably related with hand-written, and subsequently printed Bibles. However for over a thousand years the "Holy Bible" was not a book that members of the Christian churches read at home. The Word of God was only found in the divine service, in the readings of the scriptures (pericopes), the prayers and hymns of the liturgy. The books were, almost without exception, designed purely for use in church and did not fall into the hands of the laity: they were organized on the basis of the liturgical readings, not in chapters and verses. In the Slav world of the Byzantine (Eastern) rite there were from the beginning (the 10th century) manuscripts of the Gospels, the Psalter, odd books from the Old Testament (the Song of Solomon, the Books of Moses); from the 12th century also the Epistles and the Book of Revelation (together known in the Eastern rite as the
Despite the Eastern Church's propensity for national languages, the traditonal Slavonic Bible was written in a language that was quite different from colloquial Slavic (though far more accessible than Latin). Like the Holy book itself, it language enjoyed a sacrosanct and indeed sacral status.
Translations of the Bible This remained the case until the 14th century, when the Bible started to be translated and read. Translations of the Bible, New Testament or Gospels into the vernacular for home reading were part of the growth of peoples and nations, and the reform movements of Hus, Luther and Calvin and also the struggle of church against heretical doctrines. Already in an early stage of book printing the Bible became primarily a book for reading.
Among the Czechs, readings from the liturgy were translated in convents starting from the end of the 13th century. Gradually the NT and the Bible in its entirety were translated. For the next five hundred years work on the Bible, producing a steady stream of new translations and editions, was to be the greatest intellectual achievement in the history of the Czechs. Czech translations strongly influenced almost all the neighboring Slavs. A Polish bible culture developed in the wake of the Bohemian one.
Eastern Slavs Struggling against heresies Archbishop of Novgorod Gennady (†1505) initiated the creation of the first complete Slavonic Bible in Russia (1499) in manuscript form. This collection includes also the first Slavonic Bible, the production of the famous Byelorussian printer Francysk Skoryna (1490-1541). His Biblia Ruska belongs to the the earliest editions of the Bible in national languages. Skoryna translated the OT in Prague (1517-19) and the
Apostolos in Vilnius (1525) in a mixture of Church Slavonic and Byelarussian. Skorina himself had translated these texts, taking Church Slavonic manuscripts and the Venice Czech Bible (1506) as his models.
These remarkable editions contain the author's prefaces, epilogues and comments. Skoryna was the first to use title pages, foliation, running titles, and elaborate illustration in Cyrillic printing. These books' beautiful artistic and paleographic design makes them an outstanding landmark in Cyrillic printing.
The first Gospels in Ukrainian came about in 1556/61(only existent in manuscript; printed 2001). These translations (Russian 1354; Byelarussian; Ukrainian 1556/61) mark the beginning of the division of the three Eastern Slav languages and peoples into separate entities.
The Gospels and Book of Psalms printed in the Moscow Anonymous typography c. 1550-1560's, together with the Acts printed by Ivan Fedorov and Petr Mstislavets in 1564, are the first printed books in Moscow. These are remarkable masterpieces in the art of printing. The catalogue includes also books produced by the first Moscow printer Ivan Fedorov in Ukraine and Lithuania. Among these we find the New Testament with Commentary (Zabludovo, 1569), the Acts (L'vov, 1574), and the first printed Slavonic text of the complete Bible (Ostrog, 1581).
This collection includes the first printed Slavonic text of the complete Bible (Ostrog , 1581) which used manuscripts of the 1499 Gennady Bible. The edition of the New Testament and the Book of Psalms (Ostrog, 1580) is particularly interesting. Numerous notes, comments, marks, corrections, insertions suggest that this book, the property of the clerk (
pod''aichii) Ivan Grigoriev had been the editor's copy.
West and Southern Slavs Luther's German Bible was the model for the Sorbs in Germany and the Slovenians in Austria. Among the highlights of this IDC-collection are fourteen translations of the Bible into Upper and Lower Sorbian. Because of the religious division of the Sorbs, the Bible was translated into two languages - Upper Sorbian, intended for Catholics (printed in Bautzen/Budeshin) and Lower Sorbian - for Reformed (printed in Cottbus/Choschobus). The NT was translated into Lower Sorbian by Jakubitza in 1547 (based on Luther) and into Upper Sorb by Frentzel from 1670 to 1706 (based on the Vulgate). Luther's German Bible also served as the model for the Croat NT by Flacius Illyricus (1562/3), which was printed in Germany.
Translations of the Bible played a very important role in the development of the Bulgarian literary language. The present collection includes most of the early translations of the Bible into Bulgarian. Worthy of mention is the first translation of the New Testament by Neofit Ryl'skii (Smirna, 1840), whose copies were nearly all destroyed, and the first translation of the Bible into New Bulgarian by Teodosii Bistritskii (St Peterburg, 1823).
History of Language These Bibles and Bible translations provide an absolutely unique source for the study of the history of language. They inform us about the stage and level of development of the Slavonic languages through the centuries. Above all, they testify to the superb achievement of individual editors and translators. Of greater fundamental significance still is the linguistic aspect of the Bible translations. Translations contributed in a major way- trough their extensive vocabulary and the manifold forms of expression - to the formation of most languages in Eastern and Central Europe. The Catholic translations of the Counter-Reformation ultimately had a lasting effect on the reading of the Bible, but the Protestant translations that preceded them influenced their language. Only among the Czechs did the Protestant Kralice Bible have an effect that would last up to the present day.
History of Printing The Bibles and religious books illustrate a fascinating chapter in the history of printing. Most of the publishers and printers of that time - in Russia, Poland, and other countries of Easter and South Europe, - published Bibles. For this purpose, they not only spent substantial amounts of money, but also invested a great deal of effort and technical skills. Apart from the fact that the printing itself was a work of art, the Bibles were further enhanced by painters who designed the title page and illustrated the text.