Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Discovering a “Judas Bible”

Bible. English. Authorized. 1613. Folger.

Although I’ve been involved with my share of exhibitions, I’m always somehow surprised by how much work goes into them, from the planning stages through to the installation and de-installation.  Indeed, as I write this blog entry, I’m reminded that my colleagues at the Folger are hard at work with the installation, which happens to be one of the most intense parts of the process.  Hannibal Hamlin and I are deeply grateful for all of their efforts.

I think the most exciting part of the exhibition planning process is searching for artifacts to illustrate the exhibition’s narrative. Once there is an exhibition outline, it’s time to search the library catalog and hunt through the library vaults. The process is always one of discovery, through which you find amazing items that you may never have known about. Finding such incredible artifacts is always a thrilling moment.

Hannibal and I had a memorable “Ah-Ha!” moment while researching the so-called “Judas Bible.”  We had read that some copies of the 1613 folio edition of the King James Bible had a misprint in which “Jesus” was mistakenly set as “Judas” in Matthew 26:36. This misprint read: “Then commeth Judas with them unto a place called Gethsemane.” Substituting Judas for Jesus at this moment in the New Testament was clearly a significant mistake, though considering the similarity in the spelling of their names, one can understand how such a mistake was made.

When Hannibal and I pulled the Folger’s copy of the 1613 edition and opened it to Matthew 26:36, we saw “Then commeth Jesus.” At first glance, anyway.  To our great delight a second glance revealed that “Jesus” was actually printed onto a cancel slip that was glued over “Judas.” This was a fairly common way of making corrections in early modern books.  Hannibal and I were looking at a “Judas Bible.”  If you look closely at the image above, you can see the “J” of “Judas” peeking out from behind the “J” of “Jesus.”

The Folger’s “Judas Bible” will appear in the Folger’s Manifold Greatness exhibition alongside the “Wicked Bible” in a case called “Misprints and Misfortunes: Printing the King James Bible.”

Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

3 responses

  1. I am delighted to inform you that our Church also holds a copy of the Judas Bible of 1613

    September 19, 2011 at 8:14 am

  2. curatorsteve

    Thank you for your comment, Harry. I’d love to know if your Church’s Judas Bible also has a slip correction. Best wishes, Steven

    September 21, 2011 at 1:42 pm

  3. Dan McWilliams

    A similar mistake in a 1609 Geneva Breeches Bible:
    http://www.ebay.ca/itm/1609-HOLY-BIBLE-GENEVA-BREECHES-APOCRYPHA-ILLUSTRATED-RARE-JUDAS-BIBLE-/320932219172?pt=Antiquarian_Collectible&
    hash=item4ab90d0924

    July 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm

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