Martin Luther’s September Bible from 1522

Alternate Titles:

September Bibel, Septemberbibel, September Testament, Martin Luther: September Bibel

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

September Bibel
Septemberbibel
September Testament
Martin Luther: September Bibel

Type
Extent / Format

444 pages / 30.0 x 22.0 cm

Origin
Date
1522
Style
Genre
Content

New Testament

Language
Patron

Johann Gramann, Apostle of Prussia

Artist / School

Lucas Cranach the Older (Woodcuts)
Melchior Lotter of Leipzig (Printer)

Illustrations

21 woodcuts by Lucas Cranach the Older

Former owners

Johann Gramann, Apostle of Prussia

Short description

Although Martin Luther is best known for his Ninety-Five Theses, his most influential work is arguably his translation of the Bible into German that the common people could understand. Paired with Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, Luther’s Bible from 1522, sometimes called the September Bible proved to be a fundamental turning point in Germany’s religious, linguistic, and social history. Published in its entirety for the first time in 1534, Luther’s translation from Greek was more accurate than previous translations from the Vulgate and served as the foundation for a common German language that transcended its manifold dialects. The codex housed in the library of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland was decorated with full-page woodcuts by Lucas Cranach and was the personal possession of Johann Gramann, the “Apostle of Prussia”, who was a supporter and contemporary of Luther’s. The margins of the pages are completely filled with his notes, many of them resulting from his own conversations with Luther himself.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Luther’s September Bible from 1522

Martin Luther is one of the most influential figures in the history of the West, not only did he ignite the Reformation with his Ninety-Five Theses, but he is also considered to be the father of modern High German due to his groundbreaking translation of the Bible, sometimes called the September Bible or the Luther Bible. The New Testament was printed in 1522, just five years after he kicked off controversy within Christendom that would boil over into the Thirty Years War. It would be followed in 1534 by a complete translation of the Bible. His translation was an unprecedented contribution to the German language. Unlike earlier German translations of the Vulgate, which were essentially translations of translations, Luther made his translation directly from the Greek text. The widespread dissemination of this edition (thanks to the printing press) not only freed the German faithful from the clerical monopoly on the word of God, but it began to establish a common German language and sense of common identity.

Luther’s first Bible

Martin Luther was forced to go into hiding following his excommunication by Pope Leo X in 1521 and found refuge in Wartburg Castle. While there, Luther dedicated himself to the creation of a vernacular Bible that was translated from Greek, which would be more accurate than translations from the Vulgate in addition to being more accessible to commoners and the laity as a whole. The fruits of his labor were published soon thereafter with the New Testament being published in 1522 and the entire Bible in 1534. Luther could never have had such success with his Bible were it not for the invention of the printing press: the first edition of 3,000 copies sold out in spite of its relatively high price – 1.5 Gulden. It would be followed by many more.

Linguistic Significance of Luther’s Translation

“You need to listen to the mothers walking on the roads, the children on the streets, ask ordinary people in the markets and look at their faces, listen to the way they are talking, and base your translation on it!”
– Luther on his philosophy in creating his German language Bible
At the center of Luther’s reforming vision was the removal of all barriers between the faithful and the word of God, be they hierarchical or linguistic. Although scarcely known by most people, Latin was a useful tool allowing intellectuals from across Europe to understand one another, and this problem was more acute in modern day Germany than anywhere else. However, it kept the common people from reading the Bible themselves, and although earlier translations of the Bible into German existed, they were imperfect, archaic, and did not reflect the way common people spoke. This was further complicated by the fact that medieval German was less of a language and more of a galaxy of dialects such as Franconian, Bavarian, Alemannic, Swabian, and Saxon inter alia that were largely incomprehensible to one another. The problem was so acute that there were traveler’s dictionaries for medieval Germans venturing through other German lands. Luther’s translation, based on the Saxon dialect, created the foundation upon which modern High German was built. His creation of a common language, with the help of the printing press, helped to craft a sense of national identity in Germany in addition to cultural norms concerning law and morality. Furthermore, Luther’s vernacular translation inspired a wave of vernacular translations across Europe, extending the reach of his influence far beyond the borders of the German speaking lands.

Marginal notes from conversations with Luther

Johann Gramann – also known as the “Apostle of Prussia” – was a follower and co-reformer of Martin Luther who had his own personal copy of the first edition of the September Bible, printed by Melchior Lotter of Leipzig. Decorated with woodcuts by the great Lucas Cranach, his copy is filled to the brim with marginal notes, many of them resulting from his own conversations with Luther himself. The oft-tangled appearance of these note belies their importance as a firsthand account of Luther’s lectures and discussions from another prominent theologian and scholar. This is a testimonial to some of the most fortuitous events in history, the ideas being developed here had both positive consequences in advancing and developing western thought, and negative ones in the devastating religious conflicts that introduced a new level of violence to the peoples of Europe. Housed today in the library of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland, it is an incredibly important artifact of both the Reformation and the roots of the modern German language.

Masterfully engraved woodcuts by Lucas Cranach

Lucas Cranach was a painter, portraitist, and engraver and printer of woodcuts who was talented and prolific in equal measure. He was in the employ of the Electors of Saxony for most of his life, but also worked for a number of other patrons and is best known for his portraits of Protestant noblemen. Born in Franconia ca. 1472, his work attracted the attention of Duke Friedrich III, Elector of Saxony and he was subsequently brought to court in 1504. Cranach travelled to the Netherlands in 1509 where he painted portraits of Emperor Maximillian I and his son, who would eventually become known as Charles V. Like his patrons, the Dukes of Saxony, Cranach was friendly to Protestantism early on and became personal friends with Martin Luther, whom he first depicted in a woodcut in 1520 and would portray in numerous portraits. He collaborated with Luther on the production of the September Bible and masterfully engraved the woodcuts for the miniatures accompanying the groundbreaking text. Cranach died in Weimar in 1553 at the ripe old age of 81 and is an ancestor of the great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe through his daughter Barbara.

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