Monday, June 21, 2010

The Wicked Cool Wicked Bible

As part of my commitment to answering questions nobody ever asks me, here’s this weekend’s response to the unasked query: “So what exactly is it like to live in your head all the time, huh?”

I’m glad you asked. This weekend, while working on The Short Story That Keeps Turning Into A Novel, I needed a random reason for somebody to go into a 19th-century library to discover that a valuable necklace has been stolen from the safe in that room--and by “random” I mean something totally unconnected to the potential robbery. Basically, I was looking for a book that somebody could cite, or cite wrongly, which would then impel the owner of the library to say, “I’ll go get my copy and check.”

After wracking my brains for about an hour, and filling up about three notebook pages with a lot of “How about this?” and “No, that won’t work at all,” my little inner imp suddenly popped up and said, "Hey; I’ve got an idea.”

ME: Yeah?
MY INNER IMP: Isn't there an edition of the King James Bible that left the word “not” out of “Thou shalt not commit adultery?” How about that as a book?
ME: Perfect; problem solved.

And to answer your next question, yes, there actually was a Bible printed with that pro-copulative typo. It's called The Wicked Bible:

The Wicked Bible was published in 1631 as a reprint of the original King James Bible by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas. When the error was discovered, the two printers were hauled into the Star Chamber by Charles I, fined £300 each (or about 40,000 pounds in 2010 money) and stripped of their printing license.

Since almost the entire run of these Bibles was called in and burned, there are less than a dozen surviving copies worldwide--one of which, interestingly enough, is in the possession of the New York Public Library. The existence of this particular Bible is the source of several totally apocryphal anecdotes in the lives of New Yorkers who actually tried to view it, among them Andy Warhol, who supposedly wanted to silk-screen the offending passage and create a painting out of it. After being repeatedly refused a private viewing of the book, Warhol started screaming at the head librarian in a withering tirade which ended in the following exchange:

WARHOL: So who do I have to fuck to see the Wicked Bible?

On a side note, there is no truth to the rumor that an early 20th-century King James Bible was printed in Virginia, in which the Ten Commandments were completely removed from the text and replaced by the so-called 11th Commandment--the only commandment one needs to obey in order to be counted good, happy, successful and pious at all times and in any era whatsoever:

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