Complutensian Polyglot Bible

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===Translation process===
===Translation process===
With the rise of the printing press in the 1450s, the Bible could be distributed much more efficiently. The works started on 1502 and took 15 years to be completed.
The works started on 1502 and took 15 years to be completed.
At great personal expense, Cardinal Cisneros acquired many manuscripts and invited the top religious scholars of the day, to work on the ambitious task of compiling a massive and complete polyglot "to revive the languishing study of the Sacred Scriptures".  
At great personal expense, Cardinal Cisneros acquired many manuscripts and invited the top religious scholars of the day, to work on the ambitious task of compiling a massive and complete polyglot "to revive the languishing study of the Sacred Scriptures".  
[[Diego López de Zúñiga (theologian)|Diego Lopez de Zúñiga]], was the chief editor and fluent in Latin as well as both Aramaic and Arabic.
[[Diego López de Zúñiga (theologian)|Diego Lopez de Zúñiga]], was the chief editor and fluent in Latin as well as both Aramaic and Arabic.

Current revision

The first page of the Complutensian Polyglot
The first page of the Complutensian Polyglot
Page from Complutensian Polyglot
Page from Complutensian Polyglot

The Complutensian Polyglot Bible, "Biblia Polyglotta Complutensia", is the name given to the first printed polyglot of the entire Bible, initiated and financed by Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros (1436-1517) and published by Complutense University of Madrid). It includes the first printed editions of the Greek New Testament, the complete Septuagint, and the Targum Onkelos. It came out in six volumes, and of the 600 copies printed, only 123 are known to have survived to date.




The polyglot bible was the result of Spain's long-lasting tradition of translations of texts. Through centuries the intellectual class of Iberia had developed a deep understanding of the issues of translation and the difficulty of conveying, or even interpreting meaning correctly across languages. Religious texts were known to be particularly difficult due to their high metaphorical content and how dependent on the context in which they were written they tended to be. This sparked a debate in Spain about the convenience of continuing the translation of religious texts and the best way to do it over a century prior to the reformation. The customary answer to this debate was to ask religious authorities to examine the translation and cross-check different translations to Castillian, but that in turn created a debate about the qualifications of the religious authority itself to properly translate from the original sources. One of the answers to this debate was the polyglot bible, which Cisneros hoped would end the issue forever.

Translation process

The works started on 1502 and took 15 years to be completed. At great personal expense, Cardinal Cisneros acquired many manuscripts and invited the top religious scholars of the day, to work on the ambitious task of compiling a massive and complete polyglot "to revive the languishing study of the Sacred Scriptures". Diego Lopez de Zúñiga, was the chief editor and fluent in Latin as well as both Aramaic and Arabic. He was given a team of various translators. Converted translators and academics were favoured and specifically sought since they were fluent in the source languages and the cultures of the texts. Second in command, Alfonso de Zamora (1476-1544) was a converted Jewish scholar, an expert in thalamic studies, and spoke Hebrew as his first language. Other conversos working on the project were Alfonso de Alcalá, Pablo de Coronel. Demetrius Ducas a scholar from Crete and Hernán Núñez de Toledo ("The Pincian") and Juan de Vergara were in charge of the translation from Greek manuscripts. Antonio de Nebrija was specifically called for the translation of the Vulgate. Hernán Núñez de Toledo was also the chief Latinist.

The scholars met in Alcalá de Henares, a city near Madrid also known by its Latin name Complutum, at Complutense University;

The New Testament was completed and printed in 1514, but its publication was delayed while work on the Old Testament continued, so they could be published together as a complete work.

Erasmus and publication privileges

Cisneros sought out Desiderius Erasmus (who refused twice) to work on the ambitious task of compiling a massive and complete polyglot "to revive the languishing study of the Sacred Scriptures." Erasmus, who produced his own printed edition of the Greek New Testament. Erasmus obtained an exclusive four-year publishing privilege from Emperor Maximilian and Pope Leo X in 1516. Theodore Beza's Greek NT Text was used primarily, along with Erasmus' Greek NT Text and with various readings from the Complutensian Greek NT Text to form the Textus Receptus. The Complutensian Polyglot Bible was a tertiary source for the 1611 King James Version.

The NT volume of was printed on 10 Jan 1514, which is volume five. Volumes 1-4 comprise the books of the Old Testament and they were completed on 10 July 1517 (according to the similar printed colophon at the end of volume four). Volume Six was most probably completed on 10 May 1515. Cardinal Cisneros died in July of 1517, five months after the Polyglot's completion, and never saw its publication. Christopher Plantin reprinted the Complutensian Greek text in antwerp in 1564, 1573, 1574, 1584 and 1590, and it was also printed in Geneva in 1609, 1619, 1620, 1628 and 1632.

The preface

Other page from Biblia Poliglotta Complutense
Other page from Biblia Poliglotta Complutense

The preface says:

There are many reasons, Holy Father, that impel us to print the languages of the original text of Holy Scripture. These are the principal ones. Words have their own unique character, and no translation of them, however complete, can entirely express their full meaning. This is especially the case in that language through which the Lord Himself spoke. The letter here of itself may be dead and like flesh which profits nought (‘for it is the spirit that gives life’ 2 Cor. 3:6) because Christ concealed by the form of the words remains enclosed within its womb. But there is no doubt that there is a rich fecundity so astonishing and an abundance of sacred mysteries so teeming that since it is ever full to overflowing ‘streams of living water shall flow out from His breast’ John 7:38. And from this source those to whom it has been given ‘to behold the glory of the Lord with an unveiled face and thus be transformed into that very image’ 2 Cor. 3:18 can continually draw the marvellous secrets of His divinity. Indeed there can be no language or combination of letters from which the most hidden meanings of heavenly wisdom do not emerge and burgeon forth, as it were. Since, however, the most learned translator can present only a part of this, the full Scripture in translation inevitably remains up to the present time laden with a variety of sublime truths which cannot be understood form any source other than the original language.
Moreover, wherever there is diversity in the Latin manuscripts or the suspicion of a corrupted reading (we know how frequently this occurs because of the ignorance and negligence of copyists), it is necessary to go back to the original source of Scripture, as St. Jerome and St. Augustine and other ecclesiastical writers advise us to do, to examine the authenticity of the books of the Old Testament in the light of the correctness of the Hebrew text and of the New Testament in the light of the Greek copies. And so that every student of Holy Scripture might have at hand the original texts themselves and be able to quench his thirst at the very fountainhead of the water that flows unto life everlasting and not have to content himself with rivulets alone, we ordered the original languages of Holy Scripture with their translations adjoined to be printed an dedicated to your Holiness. And we first took care to print the New Testament in Greek and Latin together with a lexicon of all the Greek expressions that can help those reading that language. Thus we spared no effort on behalf of those who have not acquired a full knowledge of the Greek tongue.


The Complutensian Polyglot Bible was published as a six-volume set. The first four volumes contain the Old Testament. Each page consists of three parallel columns of text: Hebrew on the outside, the Latin Vulgate in the middle (corrected by Antonio de Nebrija), and the Greek Septuagint on the inside. On each page of the Pentateuch, the Aramaic text (the Targum Onkelos) and its own Latin translation are added at the bottom. The fifth volume, the New Testament, consists of parallel columns of Greek and the Latin Vulgate. The sixth volume contains various Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek dictionaries and study aids.

Jerome's version of the Old Testament was placed between the Greek and Hebrew versions, thus the synagogue and the Eastern church, as the preface explains it, are set like the thieves on this side and on that, with Jesus (that is, the Roman Church) in the midst.

A magnificent full size (folio) facsimile edition was published in Valencia 1984-87. It is reproduced for the Bible text (volumes 1-5) from the copy in the Library of the Jesuit Society at Rome; the rare sixth volume with dictionaries has been reproduced from the copy in the Madrid University Library.

The typeface devised for the Complutensian by Arnaldo Guillén de Brocar has been regarded by typographers such as Robert Proctor as the apex of Greek typographical development in early printing, before Aldus Manutius' manuscript-based typefaces took over the market for the next two centuries. Proctor based his 1903 Otter Greek typeface on the Polyglot; the Greek Font Society's GFS Complutensian Greek is likewise based on the Polyglot.

Paratextual features

The Greek lines are mostly right-justified by the modern process of hyphenated word-breaks, whilst the Latin lines are right-justified by the rather unusual process of space-filling o's. But at times the same space-filling o's are also used on the Greek side when the Latin has additional material that is not present in the Complutensian Greek text (e.g., Ac 8:37; 9:5b-6a; 14:7; 23:25, etc.).


Although many of the manuscripts used are probably lost in time, some remaining Greek Minuscules which were probably used are: Minuscule 140, Minuscule 234, and Minuscule 432.

In the Preface to the reader Cisneros praises the Greek manuscripts sent by Pope Leo X from the Vatican Library and used for the Polyglot, as very old and pure (“vetustissima simul et emendatissima”). He mentions, in addition, other sources: a copy from a very correct manuscript belonging to the legacy of cardinal Bessarion, sent by the Venetian Senate; together with other manuscripts which were the fruit of a long and costly search for a large number of corrected codices.[1]

In the 19th century, Vercellone discovered in the Vatican Library, the proceedings of an inventory of the library of Leo X which were drawn up in 1518; he had edited this inventory and described the codices lent to Spain for the preparation of the Complutensian Bible, adding that they had been returned to the library.[2] These are Vaticanus Graecus 330 (=108 of Rahlfs’s Catalogue) and Vaticanus Graecus 346 (= 248 of Rahlfs’s Catalogue).[3] In the inventory, it is stated that they have used ‘very ancient and correct’ manuscripts (antiquissima emendatissimaque) which were supplied from the Vatican library by Pope Leo X himself:

Ordinary copies were not the archetypes for this impression, but very ancient and correct ones; and of such antiquity, that it would be utterly wrong not to own their authority; which the supreme pontiff Leo X., our most holy father in Christ and lord, desiring to favour this undertaking, sent from the apostolical library to the most reverend lord the cardinal of Spain, by whose authority and commandment we have this work printed.

The first contains the Octateuch, 1–4 Kingdoms, 1–2 Paralipomena, 1–2 Ezra, Judith, Esther (Septuagint and Alpha-text) and Tobit (incomplete); and the second contains Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job, Wisdom, Ben Sira (with the second Prolog), 1–2 Ezra, Esther, Tobit and Judith. It must be emphasized that ms. 330 has many Hexaplaric notes and arabic glosses as well as some Greek scholia to 2 Kingdoms. Ms. 248 is full of Hexaplaric notes in the margins without any indication of the sigla to which those notes should be attributed. As we shall see below, this circumstance may explain some Complutensian singular readings at the beginning of the book of Job.


See also


  • 1. “Quod autem ad Graecam scripturam attinet: illud te non latere volumus: non vulgaria seu temere oblata exemplaria fuisse huic nostrae impressioni archetypa: sed vetustissima simul et emendatissima: quae sanctissimus Dominus noster Leo Decimus Pontifex Maximus coeptis nostris aspirans ex ipsa apostolica Bibliotheca ad nos misit: tantae integritatis: ut nisi eis plena fides adhibeatur: nulli reliqui esse videantur: quibus merito sit adhibenda. Quibus etiam adiunximus alia non pauca: quorum partem ex Bessarionis castigatissimo codice summa diligentia transcriptam Illustris Venetorum Senatus ad nos misit: partem ipsi magnis laboribus et expensis undique conquisivimus: ut copia emendatorum codicum abunde supesset,” Prologus ad Lectorem, IIII of the Alcalá Polyglot.
  • 2. C. Vercellone, Dissertazioni accademiche (Rome, 1864), 409.
  • 3. A. Rahlfs, Verzeichnis der griechischen Handschriften des Alten Testaments (Berlin, 1914).

Further Reading

  • Lyell, James P. R. (1917), Cardinal Ximenes, Statesman, Ecclesiastic, Soldier, and Man of Letters: with an Account of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible. London: Coptic House, 1917.
  • Rummel, Erika. Jiménez de Cisneros: On the Threshold of Spain’s Golden Age. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999.

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