To commit adultery, or not to commit adultery – for hundreds of readers in the 17th century, the answer depended on which bible they consulted, after an unfortunate error in a certain edition of the text omitted to include a vital “not”.
Known as the “Wicked” Bible, the text, printed in 1631, leaves the word “not” from the seventh commandment. This means that amid exhortations that “thou shalt not kill”, and “thou shalt not steale”, readers are also informed that “thou shalt commit adultery”. One thousand copies of the text, which also came to be known as the Adulterous or Sinners’ Bible, were printed, with the printing error only discovered a year later.
When it was uncovered, the printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas were summoned by order of Charles I to court, and found guilty. They were also fined £300, and their printing licence removed, with the entire print run of the offending text called in, and the majority destroyed. Around 10 copies are believed to still exist today, according to Bonhams, which will auction a copy of “the infamous and extremely scarce” text next month.