Subscriber login

History
What you need to know for 12/11/2017

The new Bible Museum's 'Wicked Bible': Thou shalt commit adultery

The new Bible Museum's 'Wicked Bible': Thou shalt commit adultery

The 1631 edition of the King James Bible contained an epic omission from the Seventh Commandment
The new Bible Museum's 'Wicked Bible': Thou shalt commit adultery
The Wicked Bible, a 1631 edition of the King James Bible, contains an infamous omission in the Seventh Commandment.
Photographer: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - The "Wicked Bible" omits one crucial word from the Seventh Commandment.

"Thou shalt commit adultery," the Wicked Bible commands.

Definitely not the message conveyed on the stone tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, according to the Book of Exodus. The Ten Commandments made liberal use of the word "NOT."

The doozy of an error in Exodus 20:14 was discovered a full year after the King James Bible was published in 1631 in London.

An angry King Charles I ordered every copy of the Wicked Bible to be gathered and burned. But not all the Wicked Bibles went up in flames. At least 11 copies somehow survived, and one of them will go on display Saturday when the new Museum of the Bible opens in Washington.

Bound in black leather, the small Bible rests under dimmed lights inside the museum's fourth-floor gallery, entitled "History of the Bible." Its pages are flipped open to Exodus, with an account of the printing error beside it.

The Wicked Bible contains another huge error in Deuteronomy 5:24, which was intended to proclaim the "greatnesse" of God. Instead, the Wicked Bible replaces the word, "greatnesse," with a word church-goers may find difficult to utter: "great-asse."

"And ye said, Behold, the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his great-asse," the passage reads, "and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth."

wickedbible-904e3478-cb8d-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d.jpg

The Museum of the Bible in Washington displays a rare copy of the Wicked Bible. (DeNeen L. Brown/The Washington Post)

The two blasphemous mistakes in the same Bible have led some scholars to conclude they were an act of sabotage.

"If it had just been one mistake, like leaving off the 'not' in Exodus 20:14, it could have been an accident," said Diana Severance, director of Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University. "But the mistake in Deuteronomy 5:24 of God's 'great-asse,' instead of greatness, suggests there was something else going on."

The Wicked Bible was published under the oversight of royal printer Robert Barker, said Norm Conrad, curator of American and Biblical imprints for the Museum of the Bible. Another royal printer, Martin Lucas, is sometimes listed as Barker's partner in the production of the Wicked Bible.

The men were punished severely for the mistakes.

George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote: "I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the beste. But now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned."

Barker and Lucas were ordered by King Charles I to the Star Chamber. They were fined 300 pounds and their printing licenses revoked.

Some scholars suspect Bonham Norton, a rival of Barker, may have injected the errors to get Barker in trouble and take over his printing job.

"It is thought that an ally of Bonham Norton, a partner of Robert Barker's who had heavy debts, could have been the cause of the sabotage," said Severance. "In order to print the Bible, you had to have a license from the king. Barker had the license. Another printer wanted the license. He thought if he got Barker in trouble, he could get the license. That was the motive."

Barker ended up dying in debtors' prison.

Severance said that history records some other grand biblical blasphemies, including a 1653 printing in First Corinthians 6:9, that transforms the passage to read: " 'Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?' "

The book, "Let It Go Among Our People: An Illustrated History of the English Bible from John Wyclif to the King James Version," by David Price and Charles C. Ryrie, lists other epic biblical mistakes. Among them:

  • The "Breeches Bible," a 1560 Geneva Bible that says in Genesis 3:7, "Adam and Eve put on 'breeches instead of aprons.' "
  • The "Bug Bible," also known as the 1535 Coverdale, which says in Psalms 91:5: "So yet thou shalt not need to be afraid for any bugs by night."
  • The so-called "Murderer's Bible," which refers to three different Bibles, including a King James version from 1795 that contains a typo in Mark 7:27 that says: "Let the children be killed," instead of "filled."
  • The "Printers' Bible," a 1702 edition of the King James, contains an error in Psalm 119:16. Instead of saying "princes have persecuted me without a cause,' David complains, 'printers have persecuted me without a cause.' "
  • In a 1549 printing of the "Matthew's Bible," according Price and Ryrie, "a note on 1 Peter 3 offers husbands some terrible advice: 'And if she be not obedient and helpful unto him [he] endeavoreth to beat the fear of God into her." That version is called the "Wife Beater's Bible."

In their collection at the Dunham Bible Museum in Houston, Severance said, they have what is called "the Vinegar Bible."

"It's a beautifully printed bible," Severance said. "In the heading instead of the 'Parable of the Vineyard,' it says 'Parable of the Vinegar.' "

The Bible Museum in Washington also contains a "Vinegar Bible" in its collection of more than 500 Bibles.

"That error wasn't considered to be as egregious as 'Thou Shalt Commit Adultery,' " curator Conrad said Wednesday, as workers added finishing touches to the museum, "so those weren't destroyed."

View Comments
Hide Comments
0 premium 1 premium 2 premium 3 premium 4 premium 5 premium article articles remaining SUBSCRIBE TODAY

You have reached your monthly premium content limit.

Continue to enjoy Daily Gazette premium content by becoming a subscriber.
Already a subscriber? Log In