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How a Single Missing Word Made This Version of the Bible 'Wicked'

How a Single Missing Word Made This Version of the Bible Wicked-2

Everyone hates typos. The realization that you wrote "He's a man of great skillet," instead of "He's a man of great skill" could definitely leave you feeling like you've got some egg on your face (pun somewhat intended).


But take this to heart, dear reader... Your typo? It's not so bad. Not compared to what might be considered the worst typo in the history of the English language — a typo that took a beloved version of the Bible and made it so blasphemous, it's now known as the Wicked Bible.

And all it took was forgetting a single word.


The Importance of Double-Checking Your Work

Let's set the stage. The year is 1631 in England. Printer Robert Barker and his associate Martin Lucas receive a summons to appear before King Charles I. This is not cause for celebration. The Worst Typo of All Time How A Single Missing Word Made This Version of the Bible Wicked-3


Barker and Lucas had been printing a new version of the King James' Bible. This English version of the Bible, commissioned by King James VI and I (he was King James VI of Scotland and King James I of England, so he gets two numbers) and first printed in 1611, had been proven a wild success; in fact, some Christian sects still hold it in high esteem to this day.

Robert Barker profited greatly from the King James' Bible. In fact, he was the King's Printer who published the first edition of that very Bible. He had what we would now call a monopoly on printing the approved Bible. Barker should have had no problem publishing a new version 20 years later and making another tidy profit, right?


These were the days of the early modern printing press and movable type; even printing a single page was a hands-on process involving arranging individual letter blocks in a press bed. With so much room for human error, it was easy to let a couple of mistakes slip through the cracks.

Unfortunately for Barker and Lucas, the mistake they let slip through wasn't an ordinary typo. They had messed up a line in the Ten Commandments. Specifically, Exodus 20:14. Normally, this reads, "Thou shalt not commit adultery."


Barker and Lucas had forgotten the word "not" in that line.

The Worst Typo of All Time How A Single Missing Word Made This Version of the Bible Wicked-4

Oops.

Was the Wicked Bible Sabotage?

Unsurprisingly, a Bible telling people that God demanded they cheat on their spouses didn't sit well with... basically anyone. When he learned of the error, King Charles I brought Barker and Lucas to court for missing such an egregious typo and their perceived incompetence. The printers were fined about £300 (the equivalent of a month's salary). Further, the king recalled the duo's offending Bible and ordered all copies destroyed.


More critically, Barker and Lucas were stripped of their printing licenses, effectively ending their careers at a stroke. This led to obvious hardships for both of them; Barker suffered severe financial adversities and died in debtor's prison in 1645.

But was the Wicked Bible, as it later came to be called, truly just a typo? Or was it something even more sinister? Some historians suspect that Barker's former partner, Bonham Norton, deliberately inserted the scandalous error to cause Barker's downfall and take the royal printing job for himself. After all, could an experienced printer really make such a bone-headed oversight?
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Ultimately, we'll never know whether or not the Wicked Bible was the result of sabotage, as almost all copies of the book were destroyed. It's hard to find one of the offending tomes, with only 10-16 or so surviving King Charles I's wrath — the ones that did are now extremely expensive collector's items.

It just goes to show that even a grievous career-ending typo may in turn become a valuable novelty in the future. Although that's probably cold comfort.

References: Extremely rare Wicked Bible goes on sale | The Wicked Bible | Wicked Bible | The King James and subsequent versions | James I - King of England and Scotland | The Devilish History of the Wicked Bible | Rare ‘Wicked’ bible that encourages adultery discovered in New Zealand | Robert Barker, Printer to Queen Elizabeth I | Movable type printing

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