Rare ‘Wicked’ bible that encourages adultery discovered in New Zealand | New Zealand
An extremely rare Bible famous for an unfortunate error that encourages adultery has been discovered in New Zealand.
The 1631 “Wicked” Bible, as it became known, omits the word “not” from its seventh commandment, informing readers “thou shalt commit adultery”. One thousand copies of the text, also known as the Adulterers’ or Sinners’ Bible, were printed, with the error not being discovered until a year later.
Upon discovery of the error, printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas were summoned by King Charles I and dragged into court, where they were reprimanded for the outrageous typo and sloppy work. They were stripped of their printing license, fined £300 for years (although it was eventually overturned) and most of the text destroyed. There are only about twenty left in circulation.
Bibles are auctioned from time to time, mostly in Britain or the United States, but this is the first time one has been found in the southern hemisphere, according to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. The university first learned of its existence in 2018, but has chosen to keep the discovery secret until now to give researchers and book curators enough time to study and preserve the book.
“It’s a mystery, it’s fascinating and it’s been around the world,” said Chris Jones, an associate professor of medieval studies at the university and a member of the Society of Antiquaries in London, on Monday.
A former student of Jones brought the copy to her in 2018 after her family had acquired it two years earlier in a deceased estate sale. The late owner was British bookbinder Don Hampshire, who moved to Christchurch from the UK in 2009, but as far as Jones could tell Hampshire had never told anyone he owned it.
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 thought, wow, that’s exactly what my former student thinks it is – it’s a Wicked Bible. I was blown away.”
Jones said there was a copy in Canada, some in the US, some in the UK, Ireland and “a very nice copy” in Dublin.
“Australians claim they have one, but they don’t,” Jones laughed, adding that their copy doesn’t contain the infamous “no” omission.
“Having one come to see me in Christchurch is just remarkable.”
The discovery of the book piqued Jones’ interest in the history of the Bible and the myths about the reasons for the error, the trial surrounding it, and the printing industry more broadly at the time. on which he plans to publish articles.
There is heated debate over how the printing error occurred, with theories that it could have been a deliberate act of industrial sabotage by a rival printer. But Jones denied that rumour, saying it’s much more likely that the printers, who operated in a cutthroat industry, were just cutting publishers’ costs.
The life of the New Zealand copy, which belongs to the Phil and Louise Donnithorne Family Trust, remains a mystery before it arrived in the country. Where many Bibles contain detailed descriptions of family trees, dates, places, and records of births and deaths, this copy has only one illegible name.
The copy was in relatively poor condition when rediscovered, with its cover missing, some water damage, and some back pages permanently lost. But it also has some unique features – it’s one of the few copies that has the most decorative red and black ink and it’s a much fuller version than many others.
Curator of Books and Papers, Sarah Askey, curated the item, meticulously treating the work, installing a new cover and preserving it for future generations. Askey documented all the little features that could help provide clues to where the book had been – between some pages she found plant remains, human hair and textile fibers.
“It was an annoying little thing to work around…and there was a lot of troubleshooting involved, but it was pretty satisfying to do,” Askey said.
The book has now been fully digitized and will become free to the public via a website in the coming months – which Jones hopes will help shed light on the copy’s mysterious illegible name scrawled inside.
“I hope someone comes along and says ‘Chris Jones, you’re an idiot, it’s really obvious,’ and I can’t wait to be there.”