Modeled on Zürich: a fresh study of Miles Coverdale’s 1535 Bible

Developed from the appendices to my doctoral thesis, this article in the journal Reformation was published as part of a special issue, in memory of the great Tyndale scholar David Daniell (1929-2016). Scholars have often assumed that the 1534 Zurich Bible was simply a reprint of the 1531 edition. This is a false assumption. Indeed, the differences are sufficient to prove that the first English bible in print had a manifest dependency on the later version, demonstrable in spite of the fact that Coverdale used other sources. The argument is necessarily forensic, the careful groundwork enabling subsequent illustration of Coverdale’s own agency as a translator.

Abstract: In the preliminaries of his 1535 Bible, Miles Coverdale (1488–1569) openly declared his dependence on five sundry sources. The challenge of identifying all five has obscured the strong and unique relationship between Coverdale’s text and the bibles produced at Zürich. Findings from a systematic study of the book of Ruth combine with observations on the Coverdale Bible as a whole, to provide irrefutable evidence that the 1534 Zürich Bible had a unique position among Coverdale’s sources. Reading Coverdale alongside an informed selection of contemporary versions sheds fresh light on factors at work in the translator’s decision process – including theological, political and social interests. The centrality of Zürich as a model prompts speculation about the relationship between English reformers and the Zürich church in the mid-1530s, with import also for Henry VIII’s “Great Matter.”

The full text is available from Taylor and Francis.

Parts of this work were presented to the Early Modern Discussion Group at the University of Sheffield, Hull & District Theological Society, and the Society of Old Testament Studies. Along with the anonymous peer reviewers, the editor (Mark Rankin), and my doctoral examiners, I was also fortunate to receive feedback on various iterations from Diarmaid MacCulloch and Anthony Milton.

For those without institutional access, please contact me for advice on how best to obtain a copy.

The image at the head of this page is a detail from the Facsimile of the 1534 Zurich Bible, courtesy of e-rara. They have preserved many rare Swiss books digitally, and such resources made the final stages of this study infinitely easier. Froschauer was the publisher of Zurich bibles, and the image shows the opening of his address to the reader, in which he explains (some of) the changes made between this and the previous edition.

David Daniell Special Issue of Reformation

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