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The Queens’ copy of the King James’ Bible, Robert Barker, London 1611; shelf mark R.1.1

Written by Lindsey Askin, Queens’ Old Library volunteer and PhD student in Divinity

Queens’ Old Library has a unique 1611 print of the King James Bible. Last year saw the 400th anniversary of the Authorized Version or the King James’ Bible (KJV for short), first printed in 1611. One of the current trends in rare book research is for annotations, interesting features, and other unique features – things which this Queens’ copy certainly does not lack. When the Authorized Version was printed for the very first time in 1611, it contained what was viewed as an error in Ruth 3:15 (amongst other printing errors, below). ‘Also he said, Bring the vail that [thou hast] upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six {measures} of barley, and laid it on her: and he went into the city.’ The text was corrected in a second printing to say ‘…and she went into the city’. KJV’s today have it in that second form. Strangely, however, Daniel Bomberg’s edition of the Hebrew Bible—the Hebrew edition consulted for the Authorized Version—actually reads ויבא העיר ‘And he went to the city’ (Mikraot Gedolot, Daniel Bomberg, Venice, 1524-25; shelf mark K.10.1-4, vol 4).

Ruth 3:15 "and she went into the citie"

Ruth 3:15 (R.1.1)

It is entirely possible that the error was made not directly from other English texts used, or from the Aramaic or Syriac, both of which sometimes read ‘She’, but out of context and confusion. In the Vulgate and Greek, you cannot tell which gender is meant. Clearly there was some ambiguity about the narrative flow in this portion of Ruth. In fact, if the KJV had gone strictly on Bomberg’s (as today’s) Hebrew text, they would not have needed to correct this verse at all. It is not wrong in the Hebrew. It would have been ובאה העיר if it was indeed talking about Ruth going somewhere. What might have actually happened is that the KJV translators looking at Bomberg might have seen the ה ‘he’ at the start of ‘the city’, and mistook it for a feminine ending to the verb. This option would have been grammatically impossible since the י ‘yod’ letter is a masculine prefix to the verb, but it explains where the confusion might have arisen from! As can be seen in the photo, the space between the two words is none too clear.

Hebrew Ruth 3:15

Ruth 3:15 from the Queens’ copy of Daniel Bomberg’s Mikraot Gedolot, Venice, 1524-25, vol 4 (K.10.4)

This subsequent printing in 1611 is thus technically second edition (though the first meant to be free of typos). The Old Library was given this particular ‘She’ edition of the 1611 print in 1777 from benefactor David Hughes, Queens’ Fellow 1727 – 1777 (Authorized Version of the Holy Scriptures, Robert Barker, London, 1611; shelf mark R.1.1). Most of his donation to the library consists of more than 2,000 eighteenth century pamphlets, which are available to consult for research, especially if you are interested in Georgian-era sermons.

Stamp on R.1.1 labelling it as a gift of David Hughes

A note inserted in the book dated March 18th, 1889 by Mr A. Wright states that there were (at least as of 1889) only 70 copies of these ‘She’ editions of the KJV in the world. Today that number has vastly increased and no one, despite whatever the BL has speculated before, knows the exact number of both editions except that the ‘He’ edition is generally rarer.1

Yet despite not being the first of the first, editio princeps, this 1611 ‘She’ edition is interesting for other reasons. This is because many ‘She’ Bibles contain recycled pages from the first edition. This is indeed the case with our ‘She’ Bible. Some ‘She’ editions still actually contain the famous first-edition mistake of putting ‘Judas’ for ‘Jesus’ in Matthew 26:36. In our copy someone has scratched out the middle of ‘Judas’ leaving only J and S and pencilled in ‘Jesus’ instead. Therefore our second printing contained a first printing cycle error. Recycling was preferred over purchasing a new copy. It is not clear at what stage of printing the recycling occurred, but more expert advice is welcome. But this suggests our Queens’ copy is unique, as are all KJV bibles to have been printed in 1611, whether or not they were the first first editions.

Matthew 26:36 (R.1.1)

The black-letter ‘gothic’ type present in the KJV was as much tradition as a religious-political statement, a font which differentiated Anglo-Saxon England from Catholic Southern Europe. Italian and French books had been printed in roman (or antiqua) fonts for over a century. But Robert Barker, the King’s printer, decided that there should be both roman and black-letter editions, for many people by that time black-letter was harder to read.2 Evidently, the black-letter editions had some roman fonts as well.

The notorious typos of early English printed bibles are well-known. There is the Breeches edition of the Geneva Bible (Adam and Eve sew themselves ‘breeches’ instead of the more common translation—back then—of ‘aprons’ Gen 3:7), ‘Parable of the Vinegar’ Bibles (for Vineyard, Luke 20), and countless others.3 Another example is the Fool’s Bible, in which Psalm 14:1 reads ‘The fool says in his heart: there is a God’ instead of ‘no God’, which caused the printer to be fined an incredible £3000 for “gross error” and the recall of all copies.4The typos of British bibles are altogether an oddity and curiosity, and a wicked source of irreverent humour. That the Old Library contains both Bomberg and this unique 1611 Authorized Version is quite special.

A page from the biblical genealogies of the Queens’ copy of the KJV (R.1.1)

Footnotes

1. Donald Brake, ‘The 1611 first edition King James Bible after 400 years’, http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/worlds-best-selling-book/2011/jul/28/1611-first-edition-king-james-bible-after-400-year/.

2. S.H. Steinberg, Five Hundred Years of Printing, British Library & Oak Knoll Press, London, 1997, p.77.

3. Steinberg, p.98.

4. Bill Paul, ‘Bibles with Misprints or Unusual Renderings’, Bible Collectors’ World (Oct/Dec 1998).

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