On December 8, 2015, it was discovered that Princeton University Library’s “copy 2” of the Greek Bible, Tēs Theias graphēs : Palaias Dēladē kai Neas Diathēkēs hapanta (Basel: Johannes Hervagius, 1545), with a Latin preface by the Lutheran reformer Philipp Melanchthon, has an important but long forgotten provenance. The title page bears a mid-sixteenth-century inscription written by Johannes Willibrochius (d. 1606) of Danzig that records his presentation of the Greek Bible to his friend “M. Martino Kemnitz,” i.e., Martin Chemnitz (1522–1586).
Both of these men were pupils of Melanchthon at the University of Wittenberg in the early 1550s, and Chemnitz went on to became the most important Lutheran scholar of his generation. He came to be known as “Alter Martinus” (the Second Martin), as his theological writings were essential for the sustained success of Lutheranism after the death of its founder and namesake in 1546.
Early biographies of Chemnitz mention his careful study of the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek during the early 1550s, and indeed the Old Testament of Princeton’s Greek Bible bears thousands of marginal annotations in Greek and occasionally in Latin, written in a neat script that matches that of Chemnitz’s autograph letters. The annotations are mainly content notes, with some brief definitions and comments, but not many extended thoughts.
Johannes Willebrochius, who gave the Bible to Chemnitz, was an important figure in his own right. After his graduation from Wittenberg in 1552 he became a leading physician in Danzig. Later, he served as court physician to Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria at Prague and Innsbruck. Like Chemnitz, Willebrochius wrote theological works that ended up on the Tridentine Index of Prohibited Books. The few notes within Princeton’s Greek Bible of 1545 that were not written by Chemnitz clearly match the handwriting found in the letters of Willebrochius.
Dated 1550, the folio Bible’s pigskin binding bears the stamped initials “JW.” These initials clearly were added for Johannes Willebrochius before he gave the book to Chemnitz. Other stamps and rolls used to decorate the covers, including a rolled frieze (at right) with roundel portrait busts of Duke Friedrich of Saxony, Hercules, Antoninus, and Septimius Severus, dated 1524 on the surface of the tool itself, indicate that the binding was produced in Wittemberg by the noted master binder Nikolaus Müller.
The Greek Bible was donated to Princeton University Library on December 8, 1965, by Dr. Margaret Irving Handy (1889-1977), pioneering pediatrician of Delaware. It bears the signature of her grandfather, Rev. William Collins Handy (1835-1909), Princeton Class of 1855 (Divinity), later a prominent Presbyterian of New Scotland, New York, who seems to have purchased the old Bible for $1.83 in 1862. His brief autobiography of 1895, reprinted in the Princeton University Library Chronicle 30/3 (Spring, 1969), 200-203, unfortunately makes no mention of his Bible. Interestingly, the rediscovery of the Chemnitz provenance occurred exactly 50 years (to the day) after the granddaughter’s gift to Princeton.
The “Chemnitz Bible,” heretofore unrecognized, is rich in research potential: for example, Princeton’s Prof. Anthony Grafton noticed that one of Chemnitz’s Latin marginalia, concerning the Vulgate version’s corruption of Genesis 3:15, cites “Philip” and quotes Melanchthon’s letter of January 1, 1539, addressed to “studiosis adolescentibus” (see Melanchthoniana paedogogica, ed. Karl Hartfelder (Leipzig: Teubner, 1892), 55). The Bible may be consulted in the Rare Books Reading Room; its call number is EX Oversize 5156.1545aq.