In 1979-1980, the Library received the collection of the Massachusetts Bible Society, approximately 4500 items covering 1500 languages into which the Bible or parts have been translated. These combined collections contain nearly 75% of the early Bible editions cited in The Book of a Thousand Tongues. Cataloging was funded by a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, is less than 50% complete, and is currently on hold.
History of the Massachusetts Bible Society Collection
On July 6th 1809 a meeting, led by William Phillips, was held in Boston at the Academy Room of the State House to propose the establishment of a Bible society in Massachusetts which would be “for the distribution of Bibles and Testaments.” Bibles in Boston had been distributed by the Philadelphia Bible Society, but by 1809, only a year after its founding, they felt that the need for Bibles in the New England area had increased enough to create its own society. Thus at the 1809 meeting the Massachusetts Bible Society was officially formed and its objectives were announced in a circular published the same year.
Between 1929 and 1930 a library was formed by the society to provide research materials for the missionary translators and also to archive Bibles that had been translated and published by other missionary and Bible societies. Harold P. Landers was the first and only librarian to document the collections for the Society’s annual reports. Over time he developed a unique classification scheme for the Bibles that was organized by language. He also kept a card catalog detailing, not only the items in the collections, but an index of translators who worked on the Bibles. A special bookplate was made so that the details of the Bible such as its language group, its translators, and the year of acquisition could be recorded. Landers retired from his work with the Massachusetts Bible Society in 1962, after many years of dedicated service to the society and its library.
The library has a collection leaves from early-printed Bible pages. Some of these pages date back as early as the late fifteen century. Fifteenth century printed works are known as "incunables" (from the Latin word for swaddling clothes, highlighting the infancy of the printed word in the western world). This collection contains leaves from incunables like the octavo Froben “Poor Man’s” Bible" (1495) and Italian Incunabla Bible (1495). Other leaves in the collection include pages from the first and second Bible printed in Spanish.
This was originally the extensive private library of the late Rt. Rev. Carey, Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts. The Collection was particularly rich in 18th through early 19th century rare books that represented significant holdings in biblical theology, polyglot lexicons, dictionaries, and concordances. The Collection suffered much damage in a fire in the early 1920s. Mr. Charles Dickinson Marks, a grand-nephew of Bishop Carey, is a native of Boston and a graduate of Harvard. He contacted Dr. Raymond Van De Moortell, STH Head Librarian, in 1998 so that the remaining folio-sized volumes could be returned to a research-level theological library in the Boston area. The Collection was donated to the STH Library in late 1998. The titles are mostly mid-to-late 19th century works, but also contain two fine 15th century works of polygot lexicons.
A link to BU Libraries Search, searching the cataloged items in the Dickinson Marks Collection.
Rev. Clyde Kimball, a graduate of the School of Religious Education and the School of Theology, served as a chaplain in World War II, and was killed at the Battle of the Bulge. In 1947, his widow donated his Bible collection in memory of the three School of Theology graduates who died in the chaplain service: Kimball, George E. Fox, and Raymond L. Hall. Though he began with New England imprints, Kimball’s collection of nearly 150 Bibles has a number of early European imprints that form the core of our antiquarian Bible collection.
The oldest item in the collection was published in Venice, September 7, 1497. It contains a water color frontispiece and many water color initials. It is the St. Jerome Vulgate Edition.
Simon B. Parker was the Harrell F. Beck Scholar of Hebrew Bible at the School of Theology; he passed away in 2006. Parker joined STH in 1981 as Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and was Associate Dean for Academic Affairs until 1988. He held a joint appointment at GRS and was named the Harrell F. Beck Scholar of Hebrew Scripture in 1991. The Simon Parker Collection consists of over 300 books from his private library, reflecting his areas of scholarly interest, which focused on the interpretation of biblical literature in its ancient literary, religious, and social contexts and its significance for the contemporary church. His early research concerned Israel’s inheritance from Canaanite culture, as represented especially in Ugaritic literature, and its transformation of that tradition. Later, his primary research interest was Hebrew inscriptions, their relation to other archaeological sources and biblical literature, and the light they shed on the social and religious life of ancient Judeans
This links to a collection in our catalog on the history, transmission, and interpretation of Biblical texts. This listing includes both the collection of Bibles in special collections below, and items available for public viewing online or checkout in the open stacks, oversize, or reference sections.
Where to Find These Items
The collections listed below are located in our Archives and Research Collection. Access to archival holdings (e.g. paper church records, personal papers, baptism certificates, etc). are by appointment only; please contact please contact the Archivist and Preservation Librarian (617 353-1323 or firstname.lastname@example.org). For access to books in our special collections, please find a full-time librarian on staff during normal business hours (Monday-Friday, 8:00am-6:00pm) who will be happy to pull the material for you.