The Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible

On this lunchtime bike ride I did not go to see a monument or a statue, or any of the other usual types of destinations to which I normally ride. The destination of this daily ride was a book.

This particular book has many stories about unusual and interesting things, including: a man who had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines; a giant who had a bed that was 13 ½ feet long by 6 feet wide; a man who lived to be 969 years old; an army with seven hundred left-handed men; a man who had twelve fingers and twelve toes, and; a woman who boiled and ate her son. It even mentions unicorns.  But the book is much more than a collection of interesting stories.

The book is comprised of 1,189 chapters and was written by about 40 men on three different continents over a period of approximately 1600 years, dating from 1500 BC to about 100 years AD. It was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek, and was not translated into English for more than thirteen centuries. It has now been translated into 2,018 languages, with countless more partial translations, and audio translations for unwritten languages and dialects, making it the most translated book in the world. But it is more than just an ancient book translated into a lot of different languages.

The book is The Bible, and it was the first book ever printed. The Bible was originally printed in 1454 by Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the “type mold” for the printing press, a system of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document.  And it was this Bible, an original, 560-plus year old Gutenberg Bible, that I went to see on this bike ride. It can be found in the Thomas Jefferson Building of The Library of Congress, which is located at 101 Independence Avenue (MAP), between First and Second Streets in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Forty-eight copies, or substantial portions of copies of The Gutenberg Bible, survive. The Library of Congress copy is printed entirely on vellum, a fine parchment made from animal skin, and is one of only three perfect vellum copies known to exist. The others are at the Bibliothèque Nationale and the British Library. For nearly five centuries this Bible was in the possession of the Benedictine Order in their monasteries of St. Blasius and St. Paul in Austria. Along with other fifteenth-century books, it was purchased from Dr. Otto Vollbehr by an act of Congress in 1930.

Gutenberg Bibles are considered to be among the most valuable books in the world. The last sale of a complete Gutenberg Bible took place in 1978. It fetched $2.2 million. This copy is now in Stuttgart. The price of a complete copy today is estimated to be between $25 to $35 million.  The one I saw on this ride was not for sale, however, so I was unable to buy it.  The one I saw on this ride was not for sale, however, so I was unable to buy it.

LibraryCongress01a     GutenbergBible02

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