HWO’s Radical Books series shares subversive, seminal, and seismic texts that have shaped understandings of radical history, provoked controversy in their time, or sparked social change.
In 1534, the German theologist Martin Luther combined radical theology with revolutionary technology to publish the first vernacular translation of the Old and New Testament – now known as the Luther Bible. It was a seminal moment in development of the Protestant Reformation, print culture, and the German language.
Luther believed that people of all ranks should have direct access to the word of God, unmediated by Latin or priests. While translating, Luther travelled to towns and markets to listen to people speaking, as he wanted his translations to reflect language as it was used at home and in the street. 117 woodcuts by Lucas Cranach the Elder were also included in the first edition of the Luther Bible (including the image above), making the textual message comprehensible even to illiterate laypeople. Luther even had large print copies made for those with failing eye-sight!
100,000 copies were printed over the next forty years by one German printer alone and it became staple in almost every German Protestant household. The Luther Bible also influenced translations across Europe – including the King James Bible of 1611 – giving form to Luther’s wish that ‘this one book were in every language, in every hand before the eyes, and in the ears and hearts of all men!’
Find out more about the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation here.