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Quayle: 2018-2019 Exhibit


The Life of Scripture outside of the words


Around 1455, Johannes Gutenberg produced the first ever Bible printed with moveable type. This creation would revolutionize Europe, leading to mass literacy and eventually the Protestant Reformation. However, not every Bible that was printed on the printing press was an exact copy of the next. Not only were there mistakes (the most famous being the Wicked Bible), but Bibles were printed with different font, in different languages, and different images. Each Bible was essentially different.

Taking this idea and looking backward, the history of Bible production is not only a history of Judaism and Christianity, but also a history of the book in general. The Bible itself means so much to over 3 billion people in the world, but do those same people think about the form and structure of the book, and what makes it special. The book as we know it is an adaptation of the codex, manuscripts that have been sewn together. Before the codex, there were other systems for storing writing, and there were other materials on which to write.

Given that the words themselves are precious, the Bible sometimes is also decorated in ornate ways. From pictures to gold leaf to stylized lettering, the Bible has been decorated and even reduced in decoration throughout history. The Protestants had a long history of not knowing whether to decorate their holy text or not. The Bible also tells us about function. Is it large or small? Is it translated into a new language for a new group of people? Does it contain important information for the people who owned it? The production and creation of the Bible not only tells us about the history of Judaism and Christianity, but it also tells the reader about the history of the book.

In addition to the overview provided in each box below, you can use the arrow buttons to view collection items that were part of the exhibit.  If you click on the image or caption title, the image will be enlarged in a new tab with the option to zoom in further.

Early Textual Forms

What we call a book has gone through a long evolution of forms, which changed for use and functionality. The odd thing about the evolution is that texts have evolved from the more permanent to the less permanent, and even today if we think about electronic communication that in essence is immaterial. This evolution also follows literacy and the desacralization of writing, as writing is more permanent and less people can read it, it is seen as more sacred. Cuneiform, the earliest form of writing, was done on clay tablets, many of which would last for millennia. These texts spanned a wide array of genre, including mythic texts, lists of gods, laws, contracts, and simple receipts. Another example of early forms is the Torah scroll, written on animal parchment. Given that Judaism is still alive today, the scroll holds a central place in worship as the example of God’s covenant at Mt. Sinai.  It is seen as a sacred object and is placed in a special cabinet. With only five books of the Bible, it is read in succession and is not something that is easy to read as reference (you can’t flip from Genesis to Deuteronomy). Since Christianity came from Judaism with a mission to convert people, Christians needed a practical way to flip from one book to the next. As a result, they utilized the codex, which held several individual manuscripts sewn together as a book. This allowed them to be able to read several books with ease. Although invented by the Romans, it was utilized by the Christians, and revolutionized how the world read texts.

Terracotta Cone and Clay Tablets. Mesopotamia. Circa 2000-1700 BCE.

These are clay tablets from Mesopotamia. The writing, cuneiform, was done on wet clay with a stylus, then dried or baked. 

Torah. Undated. [probably 1800s]

A Torah scroll originally purchased by the Bishop Quayle. The scroll is the first five books of the Bible written on (kosher) parchment. This particular Torah is written on thirty seven individual pieces that are sewn together. The production of a scroll usually takes one year and follows strict Jewish law.

[Bible] 13th century.

One of Bishop Quayle’s favorite manuscripts. This codex is our oldest complete biblical text. It is painted and handwritten on vellum, sewn together, and is encased in a silver case. This represents the Bible’s transition from scroll to book, with the tablets representing earlier forms.

Writing Mediums

Much like the textual forms, the writing mediums also changed. Most cultures wrote on what was available to them. Some of the earliest “paper” that was used came from Ancient Egypt in the form of papyrus. Papyrus was made from the reeds of the Nile, which is why the god of writing, Thoth, is an ibis. Most cultures wrote on animal skins or parchment. Although paper as we know it was invented in China, the first paper mills were in the Abbasid Caliphate. After the Crusades, Europe began manufacturing paper. The irony is that paper is less permanent than the other mediums seen here.

Egyptian papyrus. Circa 2000 BCE. Egypt.

A piece of Egyptian papyrus with Hieratic writing (a cursive Hieroglyphic writing).  

Sanskrit formula. Tibet, date unknown.

The image above is of a Buddhist ritual written on birch bark in Tibetan Sanskrit. Birch bark was a common writing medium before the advent of paper

[Qur’an]. Surah 56. Tehran, 1207 AH. (Anno Hegirae)

Surah 56 of the Qur’an written on paper. The black ink is Arabic, while the red above is a Persian translation. This was written in 1207 according to the Muslim calendar.

[Psalms and Prayers] Germany, 1512.

A Psalm and prayer book written on vellum or calf skin, and the binding of the book is deerskin.

[Miniature from a Book of Hours] France, c1420.

A page of a Book of Hours also written on vellum. The page displayed contains a beautiful initial letter while the obverse side contains a miniature of the Annunciation of Mary.


As Europe began creating paper, they also started creating identifying markers in the paper. These are known as watermarks. The papermaker would change the thickness of the paper and thus a shadowy effect would be created. In some papers, the water mark is barely visible and in others it is quite obvious. The watermarks vary in style and meaning, many of which are unknown. There are theories that watermarks meant things specific, while others are just artistic. Scholars also theorize that watermarks varied from papermaker, meaning they could be used to identify the paper producer. Regardless, they are a fundamental aspect of many early paper Bibles, including the King James, and they are often overlooked by the casual viewer.

[Commentary] Postilla super totam Bibliam, by Nicholaus de Lyra. Printed perhaps in Strassburg : Johannes Mentelin, not after 1472.

The pages in the image above contain watermarks. However, if you simply look at the page itself, you cannot see the watermarks. The next image will provide a clearer view of one of the watermarks.

[Commentary] Postilla super totam Bibliam, by Nicholaus de Lyra. Printed perhaps in Strassburg : Johannes Mentelin, not after 1472.

The watermark is only visible when held up to light; as a result we scanned the page and enlarged it so that the watermark was visible (although inverted). The watermark above contains the common image of a bull’s head. This particular one has a T coming out of it. 

[Bible] Vulgate. Nuremberg : Anton Koberger, 1477.

The pages above also contain watermarks, which are shown more clearly in the next image.

[Bible] Vulgate. Nuremberg : Anton Koberger, 1477.

This watermark on this page shows a tower with a crown. 

Initial Letters

Initial letters are some of the most recognizable features to early bibles. An initial letter is a stylistic letter that begins chapters, paragraphs, or books. The styles range from elaborate stories within the letter to stylistic calligraphy. Some tell the stories of the biblical chapter within the letter, while others contain animals, mythological beings, or garden motifs. Many of these were hand drawn, while others were made from woodcuts. In some cases, the printer would use whatever initial letters that were available without thought, which is why some early King James Bibles have the Roman god Tritan in some initials.

Codex Cenannensis (The Book of Kells). Bern, Switerzland : Urs Graf-Verlag, 1951.

A facsimile of the Book of Kells (originally from the 8th Century CE) or Codex Cenannensis. It is probably the most famous illuminated text, with much of its stylistic letters drawn as animals and mythical beings. 

[Breviary] The Netherlands, 15th century.

The Breviary here contains several initial letters as well as an elaborate border that contains rabbits and unicorns. The style differs on each page. 

[Bible] Spain, 14th century.

The Bible here contains very elaborate initial letters painted with blue and red ink. The entire text is handwritten.


Like the production of paper, Europeans took the production from Muslims that they encountered in the Middle East. The technique began appearing in European texts in the 1700s, and was often called Turkish marbling; however, it was probably developed almost a thousand years earlier in China. The technique involves adding colors to water and introducing industrial chemicals or plant based chemicals. This results in some colors moving forward and shaping or “sizing” the pigments around it. Afterwards, a piece of paper is introduced and the color adheres to the paper. After it became popular, Europeans began lining books and even chests with it. Eventually, they would also introduce the color to the edges of the pages to create a marbling effect on the outside of the book.

[Bible] Biblia Sacra. Geneva : Philippum Albertum, 1630.

Marbling was an artistic style of treating paper with chemicals and pigments to create various patterns. The process became popular in Europe after trade with the Middle East. Each style and color is based on the country of origin. The text here is in a combed swirl style.


Images in Bibles have not always been a tradition for all Christians. Different sects of Christianity believed that images in the text were a way to inform the reader about the story, add an artistic decoration on the text, or believed that images were borderline idol worship. In the height of Protestant Reforms, Bibles contained fewer images. However, there is a long history of having either hand drawn images, woodcuts, or engraved images in the text.

The difference between woodcuts and engravings were essentially how the image was produced and how the ink was transferred. Woodcuts are like stamps where an image would be carved out of a wood block. Engravings on wood or copper required the artist to incise the material with the image. In a woodcut, the ink was on the outside and negative space was formed by incisions, while engravings required the ink to fill the incisions. In many cases, woodcuts and engravings would be used again and again in Bibles, even in different translations and denominations. In some instances, they would be altered slightly or even painted after the impression. The most significant work for woodcuts is the Nuremburg Chronicle of 1491, which contains almost 2,000 woodcuts. The Quayle Bible Collection owns a copy of the Chronicle.

[Bible] Holie Bible, the Bishops’ Bible. London : Richard Jugge, 1568.

Here is an image of the creation of Eve done from a woodcut by Virgil Solis; however, the image was altered to satisfy the Protestant Church of England. As a result, the original image of God was changed for the Hebrew name of God (often rendered in English as YHWH). Next is a print of the original image.


Illustrations of the Book of Job. 1825. William Blake, London, 1825.

William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job. For the “Illustrations,” he employed intaglio engraving. This is the process where the artist incised an image into a copper plate. The sunken area would be rolled with ink and then pressed on the pages by printing press. These were the last complete set of engravings Blake would finish before dying, and some were based on the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer.


In many cases, the owners of a Bible literally leave their mark on the text. Owners who have no qualms with writing in the Bible will add glosses, doodles, annotations, and commentary to the margins of text. These marginalia often give scholars a window into the specific owners of the text. What Bible verses and chapters did they value the most? What specific theology did they have? In what language did they write? In the case of handwritten texts, sometimes the reader can find corrections written at the end of the chapter or in the margin. These mistakes show us the lives of scribes and the nature of their field, as well as how difficult the task of copying a Bible was. Even though the text was so sacred, errors were sometimes made. These notes and corrections offer readers a text living within another text.

[Bible] Biblia Sacra, Vulgate. Basel : Johannes de Amerbach, 1482.

The Bible here contains manicules or hands that were drawn in the margin that point to important parts of the texts. Notes and manicules tell you what the previous owners believed were important in the text. Often these notes help scholars understand theological themes from the past. 

[Bible] Vulgate. Paris : Simon Vostre, 1512.

The Bible here has extensive notes written in Latin, which are probably explanations of the text.

Early Translations (Middle Eastern)

As soon as the first Christian church was founded in Antioch (in modern day Turkey), texts were being dispersed in various translations. Although the founders of Christianity spoke in Aramaic and wrote in Greek, they began to mission to all the nations around them. This required the ability to write and speak in other languages. The book of Acts describes a scene where the Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles and they began to speak in various tongues, or glossolalia. Not only was this act a reversal of the Tower of Babel story from Genesis, but it was a statement that no language is holier than the next. The Word could be transmitted in any translation. Many of the earliest translations of ancient texts were done in the languages of the Middle East and North Africa. Since Christianity has been centered on Europe and the Latin and Germanic languages, many American, English-speaking Christians forget that the Bible exists in multiples languages foreign to them, such as Arabic and the other languages in this case. Given that concepts, metaphors, and emphasis are often lost in translations, some of the languages of the Middle East probably retain meaning closer to the Aramaic spoken during the time of Jesus.

[Bible] The Holy Bible. Paris : np , 1827.

Although Constantinople had long been renamed Istanbul, the city remained a major Christian center. The Ottoman-Turkish translation (in Arabic characters) here was a Bible for the Christian residents in the city that no longer read the Bible in Greek.

[New Testament] Ge’ez New Testament. London: Billing and Sons, 1957.

Although not known by many, the Ancient Ethiopian language of Ge’ez is a Semitic language, closely related to Hebrew and Arabic. Ge’ez translations (like the one here) of ancient texts, such as Enoch, were preserved before older editions were discovered.

[New Testament] Novum Testamentum. London : B. F. B. S., 1816.

More than likely, Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus; however, most of the New Testament was written in Greek. The early church probably used both languages and produced many texts in Syriac, a cursive Aramaic. The Bible translation here represents a collection of many of those early Syriac manuscripts.

“American” Translations

Although many people came to America to create new identities, aspects of their European identities remained. Even when colonists were rejecting Britain and throwing tea in harbors, they were still importing British Bibles. As immigrants to America settled in various locations throughout the colonies, they brought Bibles in the languages of their homelands with them as remnants of the home they left. However, as these European immigrants colonized the Americas, they also tried to convert the Native Americans that were here. In many cases this was done not only as a way to “save souls” but to force Indigenous communities to assimilate to European ways. As soon as Europeans began colonization in the Americas, missionary attempts soon followed. As a result, the first Bible translations in America were in several Native American languages and while even at war with Britain, the King James Bible was steadily being used. As settlers from Germany, Sweden, Denmark, or other Northern European Nations spread throughout North America, their languages were kept alive in the Bibles that they brought.

[New Testament] Cherokee New Testament. New York: American Bible Society, 1860.

One of a few Cherokee Bibles in the Quayle Bible Collection. 

[Leaf, New Testament] New history Testament our-Lord Jesus Christ our-deliverer, by John Eliot. Cambridge, MA : Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, 1661.

John Eliot’s Algonquian translation. This is the oldest Bible translation in the Americas and was Eliot’s attempt to mission to the Native Americans of New England. In the late 1800s, several of the tribes produced Bibles in their languages as part of the assimilation occurring across the U.S.

[Bible] Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Shcrift. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, no date.

The next two Bibles represent not only the immigrant status of Europeans in Americas, but that many families continued to speak and read the language of their ethnicity. The Bible here is a German Bible. Both of these Bibles show that even in Kansas, immigrants continued to worship in their native tongues, even languages from the British Isles.

Family Bibles

For many years, a Bible was an investment. It was large, it contained works of art, and it was expensive, often requiring families to pay for it in installments. Families would purchase a Bible, and it was meant to stay with the family for generations, carrying with it the history of a community. These Bibles sometimes contain flowers, leaves, important news clippings, feathers, and locks of hair. As mass production began in the 1800s, these books lost their value, often being made from papier-mâché, but they never lost their price tags. Regardless of their material and worth, these texts never lost their value to the family that owned it, who still recorded the history of their people, and unbeknownst to them, histories of America. The settlement of Kansas can be traced through the various languages represented in the Quayle Bible Collection’s Family Bibles.

[Bible] Holy Bible. Hartford, CT: R. White & Co., 1833.

All of the following represent what is known as “Family Bibles.” These were usually large Bibles passed down through a single family. Many of these Bibles were used for genealogical records as seen in this case, and in some instances, these Bibles were used as certificates for birth, marriage, and death. The three locations on which people often wrote their information was located before the cover page, the end of the Bible, or the pages that separate the New and Old Testaments. Represented on this Bible and the 1888 Bible, Family Bibles were marketed in the 1800s for this purpose, and often contained charts and trees where families could easily write their information. 

[Bible] Luther. Basel : Emanuel und Johann Georg Konig, 1701.

Example of family information being located before the cover page of the Bible.

Further Reading