Biblia, det er den gantske
aka "King Christian III Bible"
A. D. 1550
First Danish Bible
The Danes' first complete bible was published in 1550. The title page read Biblia, det er den gantske but the common designation is the King Christian llI Bible. After the Reformation in 1536, when King Christian broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, he wanted to give the Danish people the opportunity to read the bible in their own language and therefore wanted to have the first complete bible written in Danish. He engaged a famous and very fine linguist, Christian Pedersen, to make a translation into fine, plain, understandable Danish, a language meant for the common man. Christian Pedersen succeeded in this so well that his use of language became as important for the Danish written language as Tyndale's translation of the bible was for the English language.
King Christian was very interested in the work and words of Martin Luther. The king had met Luther in Worms and heard him preaching, and it is easy to find proof of the influence (on the king) by the two Luther bibles — the Low German Bible of 1533 and Luther's Bible of 1534, as well as by the Wittenberg edition of 1545.
In 1549 the Danish version, with all its alterations, was finally ready for printing. The king, who had needed to find the money for this huge project, actually invented the modem system of subscribing. He forced every church in Denmark, every parish, to pay in advance one third of the price of the book. It was not only in the Denmark we know today, but in the old Denmark that in those days consisted of Norway, Iceland and the southern part of Sweden as well as the northern part of Germany. He started the subscription well before the printing began. From documentary evidence we know that already in 1546 the tax authorities were told to force the churches to pay. Not all parishes were happy about this arrangement. For instance, the Norwegians were very reluctant, as they were very discontented with Danish supremacy. Nevertheless, the king did get his money, and the book was delivered to all. The final price was 5 rigsdaler, equivalent to the price of an ox.
The actual costs of the production of 3000 volumes were much higher, but the king eventually managed to find all the money. He had already bought the paper from Holland and had had it stored for several years. To finance this, he had borrowed money from government taxes (a detailed account concerning this sum shows that the king later settled his debt). He also found the book printer. No printer in Denmark could manage such a huge production as this, so the king negotiated a contract with Ludwig Dietz from Rostock, Germany which resulted in importing not only the printer and his men, but also his whole workshop. He arrived late in 1548, well experienced, as he was the master printer of the wonderful first Luther bible. According to the contract, he brought with him all the type and matrices, including the matrices for the title page, also used in the Plat-German Luther Bible of 1533. It was stipulated in the contract that the Danish bible should be printed and produced in exactly the same way and with the same material as the Luther Bible.
The life of a book printer is not always easy, neither then nor now, so when Ludwig Dietz presented the first prints to the king, the king was not at all happy. He insisted that the type Dietz had used was too small and not readable and that the whole layout was not as in the German version. He said that if the type could not be any bigger, he wanted to cancel the whole project. Whether the king's eyesight had grown worse or he just wanted to scare the book printer is unknown, but something or somebody must have convinced the king that everything was exactly as in the German bible, because in January 1549 he agreed that Dietz could start the printing and in June 1550 the printing work was finished. This book is still looked upon as one of the finest bibles.
On the title page is Erhard Altdorfer's beautiful woodcarving. Later it was used for the Thomas Matthew Bible. The picture is very beautiful both in the German and the Danish editions, but is said to be not quite as accurate in the Matthew bible. Those who examine the title page carefully will not a big tree divides the whole page in two, describing the Old Testament and the New Testament. On the Old Testament side you see Moses on the Sinai Mountain receiving the two tablets of testimony from the Lord. Also pictured is the Fall of man and death symbolized by the coffin with a dead body on top. Also on the Old Testament side you will see that the leaves of the tree are dead and dry, whereas in the New Testament half the many leaves are fresh as this part symbolizes the work of Christ our Saviour. You see the crucifixion of Christ and at the foot of the tree the Sinner. John the Baptist and the Jewish rabbi both point towards the resurrected Christ, symbolizing that Jesus will save all sinners. Exodus 34 verse 35 reads that 'the skin of Moses' face shone' while he talked with God. This sentence was for centuries wrongly translated from the Latin Vulgate, 'Moses had horns on his forehead'. Therefore, you will notice that Altdorfer has pictured Moses with horns, as you often see in many early pictures and statues of Moses, including that of Michaelangelo.