“Printers have persecuted me without a cause”

I’ve been aware for a while now of the existence of early Bibles with interesting errors or errata, but I still find them fascinating. I first heard about them in high school, when I read Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens and was intrigued by the idea of the Wicked Bible. I was excited to learn that it actually existed, and that there was a list of Bibles with similar mistakes (though Pratchett and Gaiman did make up two in their book).

If you haven’t heard of the Wicked Bible, it is simply a printing from 1631 where the word “not” was accidentally omitted from the seventh commandment, which then read “Thou shalt commit adultery.” It’s also known as the Adulterous Bible or the Sinner’s Bible.  Most of the copies were immediately destroyed. There are either 10 or 11 extant copies, depending on your source. One copy was offered for sale in 2015 for $95,000.

Wickedbible

Image via Wikipedia.com

There are plenty of other Bibles with interesting errors or changes. You can find more information about them in this Wikipedia article on Bible Errata. There is one that says “Blessed are the placemakers” (the Place-Makers’ Bible, 1562), one that included a footnote from the publisher about the need to beat the fear of God into your wife (the Wife-Beater’s Bible, 1549), one that says that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God (the Wicked Bible, 1653 – darn those “nots”!), and one that specifies that a man cannot marry his grandmother’s wife (the Affinity Bible, 1927). I kind of understand the one where someone made a mistake in the genealogies. There’s only so much “begat” you can engrave or typeset before your eyes cross, I’m sure.

I’m not sure why I find these so interesting. Of course, the Bible was the first mass-printed book and remains to this day the most printed book, so there are bound to be errors now and then. Maybe it’s because, since the Bible WAS the first mass-printed book, these are a way of highlighting a part of the history of printing itself. I find early dictionaries interesting in a similar way for what they say about both the history of printing and our study of our own language. Or it might only be that I enjoy the humor that these errors lend to such a serious work, or that they remind me that people are always only human.

After doing some reading on the subject more recently, I find I’m also struck by the risk printers took in printing the Bible at all. While it was a low-risk venture in that it was easy to sell and probably expected of any serious printer, there was also the serious issue of the consequences for making a mistake. In addition to the money lost on paper, binding, and labor, which I’m sure was significant, some of the printers who made these mistakes were fined heftily.

Whatever the reason, if I ever win the lottery you can expect me to build a climate-controlled room to house the collection of Bible misprints that I will be acquiring.

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