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The text of the Bible

The Gutenberg Bible contains the Latin version of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, mainly the work of Jerome (c.345-420 AD) who translated some biblical texts from the originals and in other instances revised older Latin translations. He began his work on the translation in 380 AD.

In the course of time, Jerome's text was subject to change, and hand-written Latin Bibles in the West often diverged on substantial points, partly under the influence of earlier translations, and partly as a result of differences which inevitably arise whenever a book is copied by a scribe.

In Paris, in the 12th century, an attempt was made to create a standard Latin Bible, but the textual basis was criticized even by contemporaries and, as a result of the desire to create a better standard, the text was subjected to much change in the subsequent period.

The text of the Bible as it appears in the Gutenberg Bible is the result of emendations of the Parisian Bible tradition, but it is already quite different from the standard which had been established 200 years earlier. It is close to a group of manuscripts written in the area of the Rhine in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The Gutenberg Bible became the basis on which further emendations to the Bible were made. Not until the 20th century was an attempt made to reject the unsystematically corrected text, and to reconstitute Jerome's translation on the basis of a critical assessment of manuscript evidence.

The text of the Gutenberg Bible is placed in a philological context in Heinrich Schneider, Der Text der Gutenbergbibel zu ihrem 500järigen Jubiläum untersucht, Bonner biblische Beiträge, 7 (Bonn, 1954).

A discussion of its relation to the tradition of the Vulgate, and a complete list of the texts included in the Gutenberg Bible can be found in Robert Weber, 'Der Text der Gutenbergbibel und seine Stellung in der Geschichte der Vulgata', in: Johannes Gutenbergs zweiundvierzigzeilige Bibel, Faksimile-Ausgabe nach dem Exemplar der Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin: Kommentarband, ed. W. Schmidt and F. A. Schmidt-Künsemüller (Munich, 1979), 9-31.

The text in relation to the work of the printers is discussed by Paul Needham, 'The Text of the Gutenberg Bible', in Trasmissione dei testi a stampa nel periodo moderno, vol. II: Il seminario internazionale Roma-Viterbo 27-29 giugno 1985, ed. by Giovanni Crapulli (Rome, 1987), pp. 43-84, and Paul Needham, 'The Changing Shape of the Vulgate Bible in Fifteenth-century Printing Shops', in The Bible as Book: The First Printed Editions, ed. by Kimberley van Kampen and Paul Saenger (London, 1999), pp. 53-70.

Kristian Jensen, 'Printing the Bible in the Fifteenth Century: Devotion, Philology and Commerce', in Incunabula and Their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century, edited by Kristian Jensen (London: The British Library, 2003), pp. 115-138, discusses how commercial imperatives changed the texts of the Bible and who bought and used Bibles in the 15th century.

An account of the principles followed in the critical edition of the Vulgate prepared under the supervision of a Papal committee since 1908 is found in Henri Quentin, Mémoire sur l'établissement du texte de la Vulgate, Ière partie,Octateuque, Collectanea biblica latina, 6 (Rome and Paris, 1922). This work received a mixed critical response.

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