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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Celebrating the Reformation: The Huntington Library, Part III


Is The Huntington a library, an art gallery, and a botanical garden?

Yes to all three. Here's a link to Part I, highlighting the Chinese themed garden and Part II, highlighting the Japanese themed garden. This post will focus on the Huntington Library (above). I'll finish out with a fourth and final post later this month focusing on The Huntington's art collection. 



Don't expect to to check out books like a traditional library. The Huntington Library consists of an incredible collection of priceless, historic books and manuscripts. 


On display, front and center, an an original Gutenberg Bible. Of the 170 or so original copies printed, less than fifty survive today, eleven of which are in the United States. 

According to The Complete Pilgrim"The Huntington Library is the only institution on the West Coast of the United States to own a Gutenberg Bible, and its copy is one of the best. The Huntington copy of the Gutenberg Bible is a complete edition on vellum, one of only five in the world and the only one in the United States outside of the Library of Congress."


Regardless of your religious faith or background, the Bible is - without question - the most influential book in Western Civilization. It's difficult to fully understand Western Civilization without at least a partial understanding of Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (often referred to as the Old and New Testaments). 

The Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, were written in Hebrew (with a small portion in Aramaic); the Christian Scriptures, the New Testament, in First Century Greek. 


The Bible is really a collection of sixty six different "books" written by 40 different authors over 2500 years. If you've never read any portions of the Bible, I'd suggest starting by reading one of the four gospels - the historical accounts of the life of Jesus. The names of the gospel's refer to the authors. Matthew and John were written by eyewitness. Mark was written by an early follower of Jesus, and companion of St Peter, who was also an eyewitness. Luke was by an physician who interacted with a number of eyewitnesses. 

Speaking of eye witness accounts, I've enjoyed the work of Los Angeles based homicide detective J Warner Wallace. For years an agnostic, Wallace took the time to read through the four gospels for himself. Initially skeptical, as a "cold case" detective, he was so convinced by the historic reliability of these eyewitness accounts that he became a follower of Jesus Christ.


A group of visitors enjoying a close up view of The Huntington's Gutenberg Bible. 

Time Magazine consider Gutenberg's printing press the single most important event of the past 1000 years. No argument here. The printing press created an explosion of knowledge and information throughout the entire world. 


Leading us on to The Huntington's "The Reformation" exhibit.

The Protestant Reformation is generally considered to have begun on October 31, 1517 when German monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the door to the Wittenberg Church, questioning the abuses and practices he saw within the Medieval Church.


An original copy of Bible Protestant Reformer Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible. While the original Gutenberg Bibles were in Latin, what followed were translations in German, English, French, Spanish and multiple other languages. 

Today, thanks to the work of organizations like Wycliff Bible Translators, there are complete translations of the Bible in over 1000 different languages. 


The Huntington also has an original copy of a Tyndale Bible. This is what the Pilgrims, coming to America, would have used and read. 


Speaking to a cleric, William Tyndale stated his intention to "cause the boy who drives the plow to know more scripture than thou dost." Tyndale paid for this conviction with his life. He was deemed a heretic, killed, and burned at the stake in 1536. 


The Huntington also has copies of the John Wycliff's English translation of the Bible. Unlike the printed Gutenberg Bible, or Luther's German or Tyndale's English translations, the Wycliff Bible (translated between 1382 to 1395) was written by hand. 


Wycliff's Bible was translated into Middle English. This is much closer to what Geoffrey Chaucer than William Shakespeare. 

Here's what a section of the Gospel of John looks like in 14th Century Middle English: 

For God louede so þe world, that he ȝaf his oon bigetun sone, þat ech man þat bileueþ in him perische not, but haue euerlastynge lijf.

Here's what the same passage, John 3:16, looks like in modern English: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."


Speaking of of Chaucer and Shakespeare, back in the main hall, The Huntington also has original copies of the Chaucer's Canterbury Tales ...


... Shakespeare's works (yes, he was a genius) ... 


... Polish astronomer and mathematician Nicolas Copernicus's "On the Revolution of Heavenly Bodies" (in Latin). 


... and Thomas Jefferson's United States Declaration of Independence. 

Really, something for everyone. 


A final view of the main reading room. The library is much - much - more extensive than just this one room and the Reformation display, containing an incredible nine million historical items. Here's a link to their collections.   

Next time, we'll finish out with a tour through the art galleries and home of Henry and Arabella Huntington. 

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