The other day at work, I discovered a huge Bible. This one was truly massive, in three volumes, almost too heavy to lift. As I pulled down the last fascicle, which weighed more than a newborn, I noticed the sticker on the cover. “Author’s proof.” This gave me pause. Does God read his own material or does he hire out freelancers? Printed Bibles have a long and venerable history of typographical errors, especially in the early days. Speaking in the name of the Almighty does have its risks. After all, little is more persuasive in America than the words, “it’s in the Bible.” I remember kids saying that to me in high school, where I had the reputation of being a walking concordance. More often than not, I had to correct them, since, in fact, the Bible mentions nothing about Popes or guns.
Prior to the electronics revolution, printing a Bible was a complex process. Typesetting, or compositing, was not an undertaking for the foolhardy. Type has to be set, cast, and molded in order for offset printers to roll. And although page proofs aren’t set in stone, metal isn’t a forgiving medium to manipulate. And let’s face it—the Bible has a lot of words. Some of them very dry. The King James Version has over 780,000 words. Those with any experience in publishing know that’s one big book. Bible proofreaders command a hefty fee. I would be afraid to correct the word of the Lord myself. Reading through holy writ, word-by-word, takes a bit of time. The mind wanders to monks in their scriptoria.
Nevertheless, printer’s errors abound. Growing up as an evangelical, lighthearted entertainment was to be had as we read about the “Breeches Bible,” the Geneva Bible that had Adam and Eve fabricating britches for themselves from fig leaves. Coverdale’s Bible was known as the “Bug Bible” for its translation of Psalm 91.5, “Thou shall not nede to be afrayed for eny bugges by night.” Various versions of the King James have typos including Judas telling the disciples to watch in Gethsemane while he goes yonder to pray, and the somewhat self-serving “Printer’s Bible” that renders Psalm 119.161, “Printers have persecuted me without a cause” (which may be true, but the Hebrew would seem to indicate “princes” instead). The most notorious was the “Wicked Bible” wherein the seventh commandment in Exodus reads, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” All but eleven copies were destroyed and one of the remaining sold in recent years for $89,000. A Bible printed during the First World War, had “Thou shalt kill” as a commandment, Freud be praised. I slip the author’s proof back onto the shelf. I’ll let this be somebody else’s problem.