Last summer, research librarian Wiltrud Baumann stumbled upon a box that had not been opened since World War II. Intrigued, she started going through its contents.
Her curiosity paid off.
What the librarian at the Wrttemberg State Library in Stuttgart, Germany, had uncovered was one of the rarest books in the world: a first edition of William Tyndale's "The newe Testament," printed in Worms on the Rhine in 1526 by one of Johann Gutenberg's former apprentices (Peter Schoeffer).
Engraved on its calfskin cover was the likeness of German Lutheran Prince Ottheinrich I of Heidelberg and the date 1550. Sandwiched inside was an English New Testament with a title page that made no mention of a translator, printer, or even printing date.
Ms. Baumann realized the potential identity of her find after comparing the decorative page with facsimiles of other Bibles printed in Germany. The library sought the advice of others to confirm its suspicions. Mervyn Jannetta, head of the English Antiquarian Collections at the British Library, affirmed the authenticity of the volume.
"The discovery," he says, "is a cause for great celebration," considering that of the original stock of 3,000 only three have survived, and of these only the newly discovered one in Stuttgart still has the original title leaf. Since 1994, the British Library has been the owner of an almost complete 1526 octavo first printing of Tyndale's New Testament. It and the Stuttgart find are currently on display at the New York Public Library in the United States.
The third, albeit textually incomplete, copy has been in the possession of St. Paul's Cathedral in London since the 19th century.
William Tyndale (also Tyndall and Tindale), a Roman Catholic priest, was the first to translate the entire New Testament into English from the original Greek. He was an early admirer and conscious imitator of the German Reformer Martin Luther.
Like Luther, who translated the New Testament into German in 1522 without providing his name, Tyndale, at first, also chose to remain anonymous, as the title page shows. In the forewords to their translations, both men drew on Mark 16:15, making known their intent to ultimately spread the Gospel "unto al creatures."