fol. F4r, Candelabrum
fol. G4v-G5r, Numbers 23
William Tyndales Pentateuch, 1530. Colophon to Genesis: Emprented at Malborow in the lande of Hesse, by me Hans Luft, the yere of oure Lorde. M.CCCCC. xxx. the xvij. dayes of Januarij. [Thought to be a false imprimatur for Johannes Hoochstraten of Antwerp].
Octavo. 378 leaves (, lxxvi, ; , lxxvi; , lii; , lxvii; , lxiii, ), 6 x 3¾ inches. Bastarda and roman, lines vary from book to book; titles within woodcut borders, eleven full-page woodcut illustrations. Bound in 19th-century dark blue morocco; spine gilt. Lacking one blank. § DMH 4; STC (2nd ed.) 2350. § CD-ROM: 7.2, fol. B5r; 7.2, fol. F3r, Ark of the Covenant; 7.2, fol. F3v, Showbreads; 7.2, fol. F5r, Curtains of the Tabernacle; 7.2, fol. F8v, The Altar; 7.2, fol. G1v, Ornaments of the Tabernacle; 7.2, fol. G2v, Aaron; 7.2, fol. G5r (detail); 7.2, fol. H8vI1r; 7.2, fol. H8v (detail); also Death of Tyndale (Foxe, 1583).
Like the Wycliffite Bible, William Tyndales translation was an outlaw. It suffered confiscation and destruction; its owners were subject to criminal penalty. Consequently, even if Tyndales words still sound forth amply in English versions today, precious few copies of the first edition have survived.
The introductory letter, "W. T. To the Reader," is one of the most valuable sources for biographers of Tyndale (1494?1536) and also one of the most dramatic narratives of the arduous history of rendering the Bible into English. It is here that Tyndale tells of his trip to London from Little Sodbury Manor in 1523 for an audience with Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall. His purpose was to win the bishops support for his plan to translate the Bible. In good humanist fashion, he translated an oration by Isocrates in order to demonstrate his facility for Englishing Greek. According to Tyndales account, he met a terse rebuff from Tunstall: "my lorde answered me, his house was full." Before long, he recognized that the project would need to be carried out on the Continent, where he was to live from 1524 until his martyrdom in 1536.
And so in london I abode almoste an yere, and marked the course of the worlde, and herde oure pratars, I wold say oure preachers how they bosted them selves and their hye authorite, and beheld the pompe of oure prelates . . . & sawe thinges wherof I deferre to speake at this tyme and understode at the laste not only that there was no rowme in my lorde of londons palace to translate the new testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all englonde, as experience doth now openly declare([4r]).
While the Wycliffite version of the Bible included the Old Testament, its base text was the Latin Vulgate translation by St. Jerome. As with any translation, many of Jeromes renderings in Latin encouraged interpretations that the original Greek and Hebrew did not support. The reorientation toward the original texts, as promoted by Lorenzo Valla, Erasmus [5.2], the Complutensian Polyglot [2.4], and others, lessened the value of both Jeromes Vulgate and any versions that depended on it.
Tyndale was the first to translate the original Hebrew into English. It was a most successful beginning, for, as all scholars agree, his became the basis of all subsequent translations in English. While no one disputes that Tyndale sought to English the Hebrew as opposed to the Latin of the Vulgate, there is considerable uncertainty about his command of Hebrew. In all likelihood, we will never know how well he mastered Hebrew, no matter how profoundly unsatisfying that ignorance is to us.
Could a scholar have translated the Pentateuch, if his command of Hebrew was less than excellent? By 1530, the answer would be yes. The humanist movement had produced several significant aids to the study of the Hebrew Bible. Most important was Johannes Reuchlins publication, in Latin, of a Hebrew grammar and lexicon (1506), which was followed by a valuable series of works on Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible by Sebastian Münster. Tyndale also may have used a translation of the Bible by Santi Pagnini (1528). This most unusual work puts the Hebrew Bible in Latin, but in such a way as to make the syntax of the Hebrew transparent in the Latin rendition. An aesthetic shock to a Latin stylist, Pagninis Bible was nonetheless of profound usefulness as a crib to the Renaissance scholar with excellent Latin and little Hebrew. Tyndale also worked directly from Luthers translation of the Pentateuch (first printed in 1523), the first Renaissance vernacular Bible based on the original Hebrew scriptures. Luthers example certainly inspired him to bring out a separate edition of the Pentateuch before completing the Hebrew Bible, the goal that his early martyrdom precluded.
Internal evidence indicates incontrovertibly that Tyndale was capable of making independent decisions about the meanings of words and phrases in Hebrew. Furthermore, Tyndale felt enough confidence in his philology to boast of the compatibility of Hebrew with the English language (as opposed to Latin). In his The Obedience of a Christian Man, Tyndale claimed "the properties of the Hebrew tongue agreeth a thousand times more with the English than with the Latin. The manner of speaking is both one, so that in a thousand places thou needest not but to translate it into English word for word, when thou must seek a compass in the Latin" (Daniell 1994, 290).
The circumstances of the publication remain mysterious. Most scholars hold to the view that the presswork was done by Johannes Hoochstraten in Antwerp and that the imprimatur of Hans Luft of Marburg is false. Hans Luft was a printer of great renown in Wittenberg who was, at that time, also manufacturing books in Marburg. It is also unusual that this imprimatur occurs only in the colophon to Genesis. Less unusual, but still noteworthy, is the fact that all five books have separate title pages and that the whole does not have a unifying title page but begins with the title page for Genesis.
The typography has similar irregularities, although its overall clarity has elicited a steady stream of praise from readers. Genesis and Numbers are set up in a bastarda type that is notable for its simplicity and legibility. More significantly, the remaining three books are printed in roman, which represents a departure from the gothic style of the printed English book of the early Renaissance. The small octavo format also enhances the aura of Scriptures accessibility. It is Holy Word, but one can carry this Holy Word quite convenientlyor even, as we might imagine, inconspicuouslyin ones pocket.
Each book has a separate introduction, as had been the case with Luthers Pentateuch, except that the text of Genesis is preceded by two letters of introduction: "W. T. To the Reader" and "A prologe shewinge the vse of the scripture." Tyndales prefaces depend upon Luthers, although they are not translations. "A prologe" expresses Luthers concepts of salvation and Scripture. There he claims the "popes secte" believes that "heaven came by deades [i.e., deeds] and not by Christ, and that the outwarde dead iustyfyed them & made them holy and not the inward spirite receaved by fayth" ([6v]). Tyndale echoes Luthers powerful formulation of the distinction in Scripture between law and the promise of salvation (as set forth in the introduction to his Septembertestament of 1522), and does so with elegant lucidity:
So now the scripture is a light and sheweth vs the true waye, both what to do, and what to hope. . . . Seke therfore in the scripture as thou readest it first the law, what god commaundeth vs to doo. And secundarylye the promyses, which god promyseth us ageyne, namely in Christe Iesu oure lorde([5v]).
In accord with the tone of several of the prologues, as we have already seen in reference to the "popes secte," the Pentateuch contains many polemical sidenotes. The fierceness of Tyndales opposition to Catholicism has often been faulted on the grounds that it detracts from the dignity of Holy Scripture; it also offered justification to Catholic efforts to suppress the text. David Daniell has attempted, with only limited persuasiveness, to argue that scholars have exaggerated the amount of polemic. After all, many of the sidenotes are explanations of Hebrew words as well as simple admonishments to the reader to attend the meaning of passages. But even this is occasionally accomplished with a Protestant twist, as at Deuteronomy 8:18, "Gods power worketh and not we." Tyndale did encourage Christians to read and ponder the Scriptures directly, and he did express disdain for glosses that set forth allegorical meanings. At Deuteronomy 4:1, "Ye shall put nothinge vnto the worde," Tyndale added the note, "No: ner yet corrupt it with false glosses to confirme Aristotle: but rebuke Aristotles false lerninge therewith."
Nonetheless, anti-Catholic outbursts are sufficiently numerous to make a strong impression on the reader. Among the most notorious are some twenty attacks on the papacy. In the margin at Numbers 23 ("How shall I curse whom God curseth not and how shall I defye whom the Lord defyeth not?"), Tyndale caustically noted: "The pope can tell howe."
The book has eleven full-page woodcut illustrations, all of which are in Exodus. The images are based on woodcuts by Hans Holbein that first appeared in the Old Testament printed by Thomas Wolff in 1524 at Basel.
Literature: Daniell 1992 and 1994, 283315; Hammond 1980; Kraus 1993, 4546; Kronenberg 1947/48; Mombert 1884; Mozley ; Slater 1906; Westcott 1905.