An interesting aspect of collecting Bibles has to do with editions which contain a strange, unusual or even humorous misprint. Sometimes the oddity comes from a peculiar word chosen by the translator which tends to characterize that Bible in the years following its publication. A misspelled word, the colloquial use of a word (that gives it a strange- sound years later) or a grossly bizarre printing blunder all make for a distinctive Bible edition. In some cases, when discovered, these oddities produce a much desired collector’s item. Such books eventually find their way into the libraries of collectors and often command a high resale price.
Fortunately for the Bible collector who might find this area of specialization particularly interesting, relatively few persons dealing in books or antiquarian collectibles are very knowledgeable in this field. For that reason there exists always the possibility that a collector may pick up a scarce or rare Bible at a bargain price. When the search for a particular version hinges upon finding the one with the odd or unusual reading, it adds a measure of adventure to Bible collecting. Perhaps a sampling of some of the curious readings and a word about how to identify them would be in order.
One of the most famous Bibles, containing an unusual rendering, is called the “Breeches Bible.” In 1560 the Geneva Bible said, in Genesis 3:7, that Adam and Eve made for themselves ‘breeches” out of fig leaves. This same word was used also in the manuscript copy of the Wycliffe Bible of 1380-1384. Other versions, including the King James Version, use the word “aprons.”
Another curious reading is found in the 1551 edition of Becke’s revision of the Thomas Matthew Bible, where Psalm 91:5 has the writer saying, “So that thou shalt not nede to be afrayed for any bugges at night…” The King James, and subsequent translations, use the word “terror” in place of “bugges,” making this “Bugge Bible” somewhat of an oddity desirable to some collectors. This unusual reading was used in several early English translations, including the 1535 edition of the Coverdale Bible.
The “Camels Bible” of 1823 took that nickname from a misprint in Genesis 24:61 which reads, “And Rebekah arose, and her camels” instead of “her damsels.” This mistake is easily understandable when you realize that the word “camels” also is found in the same verse. Such errors are attributable to a slip of the eye by the typesetter and an oversight on the part of the proofreader. This was not uncommon during the early years of printing and still occurs, occasionally, even today.
A Bible printed in Oxford, England in 1792 has been dubbed the “Denial Bible.” The very unusual substitution of the name “Philip” is made in place of “Peter” as the disciple who denied Jesus in Luke 22:34. Perhaps the printshop or office personnel responsible for that error were doing a bit of daydreaming. In any event, it resulted in a Bible that some collectors consider an interesting addition to their collections.
A couple of rather glaring mistakes can be found in a Bible produced in 1807. The wording in Matthew 13:43, instead of saying “Who hath ears to hear,” says “ears to ears.” Injecting an element of humor this edition has been called the “Ears to Ears Bible.” The same edition has Hebrews 9:14 declaring, “How much more shall the blood of Christ …purge your conscience from good works (should be “dead works”) to serve the living God.”
This brings us to a group of Bibles which contain some very radical departures from the correct text, thereby changing substantially and even reversing the meaning of certain passages. By omitting or inverting a particular word or phrase, an entirely different, and sometimes evil connotation has been conveyed. Since these errors are rather easy to detect, the printing and circulation of such editions are promptly stopped, resulting often in very few copies ever making their way into the book buying market. One of the earliest such Bibles was produced during the reign of King Charles I in the 1600’s. In Psalm 14:1 it reads, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is a God.” The crucial omission of “no” before “God” makes a fool out of a believer! The printer of this edition was fined ℒ3000 for this gross error and all copies of the Bible were suppressed immediately. The few that “got out” are now eagerly sought by some collectors as the “Fool’s Bible.” You would think that such printers’ mistakes would occur only in Bibles produced during the infancy of the printing profession but such is not the case. As recently as the 1966 first edition of the Jerusalem Bible, Psalm 122:6 read, “Pay for peace” instead of “Pray.” Errors of this type in modern Bibles have not yet, however, resulted in any particular designation being given to the defective edition. The author was sent an advance copy, for review purposes, of the 1970 first edition of the King James II New Testament. In it John 1:5 reads “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness overcomes it.” This was corrected to “the darkness does not overcome it” in the second edition the following year after the error was brought to the attention of the publishers.
The list of Bibles containing this type of error is rather lengthy. The “Wicked Bible” of 1631 contained the words, “Thou shalt commit adultery” in Exodus 20:14, omitting the vital “not.” The “Unrighteous Bible” of 1653 used the words, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9), again deleting the all-important “not.” A rather bizarre footnote to I Peter 3:7 appears in the “Wife Beater Bible” of 1549. It says, “And if she be not obediente and healpeful unto hym; endevoureth to beate the fere of God into her heade, that thereby she may be compelled to learne her dutye and do it.” Among the typos that slipped by the proofreader in early Bibles was the one in a 1717 Bible which contains a heading for Luke, chapter 20, which reads, “The Parable of the Vinegar,” (instead of Vineyard”). Another amusing one is to be found in the 1806 Bible containing a misprint in Ezekiel 47:10 which reads, “that fishes (instead of “fishers”) shall stand,” giving it the designation of the “Standing Fishes Bible.”
One of the unique oddities, found in a printed Bible, appears in a relatively recent edition which has become known as the “Owl Bible.” In I Peter 3:5 of this King James Version Bible it reads, “For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their owl husbands.” The problem in this edition does not stem from a misprint or omission but rather in what appears to be a damaged metal printing plate. The right side of the “n” in the word “own” seems to be chipped off. Then the base of the letter appears bent to the left slightly. This results in the lower case letter “n” looking exactly like a capital “L.” Since both the “o” and “w” appear the same in lower case and capital letters, the word ends up looking exactly like “OWL.” Several copies containing this quaint, mechanical defect have been discovered which declare that women are to be in subjection to their “owl husbands!”
A final example, and probably the ultimate printer’s error, appears in a pre-1702 Bible which has King David exclaiming, in Psalm 119:161, “Printers have persecuted me without a cause.” With all of the strange misspellings and omissions produced in Bibles over the centuries, one wonders if perhaps there is a grain of truth in that reading!
1 - The Bible Collector, July-September 1967, No.11, pages 6-7; January-March 1965, No.1, page 8.