A copy of the rare 1631 “Wicked Bible,” containing one of the most infamous printing errors in literary history, has surfaced in Christchurch, New Zealand, four centuries and thousands of miles removed from its British birthplace.
The edition omits the word “not” from Exodus 20:14, changing the Seventh Commandment to read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”
Only about 20 copies of the Bible are believed to exist, and this is the first recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. It is one of the few that has red-lettered print in some places.
Would-be adulterers seeking a loophole in 17th century Britain may have thought they caught a break, but King Charles I had printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas prosecuted and fined £300, or roughly $82,000 in today’s dollars. The fine was eventually rescinded, however.
Chris Jones, a medieval historian at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch announced the discovery. He said the Bible — owned by a private family — underwent preservation work and study for four years before the find could be announced.
He also said the entire text of the “Wicked Bible” was digitized and will be available online.
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“This Bible actually has other errors that are less striking,” Mr. Jones told Radio New Zealand. “But in my view, you couldn’t leave this word out and not know what effect it was going to have, so it probably was a disgruntled typesetter. There have been rumors of sabotage, but I think that’s highly unlikely.”