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Early Printed Bibles
Part 7 - Printed Bibles and Bible translations from the 15th and 16th centuries

The Bible has played an important role in the development of European culture. It has served as the foundation for many of the religious, social, and legal institutions that have shaped modern Europe. As one of the earliest texts to be written and published in the vernacular, the Bible has stimulated the development of many European languages, and it has been an important source of inspiration for painters, writers, poets, musicians, and other artists. Because of its strong influence on the arts, the Bible and Bible-related topics have traditionally been important issues for museums, libraries, and other public cultural institutions, as well as for scholars and publishers.
The actual production process, which involved the interaction of translators, publishers, printers, financiers, and artists, reflects the book’s international character. Ever since the invention of the printing press, the process of book production, of which Bible production formed an important part, has been a truly Pan-European activity. In some cases, printer-publishers would base their editions on those of other printer-publishers, occasionally even using the same typographical material. This practice has allowed the identification of clusters of closely related European editions. The titles and biblical text of all editions within one of these clusters are always identical, and some may even share typographical and iconographical material.
This collection of c. 400 published Bibles and Bible translations from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is a thorough revision of a selection that was published earlier by Fritz Büsser. One important change that appears in the current revision is the inclusion of Biblical books that were issued separately (e.g., Luther’s Der Prophet Jona, from 1526). The new selection also incorporates the results of recent research. Individual sections of this collection have been reviewed by specialists in the field. For example, the section on French Bibles was reviewed by Bettye Chambers, author of the Bibliography of French Bibles (vol. 1 & 2), and the section on Italian Bibles was reviewed by Eduardo Barbieri, author of Le Bibbie italiane del Quattrocento e del Cinquecento. Gwendolyn Verbraak, bibliographer of the Biblia Sacra project ( Universiteit van Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), reviewed several parts of the collection. The current selection also includes editions in languages that were not represented in Büsser’s earlier work, such as Arabic and Armenian.
Three criteria guided the selection of editions to be included in this collection. The first criterion involved content. Only first editions of each translation and of the fundamental revisions were selected for inclusion. Form was a second criterion; editions with rare woodcuts, rare typographical materials, or similar features were included. Finally, we chose to include rare editions of which very few (in some cases, only one) copies have survived. Our final selection includes Bibles from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as well as several editions from the early seventeenth century. Because Bibles formed a substantial proportion of the entire volume of printed books, this project provides important insights into book production in Europe during this period.
Because of its international character, European book production was a multilingual and multicultural enterprise. Printers and publishers produced books in various languages for a Pan-European, trans-confessional, and multicultural market. This selection of Bibles constitutes a unique instrument that will provide a clear overview of this important part of European cultural heritage, and it will serve as a useful tool for further study in the history of printing, art, language, linguistics, culture, church, and other historical disciplines.

Prof. dr. August den Hollander, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam / Universiteit van Amsterdam
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