fol. H1v-H2r, Ecclesiastes
Although destined to become the friend and printer of Erasmus (1466/69–1536) and the publisher of the first New Testament in Greek, Johann Froben († 1527) began his printing career at his own press in Basel with this little Bible in 1491. It is the first "pocket edition" of the Latin Bible, also known as the "Poor Man’s Bible," because its octavo format made it less expensive to produce and, presumably, more affordable. The text is based on the so-called "Fontibus ex Graecis" edition, which corrected the Vulgate with readings from the Hebrew and Greek originals. It was first printed in Basel in 1479, but the editor is unknown. Froben further improved the text, trying to print the best and most accurate text of the Bible he could find.
The text of the “Poor Man’s Bible” is small but legible. Blue and red initials have been inserted by hand over printed guide letters and all sentences are marked with a touch of red ink. Most interesting is the summary of the books of the Bible in the prefatory pages. In a kind of typological scheme, the Old and New Testaments are broken down into identical classifications under such terms as “Books of Law,” “Books of History,” “Books of Wisdom,” and “Books of Prophecy.” According to this system, the Pentateuch and the Four Gospels are the Law Books; Joshua through Esther balance Acts and Romans as Books of History; the Books of Wisdom—Job through the Song of Songs—correlate to the remaining New Testament letters; and as Books of Prophecy the Major and Minor Prophets have their counterpart in the Book of Revelation.
This edition is also the earliest to print references to parallel Bible passages in the margins, a feature that would make this poor man’s Bible a good candidate for a “poor student’s” Bible as well. The Ryrie copy may well have been owned by a student, given the nota bene (“note well”) symbol and the underlining in ink at Ecclesiastes 9:16, “Wisdom is better than warfare.”
In the sixteenth or seventeenth century, this copy seems to have come into the hands of a wealthier owner who could afford to have it bound with gold embossed edges and rubricated throughout.
Literature: Bietenholz 1986; Gewerbemuseum Basel 1960.