Sam Bussan says he was almost ready to split for the day.

It was late one September afternoon, and Bussan, a junior at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon, was getting ready to leave the school’s archives, where he worked.

But as he was walking out, Bussan spotted a sign on a shelf.

“Bibles four boxes,” the sign read.

“And I thought that was interesting,” Bussan said.

So he investigated.

He looked in one box, then another, he recalled in an interview.

Eventually, Bussan found a Geneva Bible, which may be more than 400 years old.

“More than anything else, it’s just very moving to have something that’s made it 400 years, sitting right in front of me,” Bussan said.

A find like this Geneva Bible is significant not necessarily because of the book’s age, but because of the larger story it can tell, said Zachariah Selley, associate head of special collections and college archives at Lewis & Clark.

“A lot of the ways we teach with this type of material is, we look at the history of printing, or the history of information, in context through the ages,” Selley said. “Not necessarily just looking at the content of a book.”

In other words, there’s more to take away from this Bible than just what it contains, Selley said.

Something like this is unique, he said, because historians can look at its prominence as a way to disseminate information from the time.

“The 1599 Geneva version of the Bible is a perfect example of that, because it’s one of the best annotated, indexed and referenced versions of the Bible that had been printed and was available to the general public at the time, so it was very revolutionary in that way,” Selley said.

Gordon Campbell – a historian for the Museum of the Bible, which is expected to open in 2017 – said the Geneva Bible was widely read in England; he called it “really kind of a study Bible, to be read by individuals.”

The Geneva Bible was “the first really competent translation of the Old Testament,” according to Campbell. And it had extensive notes, to help readers understand.

The Geneva Bible, the Library of Congress says, “was used by the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England until it was gradually replaced by the King James Bible of 1611.

Hannah Crummé, the library’s head of special collections and college archivist, told the Oregonian that the Geneva Bible found at Lewis & Clark was in fairly good condition, with just a few ripped pages.

Here’s a little more on this particular book’s history, according to the newspaper:

“Crummé has traced the Bible’s ownership back to Francis Fry, a 19th-century Bible collector in England. From Fry, the Bible apparently went to a London bookseller, who sold it to the Rev. Clarence Baerveldt, a pastor in Waldport and Yachats, who gave it to Lewis & Clark. Along the way, it’s possible the Bible made a stop in the southern Oregon community of Roseburg – Crummé said she found a Roseburg address written on a page.

“Crummé thinks the Bible was put in storage in 1967, the year Lewis & Clark dropped its century-old affiliation with the Presbyterian Church and the year Watzek Library was built, providing a convenient basement.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.