King's Bible

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 large numbers of oriental typefaces were acquired and experiments for a sound, well-designed lay-out were undertaken. In 1567 Plantin found King Philip II of Spain willing to give financial support, who also sent the Spanish theologian Benedito Arias Montano to Antwerp to superintend the scholars responsible for the different texts and commentaries. The number of copies printed was 1,213, at a price of 70 guilders (copies printed on more de luxe paper cost 80 to 100 guilders, and copies on extra large and heavy paper were as much as 200 guilders). Publication of this Bible was to cause Plantin severe financial problems, as Philip II's support did not meet the expectations raised. Montano later on experienced difficulties with the orthodox Roman Catholics, who did not approve of the work.

The illustration 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.

Biblia sacra Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece, & Latine. Philippi II. reg. cathol. pietate, et studio ad sacrosanctae ecclesiae usum Christoph. Plantinus excud. Antverpiae, [1569-1573]. 2º, 8 vols. - 1700 A 1-8, vol. 5, pp. 232-233

Biblia sacra Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece, & Latine.Philippi II. reg. cathol. pietate, et studio ad sacrosanctae ecclesiae usum Christoph. Plantinus excud. Antverpiae, [1569-1573]. 2º, 8 vols. - 1700 A 1-8, vol. 5, pp. 232-233

Literature

M. Rooses, 'La Bible Royale ou la Bible polyglotte', in: Christophe Plantin, imprimeur anversois. Anvers 1896, p. 111-148
L. Hellinga-Querido. De koningsbijbel van de Prins. Haarlem 1971
L. Voet. The Plantin press (1555-1589). Amsterdam 1980-1983, no. 644.