Friday, January 6, 2023

Awe-some Bibles

Aitken bible perched atop the King James Bible
This week the New York Times published an article about how experiencing awe might be good for your mental and physical health. Well, we just acquired a few awe-inspiring books if you want to get a dose of this wonder drug: a first printing of the King James Bible from 1611; and a copy of the “Aitken Bible,” from 1782, the first English Language bible printed in America. It is hard to overstate the importance of the King James Bible to the religious lives of the English-speaking world, but also to its literary and cultural realms. Setting this book next to our copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio from 1623, you can see the sources for so many of the common idioms of the English language, as well as understand the literary significance of this translation. Similarly, when it's placed next to our first printings of the Geneva Bible and the Great Bible, you can see the development of the Protestant Reformation in England. It is a truly monumental work.

First chapter of Genesis from King James Bible
Title page from Aitken bible
The Aitken Bible, so much smaller in stature, has a great story behind it. Great Britain had a monopoly on English-language Bibles in its colonies, but the Revolutionary War cut off the supply and the warring colonies found themselves with a shortage of Bibles. So, in 1781, Robert Aitken petitioned the Continental Congress to allow him to print a Bible. The book, issued as a defiant act of independence, helps us better understand the publishing world in colonial America, but also helps situate our copy of the earlier Eliot Bible (
the first Bible printed in the new world, notable because it is a translation into an Indigenous language and was printed nearly 120 years before the Aitken Bible) as the unique artifact that it is. 

To be awed ask for the King James Bible at Rare BS185 1611 and the Aitken Bible at Rare BS185 1782 .P5.