Treasures in the United Methodist Archives: The “He Bible”

Archivist Brian Shelter shows a rare first edition King James "He" Bible in the Drew collection.
Archivist Brian Shelter shows a rare first edition King James "He" Bible in the Drew collection.

The United Methodist archives at Drew University in Madison, N.J., features more than 100,000 rare books and thousands of photos and artifacts related to the history of Methodism. In a collection this size, treasured items can be “buried” only to be rediscovered again. Such was the case with a donated family Bible printed in 1611, which happens to be a priceless antique.

The book is a rare, first edition of the King James Bible, which contains a typo in the Book of Ruth. Ruth is mistakenly referred to as “he.” There are less than 200 known copies of the misprinted “He Bible” in existence today.

Brian Shetler is the Head of Special Collections & University Archives at Drew. In 2015, he was a doctoral candidate working in the library. Shetler discovered the Bible while gathering a sampling of 17th-century books to show to a history class. The Bible was in a box labeled “Bible,” “1611” and “Robert Barker.”

“I just thought, ‘Oh that’s interesting,’” says Shetler. “I knew Barker had published the King James Bible, but I thought there was no way we would have one and not know about it.”

Shetler and Cassie Brand, the library’s special collections cataloger, authenticated the find. Archivists say the title page was missing but a seller’s note believed to be from the 18th century listed the item as a “He Bible” with a sales price of 2 pounds, 12 shillings.

In 2016, Drew displayed the “He Bible” in a temporary exhibit called “Discoveries and Donations.” For now, the book is no longer on full-time display. However, researchers and visitors can view the book in the library’s reading room on request. The “He Bible” remains one of the archive’s most requested and popular items.

Click here for a video of Cassie Brand showing highlights from the rare book. 

Transcript:
(Madison, New Jersey)

In 2015, Drew University rediscovered a rare treasure among the items donated over the years.

Cassie Brand, Methodist Library Associate:
“So most of us are familiar with the Kings James Bible. What we have here is the first edition, first printing of the King James Bible from 1611. What makes this different from the second printing is this typo here. And he went into the city. He here is referring to Ruth. And that’s why this is called the ‘He Bible.’

So, this is actually copy 194, which means there are 194 copies of this particular printing that are known in the world. And we rediscovered it. One of my favorite things about this Bible is the family history you find here on the back of the New Testament title page. You can see that it’s actually being used as a family Bible. And here they’re recording the births of the family.

One of my favorite things about this Bible is the family history that you find on the back of the New Testament title page. You can see they’re using it as a family Bible. And here is where they’re recording the births in the family.

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Special thanks to Drew University for photos and quotes used in this story.

This video was posted by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee.

Media contact is Joe Iovino.

This video was first posted on April 30, 2020.