# Thursday, April 14, 2005

[NOTE: When this post was written in April 2005, several PDF facsimiles of editions of the Greek New Testament were available from bibles.org.uk. They no longer appear to be available. The downloads are sizeable and I am not able to provide them for download or FTP or delivery on DVD. Apologies, RWB]

I've mentioned this before, but I'm a bibliophile when it comes to stuff dealing with the Greek New Testament. If it has to do with the Greek NT and it was published in the mid to late 1800s or early 1900s, chances are I want it. I enjoy the content, the conclusions, the scholarship and the typesetting.

I'm even more excited about early editions of the Greek New Testament, but I know that I'll never own any of these editions. But I have found a few as PDF files. Today I grabbed a PDF facsimile of the Complutensian Polyglot (PDF is approx. 500 megs, available via bibles.org.uk). And it is so very cool.

The Complutensian Polyglot is notable for a number of reasons. First, it is a polyglot, meaning that it presents the text in more than one language (poly + glot ==> "many tongues", roughly).

It was printed between 1514-1517 and as such is the earliest printed (type-set) representation of the Greek New Testament. But it wasn't available until 1522, which means the Erasmian edition of 1516 was the first available printed Greek New Testament; even though the Complutensian is the better Greek text and despite the fact that it was technically complete before Erasmus completed his text. The NT has Greek and Latin in parallel. Check it out (click any graphic for a larger version):

This is 1Ti 2.3-7. If you look closely, you'll see that each word in the Greek and Latin is preceded by a small superscript character. This is a form of alignment. That's right, the text, while typeset in parallel columns, is aligned at the word level through the superscript number device. I've said it before to others, but these early typesetter dudes were studs. Check it out:


Little known to anyone who hasn't read John Lee's fantastic book A History of New Testament Lexicography, the Complutensian Polyglot also has the earliest example of a printed Greek lexicon. The last volume contains a glossary of Greek words with their Latin equivalents.

But that's not all. The Complutensian Polyglot is an edition of the whole Bible. That is, the Greek New Testament is only 1/3 of the book. There are volumes of Hebrew Bible content. Here's a sample from Genesis 1:

That's right. The left column is the LXX ... with interlinear Latin glosses! The middle column is Jerome's Latin. The right column is the Hebrew. If you look closely ... you'll see superscript letters in the Latin column and in the Hebrew column; so there is (I'd guess) a word-for-word alignment going on here too. How cool is that? I don't know Hebrew, so I have no idea what information the right-most margin contains. In addition, if Targum Onkelos has content to represent, the Aramaic is made available as well.

This is scholarship and typesetting that was going on in the early 1500s. I am continually amazed at what was accomplished just in this edition (let alone other typesetting and scholarship from the era), and that in just a few years (1514-1517? By hand? Whoa!). Here we are today, with our computers and our desktop publishing systems ... and we couldn't set something like the above without a whole lot of complaining, grudging and whining, once we got past the Hebrew font issue and figured out a hack around the interlinear portion. Speaking of which, check out the detail on that interlinear portion:

Look at that beautiful work. The Latin gloss is above the main line of the Greek text. You can barely make out the Greek once you account for the minuscule-esque script. Cross-references in the margin. I'll say it again — these guys were studs.

Not only that, but guess what? The supplementary volume (you remember, the one with the Greek-Latin glossary?) also has a Hebrew-Latin lexicon. Yep. You're reading that correctly. Check it out:


Here's some more detail showing a couple of articles in their entirety:

Now, remember — no computers. Nothing but dudes, type (which they probably cut themselves) and a press, along with desire and a bunch of elbow-grease. Not only that, but they sure knew how to end the NT. Why don't we see typographic devices like this in our modern Bibles? Would it cost too much to have the graphic design department whip something out? Would the extra page and ink really sink the budget and cause us to lose money? This is the right way to end the NT, giving all glory to God. If you know Latin and can translate more than the first line, feel free to send me your translation. I'll post it at the end of this article and link back to your blog/website/whatever.

Update: As I work my way through the Latin (I don't know Latin, so it's mostly what I can intuit based on my knowledge of Spanish and Greek) I see that the first few lines do mention the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but the rest of it seems to list the balance of folks involved in the production -- a few cardinals and some other folk. Then it ends with the date (Jan. 10, 1514?). As I said, I may very well be mistaken as I don't know Latin. But that's what seems to be going on in the final typographical device.

Post Author: rico
Thursday, April 14, 2005 4:38:42 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) 

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