Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES
- 19 -- RELIGION


Collecting Policy and Historical Survey

Works about the Bible, the history of the Bible, bibliographies, dictionaries, and encyclopedias of the Bible are collected comprehensively; other aspects of the subject are representatively or selectively covered. Although the Research Libraries do not attempt specialization in this field, the representation of Bibles in the special collections is unusually rich and extensive, and there is a wide range of translations in the general collections. Most of the Bible rarities were acquired by James Lenox.17

A tabulation of the census figures for Bibles and biblical literature in the Research Libraries will give some indication of the growth of the collections in this area:

192111,695 volumes

In the 1853 report of the Astor Library, Joseph Cogswell notes the presence of "the best editions of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, the Walton Polyglott, various editions of the Vulgate, and numerous versions of the whole Bible, and of parts of it, in the principal languages of Europe and the East."19 The consolidation of the Astor and Lenox Libraries in 1895 brought the Lenox Bible rarities together with the Astor standard works and other rarities that had been added, principally in the 1880s. An interesting collection deposited by the American Bible Society in 1897 was withdrawn in 1937 when the society was able to provide adequate space for the collection in a new building.

The Spencer Collection, which came to the Research Libraries in 1913, added a further group of illustrated Bibles, many in fine bindings. In 1929 Edward S. Harkness gave a ninth-century Gospels in Latin, the Landevennec Gospels, described on page 76. The collection of examples of African, Oceanic, and Indic dialects was materially increased and strengthened in 1932 by the purchase of Bibles used in missionary work from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.


Although the Research Libraries do not attempt specialization in this field, as do the Union Theological Seminary and the General Theological Seminary, an idea of the great extent of the collection can be gained by noting that some 44 card catalog trays are required for references on the Bible--an estimated total of 33,700 cards. The range of holdings is demonstrated by estimates of the number of editions of the English Bible available: 80 editions of the sixteenth century, 260 of the seventeenth century, 200 of the eighteenth century, and over 970 of the nineteenth century. This generous representation is due to a policy of retaining every imprint before 1900, even if only slight variations are apparent. All important twentieth-century editions are also present, and texts in foreign languages are well represented. Expository and biographical works meet the research needs of the layman and are frequently useful to the scholar.

Curiosities are not lacking. There is an outstanding collection of Bibles in shorthand in various English systems, beginning with William Addy's in the sixteenth century and continuing to the current systems of the twentieth, as well as in the systems of continental Europe.20 Also included is an interesting representation of miniature Bibles.21

The Jewish Division holds approximately 4,000 volumes of Biblical editions and critical commentaries. Works are found in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and other languages, as well as in the Western European tongues. The collecting policies are similar to the general policy of the Research Libraries.

Two additional features of the Bible collection are noteworthy: the Local History and Genealogy Division records all Bibles in which family history and vital records have been entered; some 1,140 references to notable illustrated editions appear in the Public Catalog.


One of the particular strengths of the Bible collections is the wide range of languages into

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which the Biblical texts have been translated. Some idea of the variety of languages can be gained from an enumeration of languages and dialects entered in the catalog for the first four letters of the alphabet, A--D: the Old Testament appears in five tongues, the New Testament in thirty-five, and the complete Bible in nineteen. Among minor languages and dialects, those of the American Indian and of African and Indic languages are best represented.

The Slavonic Division has very rare Gospel translations into Mordvinian and Mari made by the Russian Bible Society in 1821 before these languages became literary, New Testaments translated into Livornian in the early nineteenth century, and a first edition of the Bible in Lettish (Riga, 1685-89). The Berg Collection holds the only translation of the Gospels into the Gypsy language in the collections: a translation of the Gospel of St. Luke made by George Borrow (1837). A copy of the second edition (1871) in proof sheets has alterations and corrections in Borrow's hand.


Printed Bibles:

Most of the early Bibles or Testaments in the Research Libraries were acquired by James Lenox. The most important is the socalled Gutenberg, or 42-line Bible, the first book executed in Europe from movable metal type. The Lenox copy, now in the Rare Book Division, was purchasded in 1847 for £500; it was the first Gutenberg Bible to come to the United States. On paper, rubricated but without illumination, it is bound in two volumes. Until 1923 it lacked the first four leaves. In that year Gabriel Wells presented the library with the originals of leaves two, three, and four in the book's first setting of 40-lines; the first leaf is still lacking.22

Block books are considered among the rarest of fifteenth-century publications; six of them in the Rare Book Division are Biblical texts: three Biblia Pauperum, "Bibles of the Poor," the earliest dated 1465 and printed in the Netherlands; and three copies of the Apocalypsis Sancti Johannis, the earliest dated 1465 and printed in Germany.

Other Bibles in the Rare Book Division include the first printings in Arabic, Dutch, French, Hebrew, Bohemian, English, Swedish, Danish, and Armenian; Luther's translation of the New Testament, the first of all the many subsequent Protestant Testaments and Bibles; and the first Catholic Bibles in English. Indicative of the richness of the resources of the Research Libraries not only in Bibles but in American Indian languages are the copies of the first Bible printed in America, the translation into the language of the Massachuset Indians made by the Reverend John Eliot, often called Eliot's Indian Bible--the Rare Book Division holds copies of the New Testament (1661) and the complete Bible (1663); there is a copy of the New Testament in the Berg Collection.

The Pitcairn Bible (Edinburgh, 1764), a Bible of unusual interest as an association copy, was presented to the library in 1924 by Eliza H. Lord, Daniel M. Lord, Herbert G. Lord, and Harriet Lord Bradford. Carried aboard H.M.S. Bounty in 1787, it stayed on the ship until taken off at Pitcairn Island, where it remained for almost fifty years until it was brought to the United States and came into the possession of the Lord family.23

Curious examples of the Bible in the collections are the so-called Vinegar Bible, the Murderer's Bible, the Ear Bible, Cromwell's Souldiers Pocket Bible, and the Wicked Bible. In the latter, published in London, 1631, there are many gross and scandalous typographical errors, among them the omission of the important word "not" in the Seventh Commandment. The Lenox copy is one of six known.24 Equally rare is a German Wicked Bible (Halle, 1731).

The Spencer Collection's holdings of illustrated Bibles include the famous Malermi Bible (Venice, 1493), which takes its name from Niccolò Malermi who translated it into Italian,25 the Cologne Bible of 1478, copies of two notable Augsburg imprints, the Sorg Bible of 1480 and the Schönsperger Bible of 1487, the Lübeck Bible of 1494, and other later editions collected for their illustrations or fine bindings.

Manuscript Bibles:

Many of the manuscript Bibles and Testaments in the Research Libraries are among their greatest treasures. The earliest medieval manuscript in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, and one of the finest in the United States, is an "Evangelistarium, sive Lectiones ex Evangeliis" (De Ricci, NYPL 1), written for a monastery dedicated to St. Michael, doubtless in Germany. It is on vellum with many pages written in gold on purple.26 The ninth-century Landevennec Gospels (De Ricci, NYPL 115), presented by Edward S. Harkness in 1929, was written in Brittany and illustrated with rough colored drawings.27 A thirteenth-century Pentateuch is one of the oldest manuscripts of the Samaritans of Nablus. There are 12 Latin Bibles of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, of English, French, and Italian workmanship. There is also the oldest extant complete manuscript (fourteenth century) of Wycliffe's New Testament (De Ricci, NYPL 67). Fifteenth-century manuscripts on vellum include 4 copies of Purvey's revision of Wycliffe's New Testament, and an Apocalypse of the early part of the century (De Ricci, NYPL 15). The "Lectionarium Evangeliorum" written in Italy about 1540 contains 6 large and several small miniatures of great beauty by Giulio Clovio. It was executed for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who presented

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it to Pope Paul III. The Lenox Library acquired this masterwork in 1888; it is sometimes called the Towneley Lectionary, the name taken from a former owner.

Several of the manuscript Bibles in the Spencer Collection are also of great interest. An early thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript of the Minor Prophets and Lives of the Saints (De Ricci, Spencer 1) has been identified as coming from the Benedictine Monastery of Weingarten in Swabia.28 A "Bible historiée et vies des saints" (De Ricci, Spencer 22) in French on vellum was produced in northern France about 1300 and contains over 800 miniatures.