Banned 1631 ‘Adultery Bible’ discovered in New Zealand

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In these days of fast-paced email and text typing, typos can seem so commonplace that they almost don’t matter anymore. There’s often an edit button on social media that can quickly rectify the situation – or at least the ability to respond with a * and a correction.

Unfortunately, the corrections weren’t so easy to manage in 1631 when printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas printed 1,000 copies of the Bible with a typo of biblical proportions. “You shall commit adultery”, read Exodus 20:14 – with the small but essential word “not” missing.

When the error was discovered a year later – a disturbing detail which indicates that a thousand owners of the Bible had not taken the time to read the Ten Commandments – Barker and Lucas were summoned to the king’s court Charles I.

Charles reprimanded them for their incompetent work and the scandalous result, stripping them of their printing license and declaring a £300 fine. All but twenty of the texts were destroyed.

With only twenty copies escaping the royal wrath, the controversial text – called The Wicked Bible, The Sinners’ Bible and The Adulterous Bible – is a rare find today. And more so in the southern hemisphere, where so far no copies have been reported as found.

But all that changed yesterday when Chris Jones, associate professor of medieval studies at the university and fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London, announced that a copy had been found in Christchurch, New Zealand.

A former student of Jones brought him the copy in 2018. His family had acquired it two years earlier in a sale of the deceased estate of the late owner, bookbinder Don Hampshire. Hampshire came to New Zealand from the UK in the late 1950s and died in Christchurch in 2009. No record has been found of him revealing his ownership of the scandalous book.

“These aren’t things you just walk into an office after finding one in a garage in Christchurch.”

Jones’ former student told him she believed it was a “Wicked” Bible, but he was “very incredulous because these are not common objects”.

“These aren’t things you just walked into an office after finding one in a garage in Christchurch. But I looked at it and I thought, wow, this is exactly what my former student thinks this is – this is a wicked bible. I was blown away by it,” Jones said. The Guardian NZ.

The delay in announcing the discovery to the world was not, in fact, the chilling pace of life in New Zealand. Instead, the University of Canterbury in Christchurch chose to keep the discovery a secret to give researchers and book keepers enough time to study and preserve the book.

“It’s a mystery, it’s fascinating and it’s been around the world,” Chris Jones, an associate professor of medieval studies at the university and a member of the Society of Antiquaries in London, said on Monday.

Jones studied Bible history, stories of how error was…

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