1611 King James Bible Found in Church

Saturday, April 9, 2011 - World's Best-Selling Book by Donald L. Brake, Sr.

“The ornate old Bible that had been sitting in plain view on a table near the last row of pews for longer than anyone could remember is an original King James Bible - one of perhaps 200 surviving 400-year-old original editions of arguably the most important book ever printed in English.”

These recent exciting words from Richard Allen Greene’s article for CNN, “Tiny church finds original King James Bible” stirred the imagination of the Bible reading public. 

Any 400-year-old book is a treasure, but a 400-year-old large folio King James Bible is a treasure of which Bible collectors and libraries only dream.

The Bible found at St. Laurence Church in Hilmarton, England was taken to Rev. David Smith, at the Museum of the Book in London.  Smith checked one of the distinguishing readings in Matthew 26:36, “Then commeth Judas with them.”

This reading led Smith to confirm it was a 1611 Bible. However, upon closer examination the Judas reading is associated with the second edition/impression and perhaps not published until 1613.

Modern scholarship acknowledges two separate 1611 printings. Some choose to call the second printing a second issue/impression while others prefer to call it a second edition. The second printing corrected errors of the first but introduced new errors. When scholars examine the second printing they conclude it is derived from the first indicating it should be considered a separate edition. The Judas reading as found in the St. Laurence copy identifies it as the second edition.

The two editions/impressions are popularly identified by the terms “He” Bible and “She” Bible. This distinction comes from the reading in Ruth 3:15, “and he went into the citie” versus the reading, “and she went into the citie.” The he reading is from the first edition and the she reading from the second edition.

The title page to the 1611 first edition has a copper plate by Cornelius Boel with the date 1611 and a woodcut New Testament title also dated 1611. The second edition has a woodcut Old Testament title dated 1613 and the woodcut New Testament title is dated 1611.The problem with the St. Laurence Church copy is that it does not have either title page. We must look to other identifying features included in the Bible itself. 

Original 'she' 1611 King James Bible found in church - image courtesy Richard Allen Greene, CNN
Image courtesy of Richard Allen Greene, CNN

St. Laurence Church Parish council member, Geoff Procter confirmed to me by email that the reading was she in Ruth 3:15 and Judas in Matthew 26:36.This newly discovered King James Bible is the second edition published in 1613 with, perhaps, a few leaves left over from the first edition. The readings of Judas in Matthew 26:36 and the she reading in Ruth 3:15 positively identify it as a second edition “She” Bible. For an extensive study of the mysteries of the printing see my book A Visual History of the King James Bible, Baker Books 2011.

While either edition is a treasure, the difference in the monetary value between the first edition and second edition is significant. Today, a second edition of the King James Bible in average condition will sell for $20,000-25,000 while a first edition of the same quality will bring $50,000-75,000 and complete copies with important recorded histories of past owners can bring even more.

Are there indeed 200 extant copies of the two editions as Greene points out in his article and as is commonly held by scholars?

In January 2011 I published the first worldwide census of all surviving copies of the 1611 first editions of the (“He”) King James Bible in A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611-2011. In my research I found and described 169 first edition King James Bibles. It has long been proposed there could possibly be 50 surviving copies of the “He” Bible and 150 of the “She” Bible, making up the 200 copies Greene refers to in his article. 

No attempt has been made to date to do a census of the second edition. However, book dealers and experts readily admit there are many more second editions. I believe my census will eventually total between 170-180 “He” Bibles and perhaps 400-500 “She” Bibles. This would bring the total of both editions to 570-680, far beyond the current estimates of 200.

This recently discovered 400-year-old Bible is indeed an authentic treasure and along with Shakespeare’s writings is the most influential book ever published in the English language. The cadence and rhythms of the King James Version have drawn the world to its sheer literary beauty. We are awestruck by the expressive word pictures that have come to symbolize our language heritage. The King James Bible is destined to endure without peers as long as the English language survives.

By Donald L. Brake, Sr. This piece originally ran in The World's Best Selling Book in The Communities at the Washington Times. Image and original story courtesy of Richard Allen Greene, CNN.

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