A Wicked Discovery

The News Magazine of HCU

Tucked away in the Morris Cultural Arts Center on the campus of Houston Christian University sits the Dunham Bible Museum, a gem of an exhibit and home to one of this country’s most extensive compilations of rare biblical artifacts.

“Our collection includes historic items such as a leaf from the original Gutenberg Bible, a 1536 Tyndale New Testament, a first edition (1611) King James Bible and even a Bible that went to the moon and back with Apollo XIV,” notes Diana Severance, the museum’s director.

Nestled within this vast display lies a peculiar relic — the infamous “Wicked Bible” — a testament to printing blunders so outrageous that they sparked centuries of debate.

In 1631, an English printer, Robert Barker (along with partner Martin Lucas), inadvertently omitted one little word from the seventh commandment, transforming “Thou shalt not commit adultery” into “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Definitely not the message that Moses intended when he carried the stone tablets down from the mountain, this egregious error ignited a firestorm of speculation.

A second error was discovered in Deuteronomy where the text was meant to proclaim the “greatnesse” of God. Instead, the Wicked Bible replaces the word “greatnesse” with “great-arse” or “great-asse” — a word that would make most church-goers cringe.

Rumors swirled that the mistakes were not mere accidents but deliberate acts of sabotage orchestrated by a rival printer to discredit Barker and claim his lucrative printing license. Others attributed it to human error, the careless oversight of weary — and, perhaps tipsy — printers working long hours under demanding conditions.

Needless to say, the reigning monarch, King Charles I, was not amused. Barker and his associate were summoned to the Star Chamber, the highest court in England at the time. They were found guilty of negligence and fined £300, a significant sum in those days. The two were also stripped of their printing licenses, effectively ending their careers.

An attempt was made to eradicate all existing copies of the Wicked Bible and almost all of the 1,000 editions were burned. However, it is believed that 11 copies somehow survived, including the one now on display at the Dunham Bible Museum. HCU obtained this rare printing in 2008 as part of a collection purchased from Dr. John Hellstern, a renowned collector of rare Bibles.

Visit the Dunham Bible Museum, located in the Morris Center for Arts and Culture on the HCU campus at 7502 Fondren Road. Admission is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday (excluding University holidays) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, please call (281) 649-3287, enjoy a virtual preview tour (QR code) or visit hc.edu/museums/dunham-bible-museum.

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