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Let us pay, I mean pray

American writer Mark Twain is reported to have said: Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. There are certainly some howlers out there, and one of the best places to look for them, apparently, is in old editions of the Bible. Perhaps the most famous of these appears in the 1631 edition, in which the Ten Commandments state Thou shalt commit adultery. You can imagine how a similar mistake, missing out ‘not’, in a medical text could cause untold problems (not to mention lawsuits!).

These flawed bibles generally have nicknames relating to the error (that one, perhaps unsurprisingly, is known as The Wicked Bible). Others include the 1716 Sin on Bible (reading ‘Go and sin on’ instead of ‘Go and sin no more’), the 1763 Fool’s Bible (‘the fool hath said in his heart there is a God’ instead of ‘…there is no God’ and the Vinegar Bible of 1717 (featuring ‘The Parable of the Vinegar’ instead of ‘The Parable of the Vineyard’).

For the non- or semi-religious, these misprints are little more than a source of amusement, but for the devout, they can be quite offensive. It’s hard to know how they happen; some are errors of translation, others are quite clearly just typographical errors, but some seem just too purposeful for that. You can’t help but wonder if these were done intentionally, perhaps to undermine the Church or as some sort of subtle protest. These, perhaps even more than the others, have tended to become collectors items, mostly because when the mistakes were first discovered, the books were recalled and destroyed. A copy of The Wicked Bible has sold for £55,000, and another was on sale for even more.

If you think it’s just a historical problem, however, think again; a 1966 edition of the Bible read ‘Pay for peace’ instead of ‘Pray for peace’, though this one has yet to be given a nickname (the Two-for the-price-of-one Bible, maybe, or the BOGOF Bible?).

Perhaps the most ironic of the misprints comes from a 17th century edition, in which King David says ‘printers have persecuted me without cause’ rather than ‘Princes have persecuted me without cause’. All those misprints, presumably …

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Sharon Creese

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