Getting the Gutenberg Bible Online

Gutenberg bible page 1

Page 1 of the 1455 Gutenberg Bible

In 2012, the Vatican and the University of Oxford began a partnership to digitize over 1.5 million pages of biblical and medieval texts. The Polonsky Foundation, the group funding the digitization, recently released more details on the goals and scope of the project.

The focus of the project will be three main groups of texts: Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts, and 15th century printed books. This includes the oldest surviving Hebrew codex and a Gutenberg Bible from 1455. The goal is to preserve these artifacts and make them freely available to anyone with a connection to the internet.

The scale of the project is certainly impressive, but I’m probably more impressed by the symbolic value of recreating our earliest religious texts online. We know very well how the printing press and the Gutenberg Bible transformed Christianity and western civilization. This project promises to make the Gutenberg Bible widely available to more people than Johannes Gutenberg ever dreamed would see it. For the first time, many people will be able to experience the Bible that helped to change Christianity forever. Will it have any effect on Christian practice today?

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby thinks so:

“I think, essentially, that the scanners of today and the printers of the past are engaged in a very similar work. And what is fascinating to me, and one can’t make predictions, but what really strikes me is the impact of the spread of printing was so profound not just on religious practice but on the whole self-understanding of society. What impact can this have on the next century or two? And it will indirectly have an affect on our liturgy and worship and practice of faith.”

It is a little hard for me to imagine that very many people will make a visit to see the manuscripts online, but the project does allow the interesting ability to get insight into the mind and experience of a 15th century reader for a whole new generation and a much wider audience. Maybe the project will raise more awareness for the impact of the printing press on Christianity and by extension, raise awareness in general for the connection between media change and religious practice. Maybe the project will increase enrollment in ancient languages programs. Maybe nothing will happen. How do you think this project will affect Christians around the globe?

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About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Mediacurrent. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is

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