One of 10 remaining copies of 1631’s Sinners Bible, with its infamous typo imploring readers to commit adultery, is to be auctioned next month
To commit adultery, or not to commit adultery – for hundreds of readers in the 17th century, the answer depended on which bible they consulted, after an unfortunate error in a certain edition of the text omitted to include a vital “not”.
Known as the “Wicked” Bible, the text, printed in 1631, leaves the word “not” from the seventh commandment. This means that amid exhortations that “thou shalt not kill”, and “thou shalt not steale”, readers are also informed that “thou shalt commit adultery”. One thousand copies of the text, which also came to be known as the Adulterous or Sinners’ Bible, were printed, with the printing error only discovered a year later.
When it was uncovered, the printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas were summoned by order of Charles I to court, and found guilty. They were also fined £300, and their printing licence removed, with the entire print run of the offending text called in, and the majority destroyed. Around 10 copies are believed to still exist today, according to Bonhams, which will auction a copy of “the infamous and extremely scarce” text next month.
Bonhams said that it has been suggested that the misprint was not error but an act of sabotage, “possibly perpetrated by Barker’s rival Bonham Norton, to politically embarrass Barker”.
“Certainly the controversy added to Barker’s decline in fortunes and reputation, and he was in and out of the King’s Bench Prison before dying there in 1645,” said the auction house, which has put an asking price of £10,000 to £15,000 on the bible ahead of its 11 November sale date.
“In a sense the jury is still out on why the misprint happened,” said Bonhams specialist Simon Roberts. “Originally it was thought that it was just a mistake which didn’t get noticed, which to me seems slightly unlikely – if you’re going to check 10 things, then you’d think you would check that page.”
This article was written by Alison Flood, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 21st October 2015 13.17 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010