Wicked Bible

The Wicked Bible, sometimes called The Adulterous Bible or The Sinners' Bible, is an edition of the Bible published in 1631 by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London, meant to be a reprint of the King James Bible. The name is derived from a mistake made by the compositors: in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14), the word "not" in the sentence "Thou shalt not commit adultery" was omitted, thus changing the sentence into "Thou shalt commit adultery". This blunder was spread in a number of copies. About a year later, the publishers of the Wicked Bible were called to the Star Chamber and fined £300 (equivalent to £50,322 in 2019) and deprived of their printing license.[1] The fact that this edition of the Bible contained such a flagrant mistake outraged Charles I and George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury.[2]

The Wicked Bible
Wicked Bible (1631 KJV).png
Original titleThe Holy Bible
CountryEngland
LanguageEnglish
PublisherRobert Barker and Martin Lucas
Publication date
1631
Media typePrint

The majority of The Wicked Bible's copies were immediately cancelled and destroyed, and the number of extant copies remaining today, which are considered highly valuable by collectors, is thought to be relatively low.[3] One copy is in the collection of rare books in the New York Public Library and is very rarely made accessible; another can be seen in the Dunham Bible Museum in Houston, Texas, US.[4] The British Library in London had a copy on display, opened to the misprinted commandment, in a free exhibition until September 2009.[5] The Wicked Bible also appeared on display for a limited time at the Ink and Blood Exhibit in Gadsden, Alabama, from 15 August to 2 September 2009. A copy was also displayed until 18 June 2011 at the Cambridge University Library exhibition in England, for the 400-year anniversary of the King James Version.

BackgroundEdit

 
Wicked Bible (1631 KJV) Exodus 20, with the typographical error highlighted

Historically, the omission of "not" was considered quite a common mistake. Until 2004, for example, the style guide of the Associated Press advised using "innocent" instead of "not guilty" to describe acquittals, so as to prevent this eventuality.[6] The Wicked Bible is the most prominent example of the bible errata which often have absent negatives that completely reverse the scriptural meaning.[7]

On the other hand, some have suggested that someone (possibly a rival printer) purposefully sabotaged the printing of The Wicked Bible so that Robert Barker and Martin Lucas would lose their exclusive license to print the Bible.[8][9][10] This theory is based on the fact that there are two significant errors in The Wicked Bible, and both errors are located in the chapters where the Ten Commandments appear. The first appears in Exodus 20 where the word "not" was omitted. The second appears in Deuteronomy 5.

The King James Bible in Deuteronomy 5:24 should state, "Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory and his greatness . . . ." In The Wicked Bible, Deuteronomy 5:24 reads as follows:

Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory and his great-asse . . . .

In other words, rather than celebrating the 'greatness' of God, The Wicked Bible celebrates God's great backside. One could understand a dropped 'not', maybe, but 'great-asse' is not a typical typographical error suggesting that it was not an accidental mistake.[11][12][13]

Public reactionEdit

1631Edit

 
The title page of The Wicked Bible

Apart from the contempt within the church, the case of the Wicked Bible was commented on by historians soon after the printing:

His Majesties Printers, at or about this time, had committed a scandalous mistake in our English Bibles, by leaving out the word Not in the Seventh Commandment. His Majesty being made acquainted with it by the Bishop of London, Order was given for calling the Printers into the High-Commission, whereupon Evidence of the Fact, the whole Impression was called in, and the Printers deeply fined, as they justly merited. With some part of this Fine Laud[14] caused a fair Greek Character to be provided,[15] for publishing such Manuscripts as Time and Industry should make ready for the Public view.

Modern timesEdit

The nickname The Wicked Bible seems to have first been applied in 1855 by rare book dealer Henry Stevens. As he relates in his memoir of James Lenox, after buying what was then the only known copy of the 1631 octavo Bible for fifty guineas, "on June 21, I exhibited the volume at a full meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of London, at the same time nicknaming it 'The Wicked Bible,' a name that has stuck to it ever since."[16]

There are fourteen known copies of The Wicked Bible today with thirteen in the collections of museums and libraries in the British Isles, North America and Australia:[17]


     British Isles (seven copies)
          a. The British Library
          b. University of Glasgow Library
          c. University of Leicester David Wilson Library[18]
          d. Cambridge University Library[19]
          e. University of Oxford, Bodleian Library
          f. University of Manchester, John Rylands Library
          g. The Library at York Minster[20]
     North America (five copies)
          a. New York Public Library
          b. Yale University, Sterling Memorial Library
          c. Houston Baptist University, Dunham Bible Museum
          d. DC Museum of the Bible
          e. University of Toronto, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
     Australia (one copy)
          a. University of Adelaide, Rare Books and Special Collections


In 2008, a copy of The Wicked Bible went up for sale online, priced at $89,500.[21] A second copy was put up for sale from the same website which was priced at $99,500 as of 2015.[22] Both copies were sold for around the asking price.

In 2015, one of the remaining Bible copies was put on auction by Bonhams,[23] and sold for £31,250.[24]

In 2016, a copy of The Wicked Bible was put on auction by Sotheby's and sold for $46,500.[25] In 2018, the same copy of the Wicked Bibles was put on auction again by Sotheby's, and sold for $56,250.[26]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Kohlenberger, III, John R (2008). NIV Bible Verse Finder. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan. p. viii. ISBN 978-0310292050.
  2. ^ Ingelbart, Louis Edward (1987). Press Freedoms. A Descriptive Calendar of Concepts, Interpretations, Events, and Courts Actions, from 4000 B.C. to the Present, p. 40, Greenwood Publishing. ISBN 0-313-25636-5
  3. ^ Gekoski, Rick (23 November 2010). "The Wicked Bible: the perfect gift for collectors, but not for William and Kate". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  4. ^ Turner, Allan. "Historic Bibles ‑ even a naughty one ‑ featured at Houston's Dunham Museum". Houston Chronicle. Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  5. ^ Wicked Bible on free public display in British Library, London
  6. ^ Stockdale, Nicole (12 May 2004). "AP style updates". A Capital Idea. Blogspot. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  7. ^ Russell, Ray (October 1980). "The Wicked Bibles". Theology Today. 37 (3): 360–363. doi:10.1177/004057368003700311.
  8. ^ Brown, DeNeen. "New museum's 'Wicked Bible': Thou Shalt Commit Adultery". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  9. ^ Brown, DeNeen. "The Bible Museum's 'Wicked Bible': Thou Shalt Commit Adultery". Washington Post. Washington Post. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  10. ^ ""Thou Shalt Commit Adultery: A rare copy of the so-called Wicked Bible of 1631, which omitted a rather important "not" from the 10 Commandments, is going on auction in the U.K." The Atlantic. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  11. ^ Brown, DeNeen. "New museum's 'Wicked Bible': Thou Shalt Commit Adultery". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  12. ^ Brown, DeNeen. "The Bible Museum's 'Wicked Bible': Thou Shalt Commit Adultery". Washington Post. Washington Post. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  13. ^ ""Thou Shalt Commit Adultery: A rare copy of the so-called Wicked Bible of 1631, which omitted a rather important "not" from the 10 Commandments, is going on auction in the U.K." The Atlantic. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  14. ^ Archbishop William Laud succeeded Archbishop Abbott in 1633.
  15. ^ Timperley, Charles Henry (1842). Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote. p. 484 ourcivilisation.com
  16. ^ Stevens, Henry. Recollections of Mr James Lenox of New York and the Formation of His Library. London: Henry Stevens & Son, 1886 (page 35).
  17. ^ "English Short Title Catalogue". www.estc.bl.uk. ESTC system number 006195643, ESTC Citation Number S161
  18. ^ Dixon, Simon. "Who owned the Wicked Bible?". Library of Special Collections. University of Leicester. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  19. ^ "University of Cambridge". University of Cambridge. iDiscover. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  20. ^ Stephen Lewis (29 November 2008). "The treasures of York Minster Library". York Press. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  21. ^ Greatsite.com platinum room Archived 2008-06-20 at WebCite retrieved 20 June 2008.
  22. ^ "Platinum Room". December 15, 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-12-16.
  23. ^ Flood, Alison (21 October 2015). "Extremely rare Wicked Bible goes on sale". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  24. ^ "Bonhams : BIBLE, IN ENGLISH, AUTHORIZED VERSION [The Holy Bible: Containing the Old Testament and the New], THE 'WICKED BIBLE', 2 parts in 1 vol., Robert Barker... and by the assignes of John Bill, 1631". www.bonhams.com.
  25. ^ "Bible in English [The "Wicked" Bible]". www.sothebys.com.
  26. ^ "Bible in English [The "Wicked" Bible]". www.sothebys.com.

BibliographyEdit

  • Eisenstein, Elisabeth L Rewolucja Gutenberga, translated by: Henryk Hollender, Prószyński i S-ka publishing, Warsaw 2004, ISBN 83-7180-774-0
  • Ingelbart, Louis Edward. Press Freedoms. A Descriptive Calendar of Concepts, Interpretations, Events, and Courts Actions, from 4000 B.C. to the Present, Greenwood Publishing 1987, ISBN 0-313-25636-5
  • Stevens, Henry. ′The Wicked Bible,′ in Recollections of Mr James Lenox of New York and the Formation of His Library. London: Henry Stevens & Son, 1886 (pages 34-42).