The Infamous “Wicked Bible” Resurfaces

In 1631, two printers named Robert Barker and Martin Lucas released a reprint edition of the King James Bible. Approximately a year after its release, a horrifying, one-word misprint was discovered in Chapter 20 of the book of Exodus. Where the Ten Commandments were listed, instead of the Sixth Commandment reading, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” it read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

After the printers were brought before the king and his court, they had their printing license revoked and they were hit with a £300 fine, a small fortune by today’s standards. The king’s men were dispatched to try and hunt down these misprinted bibles and destroy them before they became lost. They were able to track most of them down but were unable to find about twenty copies.

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Cale spent a segment of The Cale Clarke Show discussing the recent discovery that one of these incredibly rare bibles has resurfaced at the University of Canterbury (Christchurch, New Zealand). It was found in the possession of a former student of Dr. Chris Jones, a professor of medieval studies.

The student who found the bible went to the estate sale of a recently deceased British bookbinder named Don Hampshire who came to Christchurch in the 1950s. Upon having a chance to look around Hampshire’s possessions, she discovered the book and purchased it. About two years later, after hearing about the rarity of the book from Dr. Jones, she brought it to him to see if it might be authentic.

Dr. Jones was understandably skeptical because the Wicked Bible is one of the rarest books in the world. But after close inspection, his skepticism turned to shock. It was indeed a 17th-century copy of the infamous misprint. And somehow, it had made its way to New Zealand. There are also other discovered copies in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Ireland.

The reasoning behind the misprint in the Wicked Bible is highly disputed, with some contesting that competing printers had sabotaged Barker and Lucas in order to put them out of business. But Jones has settled on the far tamer explanation that in a competitive industry, the two printers merely hired cheaper copyeditors to cut costs. And as lower costs will often pay for lower quality work, the editors made a simple but monumental mistake.

While many old bibles will have notes of heritage, previous owners, and family trees inside them, this Wicked Bible does not. It only has one name in it and it’s illegible. Even though the book sustained water damage and was missing a cover and several pages, it is actually one of the more complete versions. Conservators have been working to renovate the copy by fitting it with a new cover and preserving it for the future.

Dr. Jones says that the book will become digitized and will soon be available for the general public to observe online.

Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.