Bible in English, 1535

[Marburg?: E. Cervicornus and J. Soter?], 1535

This is the first Bible ever printed in English. It was translated singlehandedly by Miles Coverdale (1488-1568) based on the Latin Vulgate and on four contemporary versions in German, English, and Latin. Coverdale had it printed on the Continent, possibly in Marburg or Antwerp, and dedicated it to the King of England, Henry VIII. Phrases familiar to all readers of the English Bible go back to his translation: tender mercies, loving kindness, seek the Lord while he may be found, and many others. They were included in the so-called Great Bible of 1539 and were later incorporated into the King James Bible. As a translator, Coverdale is at his best in the Psalter and the prophetical books of the Old Testament, which remain his most enduring legacy.

The title page of Coverdale’s Bible, once attributed to Hans Holbein, set the standard of excellence for all printers of folio English Bibles during the next hundred years. It was printed from four woodblocks placed around a rectangular area that includes the title, the date of publication, and three biblical quotes. The upper register is centered on the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters that transcribe the name of God. To its left, a depiction of Adam and Eve listening to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden illustrates the Fall of Man. To its right, the resurrected Jesus treading upon the Serpent’s head is shown as the bearer of redemption. In the middle section scenes from the Old and New Testament are paired on both sides of the title panel. In the upper row, Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law and a quote from Exodus 21:1 are set as a parallel to Jesus commissioning the Eleven Apostles and a quote from Mark 16:15. The scenes depicted in the lower row are Ezra reading the Law to the people (1Esdras 9:41) and Peter preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2:14).

At the basis of the title panel, Henry VIII with crown, sword of justice, and coat of arms, is enthroned under a canopy, the largest figure on the title page. He is presenting the Bible to a group of mitered bishops who kneel to his right while a group of noblemen kneel to his left.  At the far ends of the scene David and Paul are standing in niches. David has his lyre and is also identified by a quote from Psalm 119:103, Paul holds the sword of his martyrdom and is also identified by a quote from Romans 1:16.

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