Johann Gutenberg was born in the city of Mainz, Germany around 1400, right in the middle of a movement to make God personal by revealing Him to people in their own language, making Him available to any and all who could read. He greatly facilitated and energized this movement with his refinement of the printing press. (The Chinese apparently inventing moveable type some time before – but never taking it to the next level of general use.)
Before Gutenberg took that next step, all copying of printed material was done by hand or on presses that imprinted designs or words on parchment or cloth using blocked images or letters, which was extremely time-consuming and expensive. The utilization and availability of paper, again thought to be invented by a Chinese official around 105 A.D. and used by some Arabs, Egyptians and Spaniards some time thereafter greatly enhanced the usefulness of Gutenberg’s refinement of an actual printing press for mass-producing information. Parchment and vellum, both made from animal skins, had been used by Europeans for centuries but was not suitable for the printing press. Rag paper, made from discarded clothing, was the first widely used linen “paper” throughout Europe; but was likewise not suitable for Gutenberg’s purposes.
Gutenberg’s inventiveness was crucial on several levels, as he created an alloy to make his block-letter impressions which improved his publications’ clarity and increased the usefulness of his presses; his development of oil-based ink further enhanced their clarity and attractiveness. All this spurred an explosion of accessible knowledge which in turn fueled a growth in literacy among Europeans who sought out works in their own languages. (Something that didn’t happen with the original Chinese version.) Within 50 years of Gutenberg’s initial success in 1440, virtually every important Greek and Roman work had been printed and distributed across the literate world. As a result, everyone could hope to own and read a book, greatly facilitating opportunities for education among the young and old, rich and poor.
The importance of religion in Gutenberg’s life was shown in his selection of the Bible as the first book to be mass produced. It is considered a masterpiece in it’s reproduction of the medieval manuscripts, retaining their beauty and design while increasing it’s accessibility to people everywhere. Besides these accomplishments, religious freedom was probably enhanced even more; the Reformation Movement being greatly impacted by the mass-production of scripture as points of contention with the Catholic belief-system were clearly set forth and, in many instances, corrected. Tracts and treatises flourished; giving the questioning, seeking people ample opportunity to study, discover, discuss and decide on their own what to believe and how to worship. This in turn helped revolutionize thought; how it was gathered, stored, shared – and set into motion innovations of science and government as well as religion.
The University of Texas owns, “…probably the most extensively annotated and corrected copy surviving,” of a total of about 250 which were produced; of which only 48 copies exist today.1 It still shows corrections and notes made by copyists, with notations indicating sections to be read aloud for church services. The University’s Ransom Center acquiring its two-volume set in 1978, estimating its worth at 20 million dollars.
They wish to share this historically religious artifact with the world by digitizing it, making it available to the masses once again through the internet; expanding its accessibility beyond the scholars at Austin, Texas to anyone with a computer.
This Bible is a unique and priceless piece of our religious heritage, it’s pages reproduced on www.hrc.utexas.edu through 7,000 images of text and artistic illumination.
Check it out!
1Paul Needham of Princeton University
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