Today in 1611 is the day that the first version of the King James Bible was published. At least that is what Wikipedia tells me and who am I to argue? I don’t want to talk about the whole Bible, that would be madness, it’s huge. So I thought I’d tell you a bit about the typesetting and a few of the misprints that have slipped through in certain editions.
When the King James Bible was first printed, spelling was not at all standardised in the way it is today. Printers were quite happy to lengthen and shorten words just so that they fitted nicely onto the page. For example the word ‘he’ is sometimes spelled ‘hee’. They also used some of the actual letters in a different way and, in some cases used letters that we just don’t have any more. I read a lot of old texts while I’m writing this blog and it’s something you just get used to after a while. The letters ‘u’ and ‘v’ were once very interchangeable. ‘V’ was usually used at the beginning of a word to represent either ‘v’ or ‘u’, but if it came in the middle of a word, they would use a ‘u’ for either letter. They also hardly ever used the letter ‘j’ but used ‘i’ instead. So ‘Jesus’ is written ‘Iesus’, or more correctly ‘Ie∫us’, which brings me to the lost letters of our language.
There are quite a few, but I’m only going to mention a couple today. The letter ‘s’ was once only used at the end of a word. Everywhere else, you used ‘∫’, which is called ‘esh’. It was a remarkably ∫ucce∫∫ful letter, especially considering how much it looks like a letter ‘f’. It survived in printing up until the early nineteenth century. The other letter I want to tell you about is ‘thorn’. Thorn is actually a runic letter, which was one of two that represented the ‘th’ sound and was written ‘þ’. Over time, it lost the top part and began to look like a backwards ‘y’. When people began printing in England, they bought sets of letters from Germany, a country that did not use thorn. So they simply used a ‘y’ instead.Whenever you see the word ‘Ye’ used to give the impression of something steeped in history; know that it is, and always was, pronounced ‘The’.
Now I want to tell you a bit about the printing errors. Although I read over this blog lots, to check for mistakes, it is really easy to miss something. I can’t begin imagine how hard it must be doing that for the whole Bible, particularly when it’s all laid out backwards on a printing press. Even the tiniest error can totally change the meaning of a sentence. In a very early printing, an account of the crucifixion ought to tell us that when Jesus was crucified “there were two others, malefactors” but by missing a comma and a single letter it reads “there were two other malefactors” which implies that Jesus was a criminal.
An odd mistake in a 1612 edition that should read “Princes have persecuted me without cause” reads “Printers have persecuted me…” Perhaps the typesetter was getting a hard time from his employers.
Leaving out the simple negative has caused a couple of problems. In 1631 printers Barker and Lucas were fined £300 for accidentally printing the seventh commandment as “Thou shalt commit adultery.” The copies were recalled immediately but eleven of them are still known to exist. They are worth a fortune. In 1763 a passage reads “the fool hath said in his heart there is a God”, when it should say “…there is no God”. On this occasion the printers were fined £3,000 and all copies ordered destroyed.
In 1804 a section of I Kings reads “thy son that shall come forth out of thy lions”, rather than “loins”. A second error, occurring in Numbers tells us that “The murderer shall surely be put together” but ought to say “…put to death”. In 1806 there is a story in Ezekiel about some fishermen standing on a river bank which should say “And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it…” is missing a single letter so the “fishes stand upon it” which conjures up a whole different mental image.
In 1823 we have “And Rebecca arose, and her camels…” instead of “…and her damsels…” which is interesting. My favourite though, is this passage from I Peter, printed in 1944:
“For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their owl husbands.”
I like ‘owl husbands’, it makes me think of Lord Sepulchrave in Titus Groan.