Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bible with an Expensive Typographical Error - The Wicked Bible

“Thou shall commit adultery” – this is was the infamous line from the so-called Wicked Bible or the Adulterer’s Bible.

The story of the Wicked Bible began during the reign of King James I when he requested for a newly translated bible. In 1604 the king ordered translators from the prestigious universities of Oxford and Cambridge to translate the Holy Bible. 54 scholars divided by into 6 committees were formed. 3 committees were assigned for the Old Testament; 2 for the New Testament; and 1 for the Apocrypha. The committees would toil for almost many years to complete the translation.

After the translation the translation would then be reviewed and edited. The translated Bible would be reviewed by 2 bishops, specifically, the Bishop of Winchester and Bishop of Gloucester. After the two bishops, it would proceed to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Then, it would then be presented to the King’s Privy Council and would receive royal approval.

After 7 years of work, the translation was approved by the King and then published. The task of printing the new King James Bible was given to Robert Barker and his companion, Martin Lucas. Robert Barker was a second generation Royal Printer. He inherit the position of his father that served under Queen Elizabeth. The first batch of printing was successful.

Many copies of the King James Bible was distributed to churches and some to the nobility. The Bible became in so demand that in 1631, another batch of the King James Bible must be reprinted. Robert Barker having the monopoly of printing went to work for the reprint. After the reprinting was done, it was distributed to different churches.

All look well in the Bible except for one part. In Exodus 20:14 of the newly printed Bible, the seventh commandment, instead of “Thou shall not commit adultery”, the 1631 Bible reads “Thou shall commit adultery.” The authorities saw the mistake and feared the worst. The officials thought that the printed Bible with the blunder might incite the wrong idea and would proclaim that adultery was alright.

To avert disaster from the typographical error, the King acted swiftly. The Bibles, dubbed the Wicked Bible, were immediately recalled and were burned to avoid any remains. For Barker and his companion, it became also a disaster. For missing the “not”, he reputation suffered and brought shame to his name. He lost the title of King’s Printer and forced to pass the position to his son. Worse, he bankrupt when the government fined him and Martin Lucas, £200 and £100 respectively. During those days, the amount of the fine was enormous and brought hardship for Barker. Later, he was so poor that he became drown of debt and was placed on a debtor’s prison in 1635.

For the Wicked Bible, few copies escaped the recall and the burning of the government. Some even survived to this day and were being sold to auctions. The Bible with the simplest mistake eventually being last sold for an enormous price of $89,500. 

Ackroyd, P. et. al. The Cambridge History of the Bible. Cambridge University Press, 1994. 

Rhodes, R.The Complete Guide to Bible Translations: How They Were Developed Understanding Their Differences Finding the Right One for You. Oregon: Harvest House Publisher, 2009. 

Stone, L. The Story of the Bible: The Fascinating History of its Writing, Translation & Effect on Civilization. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

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