Co-written by Sarah Werner and Mitch Fraas
One might think that when printing the New Testament, one would want to avoid at all costs mixing up Jesus and Judas. However, this month’s crocodile shows that such mistakes did happen:
As two commentators simultaneously identified the mystery, the image shows a well-known misprint from the 1610 Geneva Bible (STC 2212) in John 6:67, in which instead of Jesus speaking to the apostles, Judas is identified as the speaker.
Bible errors can be amusing in and of themselves, but what brought this one to our attention is a recent class that Mitch Fraas was teaching with Zachary Lesser at the University of Pennsylvania. For that class, they pulled out Penn’s copy of this bible, and discovered that the error had been hand corrected:
Their first instinct was to wonder if this was a correction done in the print shop—it seems reasonable to imagine that such a significant error might have been worth the trouble of
emdending emending by hand. And so they began tracking down the copies listed in the ESTC (as well as some not yet listed) to see whether they included similar corrections.
And this is why Sarah was looking at the Folger copy, to see what it showed—or, rather, what it didn’t show. It turns out that no correction seems to be more common than any correction. Of the 16 copies that Mitch and Zack have verified, 10 do not show any corrections. The copies at the British Library (3051.bb.14.(1.)) and Harvard’s Houghton Library (STC 2212) both show the passage with underlining, but no further marks. These are probably later pencil marks added by bibliographers or librarians to indicate their copies as particular variants, but they could have been earlier insertions.
There are some copies that have the correction: 3 copies, at the University of Texas, Washington State University, and the British and Foreign Bible Society collection at Cambridge, include printed slips that have been pasted over the error. Pasting in slips of paper to correct errors was not unusual practice in the hand-press period, and such cancel slips can often be quite convincing in covering over the mistake:
Indeed, sometimes the correction is successful enough in masking the error that even a cataloger can not be sure at first glance of what they’re seeing. Washington State’s copy is evidence of that: although it was cataloged as STC 2212, and appears in WorldCat that way, the cataloger’s local note speculates that it is, in fact, STC 2213 (which corrected the error), since “Jesus” is visible when you check John 6:67.
There are still some copies that we haven’t yet identified how they handle the error (Chatsworth, Library of Congress, National Trust, Oxford, Beckham Books, and Graduate Theological Union), but even if all those indicate some sort of correction, that still doesn’t change what we’d all anticipated: that most extant copies of the bible would show some sort of correction.
It’s possible that some of these copies were largely unused, and so there weren’t owners who would have corrected the passage. But the catalog record of Birmingham University’s copy suggests lots of provenance markings. 1 Were those owners not reading their bible? Did they know it so well that they didn’t notice that it was printed wrong? (We’ve all had the experience of not seeing errors in our own writing because we are so familiar with what we are intending to write, we don’t see what we actually wrote.) Did the error slip past owners because early books so often had printing errors that readers automatically corrected them in their mind’s eye?
The error didn’t go unnoticed for long; the second issue of the printing (STC 2213) came out in the same year. But this isn’t the only bible that put Judas in the place of Jesus: the 1613 King James bible made the same error in Matthew 26:36.
If you’re curious about bible errors, you can read about this bible and other bible errors on the Folger’s Manifold Greatness blog. Mitch’s picture of the Penn bible, which circulated on Twitter, led to a piece in the Washington Post about bible errors. And if you’re near an institution that holds one of the unverified copies of STC 2212, drop a line in the comments or contact Mitch to let us know what sort of corrections it does or does not have!
MITCH FRAAS is Curator, Digital Research Services at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.notes
- You can read the details of their copy in the “holdings details” tab of the ESTC record.