The so-called ‘Complutensian Polyglot Bible’ is the first of the great multi-lingual editions of the complete Bible produced during the 16th and 17th centuries.
What is the Complutensian Polyglot Bible?
The ‘Complutensian Polyglot Bible’ was the first multi-lingual Bible, with translations in Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Aramaic. It was a massive undertaking, which took 15 years to produce, beginning in 1502 and being completed in 1517. The work consists of six volumes, two of which are dedicated to the texts of the New Testament. Most of the Old Testament is printed in Hebrew, the authorised Latin Vulgate and Greek (with literal Latin translation) and Chaldean Aramaic (with literal Latin translation). The New Testament is printed in Greek and in the authorised Latin Vulgate. The ‘Complutensian Polyglot Bible’ is also interesting from a typographical point of view because it uses different scripts and typefaces in parallel. The Greek type used in the New Testament, for example, was especially designed for this book.
Of the 600 copies printed in the 16th century, twenty-three full sets of six volumes each are known to have survived.
Who was it made for?
It was not aimed at congregations but was instead intended for Catholic scholars to provide them with the arguments they needed to counter those put forward by Protestant biblical scholarship. The work was the initiative of the Spanish Cardinal and Chief Inquisitor Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros (1436–1517) who also financed the project. He drew together scholars from various areas to work on the translation. While Protestant theologians used the earliest texts of the Bible in Hebrew, Greek and Latin to produce translations in vernacular languages for their congregations, the Catholic Church would continue to use the Latin vulgate for centuries to come. However, it required access to the texts in its original languages to marshal its arguments against the growing tide of Protestantism.