Notes from the Archives: The Big Bible

In March of this year the Bible Society of Maine donated to the Maine Historical Society a large handwritten Bible, which we affectionately refer to as “The Big Bible.”

Coll. 2951 Big Bible 2

Coll. 2951 Big Bible title page 1

The Bible Society of Maine provides some background to this tome:

“The project, initiated in 1923 by then Superintendent of the Bible Society, Edmund T Garland, involved distributing pages from an old Bible along with large (21’x28′) blank sheets.

Individuals from across the State each copied a page using pen and ink. The desire was for a broad cross-section of citizens to participate.

The oldest was Aunt Mary, a 91-year-old Quaker from Brunswick; the youngest was a 6-year-old who wrote, ‘Jesus wept.’ One page was written by a millionaire, one by a pauper. One copyist was a college president; another was a man whose whole school life consisted of only a few weeks. Another was written by then Gov. Percival Baxter [Editor’s note: Governor Baxter’s page is the last page (Revelations)], and yet another by a prisoner serving a life term. A Jewish Rabbi and a Greek Catholic Priest did their pages with equal grace, and the Book of Ruth was copied by girls named Ruth. Many of the copyists were students at secondary schools or colleges, including a student from Cuba. Each signed their name at the bottom of the page.

There are also beautifully ink-drawn, full-page illustrations. Includes a hand-drawn title page by H. W. Shaylor that states ‘Hand-written copy of The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments copied by 1607 Different People representing all classes, ages, and creeds with Seventeen full-page Illustrations and Maps made by seventeen other people.”

The Big Bible, also known as the Large Handwritten Bible, is one of the largest Bibles in the world and weighs about 88 pounds.

Although the names of the 1,607 transcribers were already indexed (and available in a small pamphlet), we asked our volunteer Charles A. Lane, Esq. (Charlie to us) to further index the transcribers so that we can learn more about them, such as where they lived and what school or organization they were associated with.

After Charlie finished this project we asked him to write about The Big Bible. He said:

“The Big Bible is an imposing document, measuring 23 x 29 x 4 ½ inches and weighing 88 ½ pounds. It was compiled under the auspices of the Bible Society of Maine from May 1923 to July 1924. 1607 persons volunteered as scribes, copying the text of the Old and New Testaments on paper which was carefully sized and ruled so that each page would contain 55 lines of text.

The participants come from many different backgrounds: one had served as a missionary in Japan from 1882-1919; one was the dean of Bowdoin College; one was a young student from Auburn who later would serve as an associate justice of the Maine Supreme Court; the youngest scribe (who noted that her birthdate was December 25, 1916) was seven; and Percival P. Baxter proudly inscribed the final page as Governor of Maine.

Some participants were critical of their peers: “This page was well written by Hazel Dwelley. . . and then spoiled by [a] careless writer. …”

The Bible contains drawings illustrating familiar Biblical stories and ends with several maps drawn by students at the Emerson School in Portland.

I came away from the project wondering how more than 1600 participants could write so legibly in cursive.

Below is a slideshow of photos of The Big Bible.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You are welcome to come and visit The Big Bible and use it for research. To do so, you can look it up on our Minerva library catalog (Coll. 2951), and call our library to make an appointment to see this special treasure.

For additional reading on The Big Bible, here is a Memories of Maine article about the Bible published in the spring of 2011 by writer Bonnie Smith.

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2 thoughts on “Notes from the Archives: The Big Bible

  1. Susan Cummings-Lawrence

    Hi Nancy:

    Could you send me the text separately? I’m having a computer problem and can’t access links in e-mail. Thanks.

    S.

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