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Ruth 3:15 from the 1611 Canterbury KJB (5MB)

  • The first 1611 printing is distinguished from other printings of the same year by the use of the word 'He' in Ruth 3:15 (he went into the citie). All other printings in this year, and most modern Bibles, use the word 'She'
  • There is some debate as to whether the word 'He' was a printer's error or a deliberate decision by the KJB's translators
  • 'He' would be a more accurate translation of the Hebrew but, in order for the word to make sense in the context of the passage, it should read 'She'
  • The decision to change from 'He' to 'She' in most later editions may provide an interesting insight into the process of translation in the early 17th century

Title page from the New Testament from the 1613 Canterbury KJB

  • The KJB throughout its long history has seen a few changes, one of these changes being the artwork
  • The early edition of the KJB contained 36 pages of genealogies, a decorative title page for the entire Bible, and an individual decorative title page for the New Testament. There was also a decorative/pictorial initial at the start of each chapter
  • At the top of the title page displayed here we see the Hebrew letters for God (translated as Jehovah or Yahweh). Below, a lamb with a cross symbolises Jesus as the Lamb of God. Further down a dove symbolises the Holy Spirit. These three images are symbols of the Holy Trinity and this is the first time they were depicted on the title page of an English Bible

Why are Canterbury's KJBs special?

The University of Canterbury is privileged to have in its possession two copies of the early KJB. One is dated to 1611 and part of the first print run. The second, a revision - but still an extraordinary work - was printed in 1613.

The first printing of the KJB is distinguished by the absence of one letter. This absence marks out Canterbury’s copy as a member of a select group. Chapter 3, verse 15 of the Book of Ruth reads in our copy ‘he went into the city’, a phrase rendered ‘she’ in every later printing in 1611.

While the decision to include 'He' in Ruth 3:15 may have been a deliberate choice on the part of the translators, it is worth noting that the King’s Printer, Robert Barker, was notorious for his errors. His most notable - although it may have been the result of sabotage - occurred in the 1631 printing. This produced the so-called ‘Wicked Bible’, where a minor slip rendered one of the commandments as ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’!

In 2010, the University was contacted by Donald Brake of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, Portland, Oregon. He was preparing the first census of 1611 ‘He’ Bibles. Dr Brake confirmed that there are only two ‘He’ Bibles in Australasia: this one, and one at the Dunedin Public Library. In 2011 the Dunedin copy was displayed as part of an exhibition held in the library's Reed Gallery.

Online Resources

Full Text of the KJB (Canterbury Staff/Students only)

Anthony Tedeschi, 'Let there be Light': Celebrating the Bible in English (Dunedin: Dunedin Public Libraries, 2010) Exhibition Catalogue (2.5MB)

Further Reading

Gordon Campbell, The Bible: The Story of the King James Version, 1611-2011 (Oxford: OUP, 2011), chapter 5.

Peter Carrell, 'The King James Bible', in Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library, ed. by Chris Jones, Bronwyn Matthews and Jennifer Clement (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2011), pp. 75-78.

David Norton, The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today (Cambridge: CUP, 2011), chapter 5.

Resources @ Canterbury

The Holy Bible: Conteyning the Old Testament, and the New: Newly translated out of the originall tongues: & with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesties speciall comandement: appointed to be read in churches (London: Robert Barker, 1611).