Volume One of the Gutenberg Bible in English has been printed. The volume, without the binding is 2 3/4” thick. It is thick and large and weighs about 5 1/2 pounds without the binding. Printed in rich color on superb, archival quality laid cotton paper in a cream color, what is coming “off the press” exceeds our expectations.
It took a long time to complete the more difficult of the two volumed edition. That difficulty was due to the complexity in the Psalms, which ends the volume. The Psalms of David feature alternating hand done red and blue letters that start each sentence. We developed these letters using prototypes taken from a manuscript in keeping with the era.
All Gutenberg Bibles feature a text block printed in black on either parchment or laid cotton paper. In the production process, an artist then manually scribed the introductory lines in red to match the black Gothic typeface for each book. Roman numerals to mark each chapter are done by hand. Headers are done by hand as well and include abbreviations. Finally, the Psalms feature pages visually punctuated with red and blue letters to indicate the opening of each sentence. Aesthetically, it is very pleasing to the eye. And, it is quintessentially medieval.
Aside from the distinction of being the most beautiful Bible ever printed, which I believe is due to the black letter Gothic font in text block size that mirrors the near 2:3 Golden Ratio of the page size, the Gutenberg Bible is the end of the line for the medieval Bible. In Mainz and in Bamberg, between 1454 and 1460, Gutenberg and company unwittingly fixed the text of the Bible. Moreover, production costs were such that the price for a fresh off the press Gutenberg Bible in 1454 - with no rubrics, no sewing, and no binding - was the cost of a house in town. Only the mercantile class, princes, and cardinals could afford an edition.
Prior to the Gutenberg printing press, medieval Bibles across Europe varied based on the Vetus Latina and Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. They also differed in book ordering as well as which prologues were used. As curious, different medieval Bibles included other books such as Odes, Psalm 151, Third and Fourth Maccabees, the Gospel of Nicodemus, and the Epistle to the Laodecians. These variances were the result of Latin Christians from the West having contact with other communities of faith outside of Europe. Editions of these peculiar Bibles are in places like the British Library in London and the Bibliotheque nationale de France in Paris, which are among some of our favorite places for uncovering the best in manuscript and early printed Bibles that were produced during the medieval and early Renaissance periods.
With Gutenberg’s printing press came the unintended consequences for what would become a messy and bloody revolt against the Roman Catholic imposition of the Latin language and catholic culture in a top down hierarchy of control across Europe. With Protestantism came another unintended consequence of secularism as room had to be made in the public square for differences in religious understanding and practice.
Insofar as Bibles are concerned, the great sized pulpit Bibles were eventually eclipsed by hand held Bibles with tiny print and doctrinal notes for the purpose of ensuring sustained religious conflict. After all, the only way to ensure internal cohesiveness within any type of community, whether religious or political, is to have a clearly defined external enemy.
Like the King James Version of the Bible, the Gutenberg Bible had no incendiary notes in the margins though the prologues may cause some to raise their eyebrows. Whether we call them “snow flakes” in our current phase of “cancel culture” that ironically advances censorship in a free society, the Protestants were the first in recent Western historical memory to engage in cancel culture in so far as the Bible is concerned. They destroyed a lot, if we are honest with our shared history and common culture. First, they seperated the apocryphal texts, as deemed by Jerome, into a seperate section thus disrupting the continuous narratives. They then removed from the Bible these apocryphal books, which are largely historical in nature and culminating with the Hellenistic period and the resistance of the Macabbees just prior to the “fullness of time” when Christ appeared. And given some of the chatter on social media, some religious groups want to abolish Christmas and more. Others deem the writings of the Apostle Paul as heretical since they do not align with the militant Judaizers in America known as Hebrew Roots Movement. These are the peculiar times in which we live, but certainly not unique, because the Ebionites were the first Hebrew Roots types rejecting the teachings of the Apostle Paul and what became orthodoxy for a universal, or catholic, system of faith and practice.
At Reproduction Bibles, we are committed to bringing forth the best from the past, and preserving it for every day use whether the content is controversial or not. The Crusaders lived by the sword, and died by the sword. And, yet their era produced perhaps the finest in grand sized illuminated Bibles, financed by mandatory tithes, fit for royalty and bishop kings. Gutenberg, in contrast, borrowed heavily to prove the viability of his printing press, ended bankrupt, his assets were seized by his partners, he lived out his remaining days in poverty cloistered behind the walls of a monastery, and left a legacy larger than his life. Lessons learned. We look forward to seeing Reproduction Bibles complete the Gutenberg Bible in English