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"This Testament shall be Luther's German Testament": Luther's Definitive Text

[Biblia germanica - NT]. Luther, Martin. Das Newe Testament Mar. Luthers.

Wittenberg, (Hans Lufft), 1530.

8vo (130 x 185 mm). (328) ff. (A-Z8, a-s8). With woodcut title border, 36 full-page woodcuts (including 3 repeats) and woodcut initials. Contemporary dark brown full calf, blindstamped with tendril designs framing a crucifix (upper cover) and four rows of tendril rolls (lower cover). Remains of clasps; spine on 3 raised bands, professionally repaired.

Exceptionally rare impression of Luther's New Testament in German, the original edition of the last text he issued before incorporating it into his first complete German Bible of 1534. Luther's first edition of the German New Testament, famously published in September 1522, had been a single-handed effort, the work of no more than eleven intensely laborious weeks which he had spent in hiding at the Wartburg. An expensive folio production, it nevertheless sold out in less than three months. During the following years Luther had moved on to tackle various books of the Old Testament, for the preparation of which he employed the help and advice of several friends whose knowledge of Hebrew he felt to be superior. In 1529 however, as part of his work towards a complete German Bible, he meticulously revised (with the support of Melanchthon) his earlier version of the New Testament, and the present edition went forth at Frankfurt's 1530 Easter Book Fair. For the first time it appeared in the pocket-size octavo format, containing several new woodcuts by Georg Lemberger which maintained the style of the Lucas Cranach illustrations. Notably, the woodcut of St. Matthew is a portrait of Luther himself. The 25th illustration of the Apocalypse introduces a surprisingly topical slant, picturing Gog and Magog as the Turkish army which had besieged Vienna the previous year: St. Stephen's Cathedral is clearly visible, and the city wall bears the inscription "Wien", lest even the most obtuse of readers miss the point (indeed, a marginal note in the text opposite spells out the identification). As for the edition's textual changes, "the improvements were grammatical, syntactical, and stylistic in nature, but often were also theologically motivated. In particular, the changes to the prefaces are of theological importance: Luther expanded the prologue to the First Epistle to the Corinthians; the Revelation's introduction was expanded eightfold and given a wholly new character, which was now closer to a true commentary - or rather to a polemic which drew its incisiveness from its capacity to bring up to date the interpretation of the Holy Scripture" (cf. Reinitzer, p. 153). Luther's translation "was of vital importance to the progress of the Reformation, giving a new impetus to the study of the scriptures in the vernacular all over Europe. It also was to have as profound an influence on the development of the German language as the King James Bible later had on English" (PMM 51). The verso of the title page bears Luther's sardonic warning to piratical printers and competing translators: "I beg all my friends and foes, my masters, printers, and readers, let this New Testament be mine. If they lack one, let them make one for themselves. I know full well what I am doing, as I am well aware of what others are doing, but this Testament shall be Luther's German Testament; for there is not measure nor end to fault-finding and second-guessing." The demand for the book proved enormous: by the time Luther's German Bible was published in 1534, over 80 editions of his New Testament had appeared, and by the time of his death the reprints numbered at least 330. Even the original 1530 Testament exists in two collations with three different title pages, all equally rare: earlier that the same year, the printer Lufft had produced a 412-leaf Testament with a significantly narrower printed space, which he then reissued with a changed title woodcut. The title page of the present, final variant, re-set with a wider printed space and a title border showing tendril-entwined columns at the sides and medallions at the top and bottom, is the one pictured in Reinitzer (fig. 81).

Insignificant browning and occasional light fingerstaining, with a few 17th or 18th century underlinings in brown crayon and occasional annotations in an early 18th century hand. The first of the final endpapers has writing on both sides, containing diary entries for the years 1731 to 1733. These notes (by one Johann Georg Rüger from Zell near Schweinfurt in Lower Franconia) are not without interest, as they record events such as the writer's unexpected assistance at a birth ("Heut tato den 17 Junii 1731 hab ich in schwein furth Ein Kint müsen heben, Martin Albrecht, ich Johann Georg Rüger"), the burial of the local shepherd (noting the pallbearers by name, as well as the passage from the Epistle to the Romans read at the funeral), or the transferral of the local priest and the arrival of the new one (noting the passage from the Acts of the Apostles read by Pastor Johann Englert at the investiture, as well as the writer's own participation in the ceremony as a trumpeter). A later pencil ownership ("Johann Valentin Hoffman 1779") in an uneducated hand on the verso of the final index leaf opposite.

No copy in auction records since 1950. VD 16 lists only two copies in libraries (Coburg and Wolfenbüttel), to which Pietsch adds a copy in Bamberg, as well as incomplete copies in Berlin and Hamburg.


VD 16 B 4400. Benzing 1530.3. Pietsch 34. Reinitzer, Biblia deutsch, no. 85 (with fig. 81). Panzer 77, 14. Bindseil VI, p. XV, e15. Muther, Bilderbibeln 255; Bücherillustration 1609. OCLC 258150473. Not in Bibelslg. Württemberg (but cf. Abt. 2, vol. 1, E 232). Not in Darlow/Moule. Cf. Ursprung der Biblia Deutsch (Exhibition cat., Stuttgart 1983), IVC 2, no. 6.