Sunday, June 13, 2010

Report from a Visit to the Concordia Seminary Rare Book Archives

On June 4, 2010, I visited the Walter A. Maier Rare Books Archive in the library at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I had initially contacted them because I had learned that the seminary owned a copy of a Bible commentary that was part of the library of composer J.S. Bach. Though I did not end up seeing that book "in the flesh," it sparked a conversation with one of the archivists, Mr. Lyle Buettner, that led to a wealth of other discoveries and explorations of old and rare Bible artifacts.

Mr. Buettner gave permission to record our conversation, and the bulk of our discussions that afternoon is transcribed here, along with pictures of the various artifacts he showed me.

The volume Mr. Buettner mentions that addresses the questions I have about the Bach Bible is Robin A. Leaver's
J.S. Bach and Scripture: Glosses from the Calov Bible Commentary, which I subsequently purchased and am currently reading (I will address this volume in a subsequent post).

My ongoing thanks to Lyle Buettner, along with his colleagues Eric Stancliff and chief archivist David Berger, and the rest of the Concordia Library staff, for the warm welcome and generous help I received during my visit.

1. Discussing the Bach Bible

Buettner: If you'd like to see the title page, I guess I could get out the first volume so you could see that.

Dault: I'll be honest with you, the physical book itself is not as important to me as talking to someone who's worked with the book and maybe being able to ask some questions about the book.

Buettner: Okay, I'll do the best I can.

Dault: Okay.

Buettner: My director has more experience with that than I do, but he's out of town on a vacation this week.

Dault: That's all right. Maybe when I get back to Memphis I'll give him a call. What is his name?

Buettner: David Berger.

Dault: David Berger. Okay, I'll give him a call but maybe this can get me started, at least.

Buettner: But I do—the stuff I know about the book is the stuff that's right here, that's in this book by Leaver.

Dault: Okay, so I'll pick up that book as well.

Buettner: The way we came to have the book was in the '30s. The Reichle family, from Michigan.

Dault: Yes.

Buettner: It was found to be in their possession and this book [by Leaver] discusses more about that. At the time, the family was thinking about sending the book back to Germany, but with the rise of the Third Reich, they thought it would—someone stateside would keep the volumes more safe and secure, and that's how we came to have them here.

Dault: So it isn't a Bible per se, it's a Bible commentary?

Buettner: It's a Bible commentary; a three-volume Bible commentary. It's Lutheran translation of the Bible and the commentary is by Abraham Calov.

Dault: One of the librarians, I think Eric [Stancliff], that I spoke to earlier, mentioned that there is something significant about the fact that Bach's signature is there on the book, that this makes this one of the few books that is confirmed to actually have been in the possession of Johann Sebastian Bach. Am I correct about that?

Buettner: I believe that's correct. Lever also discusses all the books that were known to be in Bach's volume of Bach's library. This was a listing of the known volumes that were in Bach's library, and this is the Cavolli Schrifften, and that's the three-volume Bible commentary that we have here.

Dault: And collection of seven volumes of Luther's works. Okay.

Buettner: A lot of Luther.

Dault: Yes, fantastic.

Buettner: Seven volumes, eight volumes. There it is, Tischreden. Examination of the Council of Trent. Commentary on the Psalm, Hauss Postille, and then Mueller's Schluss Kette.

Dault: This is very, very helpful. One of the things that I work on is the history of printed Bibles and the accessorization that makes certain physical copies of Bibles more important than other physical copies of Bibles.

Certainly, Bach's copy of the Calov three-volume work, there are supposedly multiple iterations of that work, but something about Bach's signature on this—and I assume Bach also wrote in the margins?

Buettner: [Pointing to a display with some details of the pages from the commentary] Yes, there are—

Dault: There are annotations, okay.

Buettner: There are annotations, and this is the blowup of one of the pages. There is another book that we have, several other books that we have in the library. Scholars have gone through the Bach Bible and have notated on what page and so on.

Dault: And that will be noted in this [Leaver] book, I assume, as well.

Buettner: All the notations will not be in the Leaver book.

Dault: Okay, but this information is available, and if I wanted to—But the larger question that I'm asking is, so Bach wrote in the margins and suddenly this Bible becomes a valuable object of study.

Buettner: Because of Bach.

Dault: Because of Bach. So Bach makes the Bible more important. Why do you think that happens? What is it about Bach—and I understand, yes, Bach the amazing musician, but—

Buettner: For us, as Lutherans, Bach was a Lutheran, he played at what I believe was Thomas Kirche [Church] in Leipzig. So not only for us as Lutherans, but because it's Bach. I don't know how else to say it. Johannes Sebastian Bach. I wish I could explain that better, but that's why it's special to us here.

Dault: Now, a question to follow up on that. Bach was primarily a musician, but he wrote music for the church. To what extent would you say that there's an overlap between Bach the musician and Bach as an influence on later theology? Do you sort of follow the question that I'm asking?

Buettner: Yes. David Berger might be a better person to ask for that.

Dault: I'll definitely ask him that question.

Buettner: It seems to me that the parts of the Bible that Bach wrote alongside were parts that dealt with worship, singing, or something like that. For example, this annotation here in First Chronicles, 28: "Splinted proof that beside the arrangements of the service, music too was instituted by the spirit of God through David."

Dault: So Bach is using that as proof for the appropriateness of music, and his music in worship, and I guess at the time—and I don't know exactly the years of Bach, but we're in the point where there were Anabaptists who were pushing against music in the church, so he's finding biblical warrant for music. Excellent.

2. The Tortoise-Shell Bible and the Breeches Bible

Dault: If I may ask, what other sorts of rare books do you have that are of note here?

Buettner: You want just noteworthy Bibles?

Dault: Particularly noteworthy Bibles.

Buettner: We do have—I'm going to have to bring this in [walks into the archives].

Dault: Okay, I'll stay here.

Buettner: [Speaking from other room] Noteworthy because they're of their artifactual value or are you saying noteworthy—?

Dault: For me, the overlap of the artifactual and the theological is actually where my research lies. Interesting either because they're noteworthy because of something that has been amended to them, or some way in which they may have influenced Bibles that followed.

Buettner: Have you ever seen a Bible bound in a tortoise shell?

Dault: I have not.

Buettner: I have no idea how common this is, but when I cataloged this book, I just did a Google search and found other books bound this way, and that's how I found this was a Bible bound in a tortoise shell.

Dault: Goodness gracious. Now, would you mind terribly...I won’t use a flash, but could I photograph that?

Buettner: Sure.

Dault: Okay. Wonderful.

Buettner: This Bible is not a Lutheran Bible, it's a reformed Bible that states general version printed 1647, but it says the general version that was—I don't want to say ordained—the Council of Dort, 1618.

Dault: The Synod of Dort, yes.

Buettner: 1619, so I guess it's that version that was the standard version.

Dault: It's printed in Leiden, in the Netherlands. Okay, fantastic. You say even the side, if I may, the side has a filigree on it too...

Buettner: The side is both gilt and gauffered [i.e., has scrollwork carved into the edges of the pages; Cf. Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors. 8th ed. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2004. p. 111].

Dault: Oh wow. That's beautiful.

Buettner: The gilding is the page edges and the gauffer is the tooling there.

Dault: And you say you don't know of many other Bibles like this?

Buettner: I don't know how common they are, but when I found out, when I was looking at the binding, I did an online search for the binding and found other bindings similar to this.

Dault: A book is not necessarily Bibles, but just generally books of—

Buettner: This is the only one that we have here, so that's the only thing that I can say with certainty. The only one that we have here, so in your studies, you may find more.

Dault: But this is exactly the sort of thing that I'm interested in because nowadays, they make Bibles with hard metal covers and all these sorts of things, like Thomas Nelson and others, print Bibles. I think for similar reasons, a tortoise shell is both beautiful, but also is designed to—

Buettner: It's durable.

Dault: It's durable and it communicates durability, and that to me is interesting too. The materials that are used to print a Bible can help communicate things about its lasting value.

Buettner: As long as I'm thinking bibles, ever seen the Breeches Bible?

Dault: The Breeches Bible! I've heard of it but I've never seen one.

Buettner: You've never seen one?

Dault: I've never seen one.

Buettner: Let me get one of those too.

Dault: Fantastic.

Buettner: [Retrieves it] This is an English Bible, printed London 1583. Now, I believe there are other printings of this. I'd have to double-check.

Dault: Excellent.

Buettner: What's neat about this copy is anything that's red and black went through the printing press twice. You can see it wasn't lined up exactly.

Dault: So the registering is not quite correct.

Buettner: See that?

Dault: Yes. Look at the detail there. So this, even more so than a normal Bible that's printed that way, the fact that the registration was slightly off makes this a rather unique Bible.

Buettner: But I haven't seen any other 1583 issues from this printing.

Dault: [Looking at the first few pages] Now these pages here are very interesting to me as well. So we have this that gives sort of a genealogy, so this is the dedication page to Lady Elizabeth, Queen of England, France, and Ireland.

Okay, and then "To the Diligent Christian Reader," and the writing from the prologue preface made by Thomas Cranmer. Okay. Fantastic.

See, all these things fascinate me. All the additions to the actual text, the Bible itself, and this is the text of the genealogies there on the page, starting with Adam and Eve and going down the list, all the way to Christ's line. Wow. Oh my goodness, and it continues. Goodness gracious.

Buettner: The thing that fascinates me about early printing, and maybe this does you too, is the labor and then the labor of love. Every little letter, handset.

Dault: Hand laid, yes. Fantastic.

Buettner: And [indicates with finger] the distinction between what we would now call something like a Times New Roman and the Gothic or black letter.

Dault: So literally right there, those little differences. Just making things—the little significances.

Buettner: Yes, the little details.

Dault: Yes, and the fact that the woodcarvings are handset in with the type itself.

Buettner: Yes. Various calendars.

Dault: Interesting. So it's a breviary. It's a listing of prayers. So we've got morning prayer and evening prayer.

Buettner: And what psalm for each day.

Dault: Oh goodness gracious. There's an almanac.

Buettner: Almanacs. Yes.

Dault: If I may, the books of the Old and New Testament, and here we have the Apocrypha set aside, but the Apocrypha is still part of the canon at that point, so we haven't had the big switch to—

Buettner: The Apocrypha was even in Luther's translation of the Bible, so whether it was officially canonical or just added in here, for a good pious reading it's included here.

Let me get to [Genesis] chapter three. "Now the serpent was subtle." Here we go. Chapter three, verse seven. "Then the eyes of them both are open and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig tree leaves together and made themselves breeches."

Dault: Breeches, and that's where the name comes from.

Buettner: Yes. And this Bible is a two-volume set. The other one is in the other room.

Dault: Wow. And these would have been primarily used in liturgical use, or would these actually be home Bibles?

Buettner: Something this size, I suppose in the church.

Dault:'s a good eleven inches, at least, long. That detail is beautiful too, the flourished capital.

Buettner: Is there any particular Bible verse that you'd like to look at?

Dault: Oh goodness. I would be interested—No particular verse. That thing about the—Oh, this is interesting. So this is the King James, or this is prior to the King James? This would be prior to the King James.

Buettner: Prior to. The King James was 1611.

Dault: Of course. But what's interesting to me is this, literally the insertion or the little bracketing off of the 'Is' [like you would find in the King James].

Buettner: Of the 'Is', "Blessed [is] the man."

Dault: Yes, so that's to indicate a part that's not in the original Hebrew, I would assume.

Buettner: Or the original from which this was translated.

Dault: Yes.

Buettner: I don't know if this is translated from Hebrew or from Latin.

Dault: Interesting, along the sides as well we have here, "God's place will declare that in revisiting his Christ, they fought against him." So these are commentaries that are listed in along the sides [in the margins of the pages].

Buettner: Like, "Blessed is the man that doth not walk in the council of the wicked." "What's the council of wicked? When a man hath given once placed evil council or to his own concupiscence to beginneth to forget himself in his sin, and so falleth and to contempt of God, which contempt is called the seat of the squanderers. Deuteronomy 66."

Dault: Oh goodness gracious. So it's literally glossing the text as we go and explaining to the reader what they're reading. See, that's the part that, really, I find very, very fascinating; when the Bible tells you how to read it in the midst of reading.

Buettner: And again, every letter is hand set. We have this larger print from the text, smaller print for the notes on the side.

Dault: And the beginning of footnoting as well; the little star and the 'B' there. So we're beginning to have a textual apparatus at this point, and we also have this little paratextual introduction that says basically what the argument of the Psalms of David is. "The Book of Psalms is set forth unto us by the Holy Ghost to be esteemed as a most precious treasure where in all things are contained that appertain to true felicity." Wow. This is amazing.

3. Incanabular Venice Bible (1480)

Buettner: Do you have time to look at more?

Dault: I certainly do, and I really appreciate you taking your time.

Buettner: Oh, it's kind of how we serve.

[Buettner leads me over to a glass case marked as holding "Incanabula" - the books that were printed during the transition and first generation of movable-type presses]

Dault: Incanabula as well.

Buettner: These are some incunables here, and we have various Bibles—there is Bible Venice. Here, let's just grab a couple.

Dault: Okay.

Buettner: Let's grab this one.

Dault: So it's a Venice Bible, 1480.

Buettner: And this one I'd like to grab because—

Dault: That looks like calf hide.

Buettner: This was rebound. I don't know when. There are several Bibles or books that we have that were rebound and then have some information on the rebinding, on the inside there.

Dault: Right before you put it [the Breeches Bible] away, if you will, right on the inside cover there, there's--aha-—this Breeches Bible is one of six. Goodness gracious. Fantastic.

Buettner: Walter A Maier was a speaker on the Lutheran Hour and he was also a graduate of here. This room is named in his honor. This section of books—

Dault: I see, yes.

Buettner: —was once in his collection.

Dault: Goodness gracious. Oh again, you've got the hand-colored—

Buettner: The initials are hand-illuminated or hand-colored there.

Dault: Goodness gracious. This would have been right at the inception of movable type, or would this have been actually hand inscribed on the—

Buettner: This text is handset.

Dault: Yes, okay.

Buettner: This is printed 1480 in Venice. Gutenberg was circa 1450. So this is the Bible text.

4. Incanabular New Testament (1487)

Buettner: What I like about this one on the bottom—

Dault: Oh my goodness gracious.

Buettner: I like to open this up to John whenever I show people.

Dault: It's so beautiful.

Buettner: Here we go. This is Bible text and this is commentary/sermons, postille of sermons of Nicholas from Lyra.

Dault: Oh wow. So it's like a Talmud in the sense it has just a little bit of text and then an entire page of commentary going on around that Johannine text. Oh my goodness, and someone drew that by hand.

Buettner: And then the initial, and all the blue and the red was all done by hand.

Dault: All done by hand. These little details there in the midst, like filigree. So is this just a commentary on the gospels then?

Buettner: This is part of a multi-volume set.

Dault: A multi-volume set of the whole Bible.

Buettner: This is the New Testament. The Old Testament is—

Dault: And this would have been around what year?

Buettner: What year was this one? This one is 1487.

Dault: And we're so early that we don't have the sort of standard publisher information that gets put in the front cover.

Buettner: Right.

Dault: It just starts.

Buettner: Yes, the New Testament begins at Postille, according to Matthew.

Dault: Goodness, and you can see the detail of just where it's—this is the original binding, or has this been rebound?

Buettner: I can't comment on that.

Dault: Okay, sure.

Buettner: I don't know.

Dault: Sure. That's just beautiful. My Gosh, that's so beautiful. How often do you have scholars coming in and using these books?

Buettner: It varies. It happens in spurts. Sometimes pretty regularly, sometimes in spurts, but we do have people coming from all over the country. They can search our catalog, find the book, they make the arrangements and stay here.

Dault: Fantastic. I saw a catalog online, so that would be the same one that they would search out and then say, "Ah ha, I'm working on this and I want to look at this."

Buettner: Right, and Concordia Seminary has this and you can come here.

Dault: And so I imagine you get not only people who are interested in theological and religious questions, but also people that do the history of the book and history of printing, and things like that. Fantastic.

My scholarship sort of intersects those three areas, theology, history of the book, and the sort of development of modern publishing techniques. These footnotes that you can now find in study Bibles have their origins in exactly where you're showing me.

5. Luther Werke (1520) with "Cast-off" Indulgences for End Papers

Buettner: This is not a Bible, but since you know early printing, then you know that the types of papers that binders used for end papers were scrap papers.

Dault: Yes.

Buettner: So that's the preface for this book. This book is an early 1520 printing of some of Luther's works, printed Basel 1520, so it's a very early Luther. In this volume, we have a sermon on indulgence and a sermon on marriage, on the power of the Pope, commentary on Galatians. What else? A letter to Erasmus and so on. That's all fascinating. Oh, a sermon on the virtue of ex-communication.

That's all fascinating, but since you know the binding of the book, then that's why I pulled this. We had a conservator—and this was before I started—the library had a conservator work on this book and do some repairs to the binding, and the conservator peeled off the end paper, which was velum, and found the John Tetzel Indulgence.

Dault: It's literally bound... It's like a palimpsest, it's literally bound using old discarded—

Buettner: And not just two, but four.

Dault: Goodness gracious.

Buettner: So I guess my piety makes me say it's no small coincidence that the binder bound Luther's item with the scrap Indulgence.

Dault: See, that's the kind of thing that, if you may—

Buettner: And you can look, "MCCCCVII" right there. If you see the "absolutois plenarie," full absolution.

Dault: And it was considered just to be scrap paper for the purposes of—

Buettner: That's my pious take on it.

Dault: I love it, and you can even see where the ink on the inside cover has been—sort of where the glue has stuck it.

Buettner: So that's a find that I like to show people.

Dault: Yes. See, those sorts of details are the things that you very rarely hear about. When you read about the Bible, you oftentimes—it's all about the text, the text, the text, the text, setting the text, and historical critical methods.

For me, that kind of detail that you just showed me, that says so much about the theology of the times, so much about what was going on in the history. Like you said, it's pious extrapolation, but the extrapolation makes sense if you think about the really deep, angry fighting that was happening at the time.

Buettner: Yes, a lot of cursing back and forth.

6. Career as an archivist and interest in rare book studies

[Mr. Buettner begins putting the items away, and I ask him how he came to work in the archives]

Dault: And did you sort of happen into this profession, or did you decide at some point, "I want to work with rare books."

Buettner: It just kind of happened into happenstance. I went to a Lutheran college in Nebraska, an undergraduate degree, and I took all the German, Latin, and Greek that they had there. When I worked here part-time as a student, I really enjoyed old stuff. Since my degree was such that I could—

Dault: You could understand what was being printed there.

Buettner: I could read the Fraktur [the gothic style of old German type], so I kind of fell into the position here, but now I'm working on a library degree through the University of Missouri Columbia. I have two classes left to go for that, and then when that's done, God willing, I can use my MDiv credits here towards an MA here, then I could have two Master's degrees.

Dault: Great. Now the library degrees that you can get now, Library and Information Science, do they concentrate or have any sort of concentrations in rare books, or is it really kind of looking forward towards computers and all that? Is there support for what you do, I guess is what I'm asking?

Buettner: It depends what school that one attends. I'm working through the University of Missouri Columbia, which doesn’t, but I've had opportunities to go to Rare Book School at UVA a few times.

Dault: I know that school.

Buettner: That's more of a seminar, so I don't get credit for it, but the experience and the knowledge there is great.

Dault: They're top notch over there.

Buettner: The library school at University of Illinois, I believe, has a strong rare book program there.

Dault: I was just up at UVA about a month and a half ago and had a long conversation with Professor Vander Meulen, who does some work with the Rare Book School. I didn't have a chance to talk to the new fellow that's running the Rare Book School, but my hope is to contact him and do a similar conversation like this.

Buettner: One of my colleagues likes to pull this Bible out, and I won't take very long, I know you need to go.

Dault: I'm just noticing here some more Bibles that look as if they've been bound in old castoff paper. Or not necessarily Bibles, but books that are bound in literally other castoff—

Buettner: Right, it's scrap material.

7. Slovonic Bible (1549) with woodcut details

Buettner: My colleague, when he brings people up here, likes to pull this Bible.

Dault: Oh wow.

Buettner: It's an old church Slavonic translation.

Dault: 1549.

Buettner: 1549. This I think is a good example of after Luther does the German Bible, that more Bibles go into more different languages, and more translations are made.

Dault: Yes, and this crest, I imagine, is a royal crest of probably one of the patrons of the translation, I would imagine. Wow. And again, those insets, very interesting.

Buettner: That's a nice woodcut.

Dault: Yes.

Buettner: We must be in—that must be the Prophets of Ba'al, and it just so happened—yes, there are all kinds of moats. There is water and then there is the fire. That's Elijah.

Dault: Elias, yes. What's interesting to me are the certain parts that are—again, we have these things in the margins that are, I imagine, pushing us to other Bible texts, but then we also have under linings.

Buettner: Since I can read some Latin and read some German, the thought of hand-setting German and Latin seems to me, to be simple, but obviously this was handset also.

Dault: Yes. That first page, it looked as though the very first page had been deteriorated and has been reset. They've laid in some pages.

Buettner: This Bible has been repaired.

Dault: You can see the wear on the edge.

Buettner: I wish I could read some more of this, but I can't. I could probably read John 1:1.

Dault: Then this person, whoever—Bartholamae Netholit—I don't know. It's amazing. Is that just an Old Testament, or is that a full—

Buettner: It's a full Bible. That was Old Testament, and we're in Jeremiah, Nahom.
Dault: Oh goodness, and interestingly, the architectural details of this, that's not ancient Palestine. That's taking a Biblical story and making it look like—

Buettner: Contemporary to the printing.

Dault: Yes, absolutely. That's a beautiful detail there too.

Buettner: Oh, so the Apocrypha is in there too.

Dault: Okay, so you've got Apocrypha in there as well.

Buettner: Here are the gospels. Gospel of Luke. If I can make out "Evangellium" and "Luke."

Dault: And there's [a woodcut of] Luke at his scriptorium. And interestingly, we've got the [liturgical sign] of Luke in the steer there, and then right outside the window he contemplates through his window, the crucifixion.

I wonder what is that, do you think, hanging there on the wall behind him? Since Luke is a physician, do you think that's some sort of—I don't know what that is.

Interesting. Here, it's almost as if, yes, he's got paint and an easel. There is a lot going on in this photo. It's not a photo. A lot going on in that picture.

Buettner: Would you like to see the other gospel writers?

Dault: Yes, if you don't mind.

Buettner: Let's go to—Oh, here we are. I think we're at Matthew there.

Dault: [In the woodcut,] Matthew is speaking to an angel and getting dictation from the angel, writing as the angel tells him what's going on. Wow. There's a lot of theology built into that picture, about where the influence, where the inspiration for this came from.

Buettner: Yes, let's go find Mark for you. What do we have for Mark?

Dault: If you would, just for a moment, if you could flip this page.

Buettner: This one?

Dault: Yes, I think that there was—If you'll go back one. Oh no, it's the next page. I saw it just—Someone has made a—Do you think that's a printing error or do you think that's actually someone who has marked that page?

Buettner: What, this? [Points to an asterisk marked in the left margin of the page]

Dault: Yes.

Buettner: It looks like a pen.

Dault: Yes, as if someone wanted to highlight that verse in particular. Interesting. I have no idea what that verse would be, but if you will, let's go back.

Buettner: There we are, Mark.

Dault: There again, we have the Holy Spirit. We have the indicia of the lion, and we have here, Mark dictating. Again, interestingly, I think that there's a lot to be made of whether or not the person is—Oh, I didn't see that at first. Look:

Someone is watching over in the midst of this, over behind the pillars. And the window there is closed. It's interesting. Here the window is closed. In the Matthew woodcut, they're outside. Here he's inside but the window is closed. In Luke, he's inside but the window is open. That's amazing to me, what's going on in that.

And there's John, and John now is not seeing the Holy Spirit. John is literally seeing the Lord himself in the clouds, and John is there with John's symbol of—Is there anything else in here that we're missing? He's outside, and again, the detail is he's outside, but that's not Palestine. That's Krakow. That's fantastic. And he also is writing.

The other thing that fascinates me about this is you notice what he's holding is a codex. And again, in ancient Palestine we didn't have codices, we had scrolls. So here again is the contemporary time of printing being built into these pictures, and that to me is fascinating too. This is just wonderful.

Buettner: Okay. Any other you'd like to look at?

Dault: All of that is good. I'm fine. Again, like a treasure trove.

8. A discovery in the 1549 Slovonic Bible: The Epistle to the Laodecians

Buettner: I do love to show off our books here. In First Thessalonians here, it looks like the Thessalonians [Begins turning through the pages].

Dault: Okay, and again we have—

Buettner: Oh, look at this.

Dault: What's that?

Buettner: [Making out the Slovonic writing] Colossians.

Dault: So these are the shorter letters.

Buettner: Yes. [Begins flipping through the pages] Ephesians, Ephesians, Philippians, Philippians, Philippians, Colossians, right? Colossians, Colossians, Laodicean...Wait, do you see that?

Dault: Yes.

Buettner: Why is that there? There is no canonical book called the "Epistle to the Laodiceans."

Dault: Goodness gracious.

Buettner: So, that's the first time I ever noticed that. I normally don't go through these page by page unless I have time and opportunity. So what does that mean and why is it there?

Dault: I have a New Testament scholar friend that I'm going to ask that question, where that might have come from.

Buettner: Because it's coached in between Colossians—

Dault: And Thessalonians.

Buettner: And First Thessalonians.

Dault: Oh, that's amazing.

Buettner: We're at Timothy here, and it's the same woodcut as the other page.

Dault: Interesting. I wonder if that would have been done just for a space-filler. There must be a theological reason for that.

Buettner: Timothy.

Dault: That's the same woodcut from—

Buettner: I don't know where that—

Dault: That was just near the Colossians page.

Buettner: This must be Titus, "Tidum." It sounds like Titus. It looks like the Revelation to Saint Paul has many woodcuts.

Dault: Yes.

Buettner: Peter.

Dault: That's very interesting.

Buettner: There's Peter, as in the key.

Dault: Yes.

Buettner: So that's probably not a Lutheran woodcut then.

Dault: Probably not.

Buettner: Jude, there's Jude. There's where John starts.

Dault: With the sword coming directly out of his mouth. Interesting. So there are five stars, a sword coming out of the mouth. Yes. Candles. Goodness. I'm assuming that those are the martyrs beneath the throne of the king saying, "When are you going to take care of business, God?"

Buettner: Lots of woodcuts here. If you see something that you want me to stop on, then I'll stop.

Dault: Sure. Interesting, interesting.

Buettner: It is nice how the cuts kind of follow the story.

Dault: Yes, and like you, I'm wondering whether these cuts were made specifically for this book. See again, that's not Palestine. That's a royal court. Or whether these cuts were just sort of gotten ad hoc and placed in.

Buettner: Look at that.

Dault: Is that the woman clothed with the sun? Or who that would be, riding on the multiple-headed beast. That's the end of the world.

Buettner: I would have to review my Book of Revelation.

Dault: I don't know the Book of Revelation well enough to be able to—Interesting, the key is now being used by—I'm assuming that's Michael, the archangel, to smite the beast. So again, that's much more of a Catholic image than you'd think would be in a Protestant Bible. Wow.

Buettner: And this may well be a Catholic Bible.

Dault: Interesting. Wow, we've made a little discovery there.

Buettner: Yes. Yes, Peter with the key.

Dault: Yes, and also the letter to the Laodiceans.

Buettner: Yes, whatever that means.

Dault: Whatever that means. I'm going to find out from my friend, Jimmy.

At this point I thanked Mr. Buettner and said my goodbyes.

9. Jimmy Barker's Response

Later that weekend, I contacted my colleague and friend, New Testament scholar Jimmy Barker, who was able to explain a bit about the history of this mystery book the Epistle to the Laodecians. He has given me permission to include his response here:

On the Laodiceans, Jerome knew of it--that everyone rejected it. It's mostly an assortment/reworking of lines from Paul's other letters (see here); the placement after Colossians is common, on account of Paul's mentioning the Laodiceans at the conclusion. This spurious little epistle nonetheless shows up in about a hundred manuscripts of the Vulgate over about a 1000 year period, throughout most of western Europe; it doesn't lose favor until the Reformation when Luther opens up the canonization can of worms.

I throw in these tidbits at the end of my NT canonization lecture to say that even though nobody ever 'canonized' the letter to the Laodiceans, it was included between the 2 covers of lots and lots of Bibles; does that make it 'canonical'--at least in a sense? and what would happen if someone, say the Harper Collins (SBL) Study Bible, were to include the Gospel of Thomas (and/or Judas) as an appendix?

For more information about this, cf. Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 182-3.

Thanks again to Mr. Buettner and staff, Jimmy Barker, and my very patient wife, Kira, for all the help and support in making this trip and article possible.


Anonymous said...


This is becoming less and less of a 21st century project you describe as Material Scripture, and more and more classical history of the Book; the kinds of questions you are asking are very basic ecclesiastical history issues. I'm not trying to be derisory, what I am trying to point out is that your project seems to be transmogrifying around you.


dault said...

Luke - you make a good observation, though I think this is less a case of the project itself shifting, and more me learning/backfilling the whole "rare books" discourse and then trying to figure out how it fits into the Material Scripture project. The main question I went into the Concordia conversation asking, namely, "Why does Bach's signature make this particular Bible special," was not able to be answered yet, so I improvised and explored. I will still be pursuing that question - and that *is* a more contemporary question. All to say, I take your point, but I still think there is a focus to M.S. that is not simply becoming ecclesiastical history/ history of the book (though both of those are interesting to me as well)