In July 1535 the industrious London stationer Thomas Berthelet, who also served as “King’s Printer” to Henry VIII, published a selective text of the Latin Old and New Testaments, in the Vulgate version of St Jerome: this seems to have been, perhaps surprisingly, the very first bible to have been printed in the British Isles.
Berthelet’s isolated novelty, a stout but handy small quarto, laid out in double columns, is titled Sacrae Bibliae Tomus Primus (ie, the first volume – only – of the Holy Bible); it consists of the Pentateuch, Joshua and Judges, Psalms, Proverbs and the Sapientia or Wisdom of Solomon (a late Greek text now consigned to the Apocrypha), plus the entire New Testament, including Revelation. A preface addressed to the devout reader, headed “Pio Lectori”, apologizes none too humbly for the apparent eccentricity of leaving out more than half the canonical Old Testament, and promises to collect all the omissions in a supplementary volume, which either never appeared or (far less likely) has perished.
One might assume at first that the writer of such a preface, who begins by routinely puffing the product – the Scriptures – as “true riches” valuable beyond any worldly goods, but also takes specific credit for its selection, arrangement and issue, was the publisher Berthelet himself, [...] However, a second look reveals that the author, hence the conceiver or designer of this idiosyncratic recension and its robust apologist, was not Thomas Berthelet, nor any of his corresponding or in-house scholars or “correctors of the press”, but his own royal patron, Henry VIII.
You know well”, the prefacer declares,
how our Lord God, whose words or scriptures we are discussing, ordered that when a king sat on the throne of his kingdom, he should write for himself the law of God, and having it with him, should read it every day of his life, so that he should thus learn to fear the Lord his God, and guard His words."
This is a reference to Deuteronomy 17:18–19, employed to justify (as only a king could) the present reordering and selection of scriptural materials, offered to the pious but perhaps obstinate reader who found any “departure, however slight, from ancient practice or established form . . . an offence to religious scruple”.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Henry VIII's Bible
The Times has a fascinating article about an edition of the Bible that I'd not heard of before: