Bible in Spanish, 1569

Basel: Samuel Apiarius for T. Guarinus, 1569

The first Spanish Bible to be printed in Spain was a Catholic version issued in Valencia between 1790 and 1793. It was based on the Latin Vulgate and printed with the Latin text. About 250 years earlier, Protestant and Jewish exiles had started publishing Spanish translations of the Scriptures in the Low Countries and Italy. The first Spanish New Testament was printed in Antwerp in 1543 and the first Spanish version of the Hebrew Bible known to the Christians as the Old Testament was released in Ferrara in 1553. The Bible described here is the earliest printed volume to include the Spanish version of both Testaments. It was translated by Casiodoro de Reina (or Reyna, 1520-94), a former monk who had converted to Lutheranism and fled Spain in about 1557. Reina started working on the Old Testament soon after leaving Spain and used both the Hebrew text and Pagninus’ Latin version. For the New Testament he used the Greek and Syriac texts.

The bibliographical information on the title page of the Reina Bible is minimal: only the title and the year of publication are mentioned. A colophon printed on the very last page of the volume gives a more specific date: September 1569.  A quote from Isaiah 40:8 in Hebrew and Spanish is prominently displayed on the title page. In the King James Bible this phrase reads: “The word of our God shall stand for ever.” The center piece of the title page is the printer’s device, a complex image representing a bear reaching in a tree hollow for honey. A mallet hangs above the bear’s head and on the ground an open Bible displays the four Hebrew letters of God’s Sacred Name. There is an abundance of leaves, grass, flowers, bees, birds and spiders.

The image has been identified as the device of Samuel Biener or Apiarius (“the Bee-keeper,” c. 1530-90), a Swiss printer active in Basel. His father, Matthias Biener, alias Apiarius (born c. 1495-1500 – died 1554), had been the first printer in the family. A book Matthias had produced in 1539 in Bern has a device similar to the one later used by his son. In both devices the bees recall the names of the printers. In Matthias’ device the bear, which is the heraldic animal of the city of Bern, alludes to the place where the book was published. A deeper meaning of the image is revealed by a quote from Psalm 119:103 in Matthias’ book. In the King James Bible the text reads: “How sweet are thy words onto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” The quote proves that the two printer’s devices are indeed allegorical representations of the thirst for God’s word. Whether this meaning was readily perceptible or not, the image certainly captured the readers’ imagination. To this day, the 1569 Bible is known as La Biblia del Oso, “the Bear Bible.”

Two other images are included in the 1569 Spanish Bible: the Vision of Ezekiel and the Destruction of Tyre. Both of them are found in Reina’s preface: In the 1580s  Cipriano de Valera (c. 1532 – c. 1600) started revising Reina’s translation and labored on the task for the last 20 years of his life. The revised version, known today as the Reina-Valera, was first published in 1602 in Amsterdam and remains the most beloved Protestant version of the Spanish Bible. It is the Spanish equivalent of the King James Bible.

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