What is the Bible?

The Bible as we know it today is composed of two collections of books, the ‘Old Testament’ and the much shorter ‘New Testament’.

The history of the Bible reached a turning point when it was translated into Latin by St Jerome (d. 420). Jerome’s ‘Vulgate’, so named because Latin was the popular language of the day, slowly became the standard text of the Bible in western Europe, displacing a number of variants. It became the key to the Christian culture that lay at the heart of the kingdoms that grew up following the collapse of Rome’s empire.

Via the medieval Church, the Vulgate reached into and shaped the lives of everyone from the peasants in the fields, to kings and emperors. In 1453-55 it became the first major beneficiary of Johann Gutenberg’s newly invented process of printing with moveable type.

Old Testament

The larger part of the Bible is made up of the 'Old Testament'. This is a collection of books with its ultimate origins in Hebrew scriptures. Two of the oldest manuscripts in the Canterbury collection contain excerpts from a 13th-century copy of the Old Testament

New Testament

The emerging Christian Church combined Old Testament material with a ‘New Testament’ written in Greek. This New Testament recounted the life of Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, and collected the correspondence of some of his followers.

Medieval Picture Bibles

In the later Middle Ages a trend developed that favoured the production of heavily illustrated biblical commentaries. The 'Lambeth Apocalypse' and the 'Holkham Picture Bible' offer two such examples from late medieval England.

Printed Bibles

In the early 1450s Johann Gutenberg produced the first book printed with moveable type, a version of St Jerome's Latin Vulgate. Printing revolutionised the dissemination of biblical texts. During the 16th century it allowed translations of the Bible into a variety of European languages to reach new audiences.