The Bible in its original Hebrew

A leaf from Biblia Hebraica (The Hebrew Bible) published by Christopher Plantin in Antwerp in 1584 (340 x 225 mm)  

Christopher Plantin's most ambitious project, and probably the most fraught, was the Polyglot Bible, the 'Biblia Regia', which appeared in eight volumes between 1568 and 1573. Its production was to have been subsidised by the King, Philip II of Spain, though he never fully paid up. It included Bible texts in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic (another ancient language) and was intended to enable scholars to compare the different versions. The production of such a work must have required scholarly editorial supervision, typesetters and proofreaders who could read the various languages, and of course the specialised type needed to reproduce the various alphabets. 

Volume 7 of the Polyglot Bible was republished in 1584 and my leaf comes from a copy of this edition.  It carries the Hebrew text of part of the Book of Numbers, with the equivalent Latin version of each line inserted in small type above it. Each Latin word is positioned directly over its Hebrew equivalent. Since Hebrew is read from right to left, the Latin words must be read in that direction also – though the individual words are not spelled back-to-front. And because books in Hebrew are read starting from the back, the recto page on this leaf is numbered 132 and carries chapter 18, while the verso page on the other side, which would be read first, is numbered 131 and carries chapters 16 and 17. Marginal notes are profusely supplied, and as on my other Plantin Bible leaf, verse numbers are ranged down the centre.

When Plantin died, his son-in-law Jan Moretus took over the business, which his descendants continued to operate, in the same premises, until 1866. Much original material remains in what is now the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, where the world's oldest surviving printing presses can be seen – including, conceivably, the one on which this leaf was printed.