The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Bible history, by the book

Collection focuses on printing

Most of the time we focus on the meaning to be found in the Scriptures. It's illuminating in a different way to think about the importance of the Bible as a book — the first significant volume printed in Europe using moveable type. Of course, it was the importance of the text that made the Bible the first choice for printing.

I had the opportunity recently to see the first four printed Bibles — the Gutenberg Bible, the 1462 Bible, the 36-Line Bible and the Mentelin Bible — at Princeton [N.J.] University. Rare-book collector William Hurd Scheide, a Princeton resident, owns the four Bibles, which are housed in a university library. The one-day exhibit was the first public display.

Most well-known, of course, is the Gutenberg Bible, printed in Mainz (Germany), about 1455. Only 49 copies survive. This copy's first owner was probably the Dominican convent in Erfurt, where it remained until 1873 when a collector brought it to the United States. Mainz also was the site where Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer printed the 1462 Bible on vellum with elaborate

The 36-line Bible, so known because it has 36 lines per page, was printed in Bamberg in or before 1460. Only 14 copies survive. The Mentelin Bible, which Scheide acquired last year, was printed in 1460 in Strasbourg (France) — the first book printed in that city. Until Scheide's purchase, no copy had been sold for more than 75 years. Only 27 other copies survive.

The Scheide collection of the four historic Bibles is the only one in the United Sates. Five others exist, all in Europe.


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