Aug 19, 2013

The 1560 Geneva Bible

This image shows the beginning of “The Revelation of John the Diuine,” from the 1560 Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible was the most widely read text in early modern England, being reproduced in pocket editions accessible for laypeople. The linking strategies in the Geneva Bible are fascinating. Asterisks were originally used in biblical translations to draw attention to a word that appears in one language, but not in another, for example, in the Septuagint but not Hebrew (Grafton and Williams 116). Interestingly, the asterisk’s usage is different in this case; the asterisks here indicate cross references, and correspond to the italicized verses in the margin. Occasionally a cross reference or alternate interpretation is provided with a double bar or pipe (||). The lettered footnotes are explanatory and exegetical, which is in keeping with other biblical footnotes (Sherman 77).   

Footnotes and marginal content were used extensively in the early stages of printing.  The development of different types of systems that organize and signify different types of content is important. When only one type of footnote is used, the note itself has no semantic value. Here, the asterisk already implies a cross reference, at which point the reader can decide whether or not to look at it.  

The Geneva Bible was criticized for its commentary, which interprets the text with a particularly Protestant lens that can be overt. This interpretive aspect of the Geneva Bible makes it a rich resource of Protestant ideology at the time of the Geneva Bible’s printing. The same conventions are continued in the 1611 Authorized Version, which also uses asterisks and lettered footnotes, but there the marginal commentary is much more restrained.

Ben Neudorf

The Geneva Bible: a Facsimile of the 1560 Edition. Ed. Loyd E. Berry and William Wittingham. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969. Print.

Grafton, Anthony, and Megan Williams. Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. Print.

Sherman, William H. Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Print.

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