Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »
The Perfect Gift for Travelers: Our #1 New York Times® best selling book »

Fleeting Wonders: A Chance to Buy a Wicked Bible

The offending error. (Photo: Bonhams)

If you’re extremely wealthy and extremely corrupt, get your credit cards ready—because next month, for one day only, you’ll have a chance to buy a Bible that tells you to go ahead and sin

There are only about 10 remaining copies of the Wicked Bible, also known as the Sinners’ Bible or Adulterous Bible. Printed in 1631, this edition became famous because of an embarrassing error. (Or an encouraging error, depending on your moral code.) Instead of the commandment reading “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” this one says “Thou shalt.”

Originally, printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas ran off about 1,000 of these bad boys, and apparently nobody noticed for a year. Eventually Barker and Lucas were fined £300 for their carelessness (a much bigger sum in the 1700s, more like $65,000 today), and their printers’ licenses were revoked. (This would have been especially harsh if, as some believe, the error was actually an act of sabotage by rival printer Bonham Norton.) Barker especially seems to have been unmoored by the incident; he was in and out of prison for the next ten years, and died there in 1645.

A printer’s workshop in 1643, about a decade after the Wicked Bible was printed. (Photo: Public domain/WikiCommons)

Most of the print run was destroyed, but a few copies sneaked past the censors. There’s one at the New York Public Library, but the public rarely gets to see it, and one at the Dunham Bible Museum in Houston. A copy is listed at Bible dealer Greatsite.com for $99,500, but it doesn’t appear among their Bibles available to purchase. And on November 11, there will be one up for sale at London auction house Bonhams, with an asking price of £10,000 to £15,000 (around $15,000 to $23,000).

So, sinners of the world, get ready to spend your nest egg on a book that says you can do whatever you want with thy neighbor’s wife – but make sure it’s your nest egg. Even the Wicked Bible doesn’t say “thou shalt steal.”

Title page of the Wicked Bible. (Photo: Public domain/WikiCommons)

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to edit@atlasobscura.com.