The Complutensian Polyglot
It doesn’t have a catchy title, it wasn’t a best seller (only 600 copies were printed), and its publication was delayed for eight years until the pope gave his approval. But the Complutensian Polyglot is one of the most remarkable Bibles ever published.
In 1502 Cardinal Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros brought together in Spain at great personal expense an impressive team of scholars who said they used “very ancient and correct” Greek manuscripts to create a multi-translation Bible in five volumes.
The New Testament contained the Latin Vulgate in one column and the Greek text in another; the Old Testament contained the Hebrew text on one side of the Latin and Greek on the other. The writer of the preface says the Latin is like Christ on the cross with two thieves (the Hebrew and Greek) on either side. Above each Greek word is a translation into Latin. The first five books of the Old Testament also contained Aramaic and a second Latin translation.
The Complutensian Polyglot is an excellent work of scholarship. But it is mind boggling to think that this was all typeset by hand just sixty years after Gutenberg developed printing with movable type—five text blocks, four different type faces, an interlinear portion, and notes cross-referencing the Hebrew and Latin sections. It would be difficult to do this today with a computer. And all of this was for a printing of only six hundred copies, of which 123 are known to still exist. You can see the first page of Exodus with all five text blocks here.
The New Testament was completed in 1514 and the entire Bible in 1517, but its publication was delayed until 1522 after the pope gave his approval.
Why was this called the Complutensian Polyglot? The university where the book was created was in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, which, when the Romans occupied Spain, was called Complutum. “Polyglot” simply means “several languages.”