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Printing the Bible


Printing the Bible

In addition to being the first text printed on a Gutenberg-style hand-press, the Bible presented unique challenges for printers using the new technology of moveable type. Printing with a hand-press requires the setting of individual characters of metal type produced from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony into a matrix to create a mirror image of the desired page, which would then be inked and pulled through the hand-press with the use of cranks. This process was laborious and required professional expertise to execute.

The Latin alphabet was the first moveable type used to print with the Gutenberg hand-press. With the rising demand for printed biblical texts, printers began casting type in other languages during the incunabula period of hand-press printing (1450-1501), including Hebrew. While the exact date and title of the first Hebrew hand-press text is unknown, texts printed with moveable Hebrew type appear as early as 1469.

Ecclesiastical authorities quickly became aware of an unanticipated side-effect of the wide-spread adoption of hand-press printing with moveable type—the ability to produce variant versions of sacred texts on a mass-scale. One response to the challenge of ensuring that approved canonical scripture was disseminated to the laity was to circulate large metal plates with full pages of text and images, called stereotype plates, for printers to reproduce.