From The Koninklijke Bibliotheek

Perhaps the most daunting sixteenth-century undertaking in the learned world and the art of printing is the Antwerp Polyglot or King's Bible. It consists of five large folio volumes with the complete text of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, in ancient Chaldee (Aramaic) and Syrian versions, and in the official Church Latin translation (the Vulgate), followed by three volumes of Apparatus: a series of scholarly treatises, grammars, lexicons, text editions and commentaries referring to the texts in the relevant languages.

It was printed by Christopher Plantin in Antwerp, the greatest and most versatile publisher in Europe at the time. Publication took years of preparation: starting as early as 1566 when large numbers of oriental typefaces were acquired and experiments for a sound, well-designed layout were undertaken. In 1567 Plantin found King Philip II of Spain willing to give financial support, who also commissioned the Spanish theologian Benedito Arias Montano to superintend the numerous scholars responsible for the different texts and commentaries. The number of copies printed was 1,213, at a price of 70 guilders each. Copies printed on more deluxe paper were to cost 80 to 100 guilders, and copies on extra large and heavy paper were as priced at 200 guilders! In order to understand this figure, consider that one of Rembrandt's illustrations was known as the "One Hundred Guilder Print," simply because that was considered to be an enormous amount of money, even for an original work by a renowned artist.

At the time of it's publication, the King's Bible was received amidst controversy. Montano's modern translation was rejected by the strict orthodox church, who did not approve of his work.


Biblia sacra Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece, & Latine Philippi II. reg. cathol. pietate, et studio ad sacrosanctae ecclesiae usum Christoph. Plantinus excud. Antverpiae, [1569-1573]. 2, 8 vols.

The illustration here shows the opening page of the Gospel according to St. Luke, preceded by the Introduction of the Church Father Hieronymus (translator of the Vulgate). Below, from left to right, are the early Christian Syrian translation with its literal translation into Latin, the Vulgate text, and the original Greek text; at the bottom of both pages a transcription of the Syrian translation in Hebrew letters has been added for the benefit of readers unacquainted with the Syrian alphabet. The illustration has been greatly reduced, the actual type area is 21.5 x 34.5 cm.





Bible of
the Poor




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