FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Nearly 400 years ago, the words were printed on its pages. Two-hundred years ago, Susannah Westlye willed it to a woman and her son. Fifty years ago, a U.S. serviceman bought it from a bookstore owner in England. This year, the serviceman sold it to a Southern Baptist pastor in Florida.
Now, this King James Bible has found a home at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. According to its title page, the Bible was printed in 1613, making it the oldest authorized version Bible in Southwestern’s collection.
Waylon B. Moore, a Southwestern graduate, donated the Bible to the seminary during a Nov. 23 chapel after purchasing it earlier this year from a man in Florida.
The Bible is believed to be a subsequent printing of the 1611 first edition, said Berry Driver, Southwestern’s director of libraries.
“The King James [Bible] people have now is not [like] this [version],” Driver said. “It went through several significant revisions.”
The Bible includes the Apocrypha, margin notes, a read-through-the-Bible chart, and a “Find Easter Forever” chart. It measures 16 3/8 inches long, 11 inches wide and 4 1/4 inches thick. The cover is brown leather wrapped around a wooden board with two large metal clasps. The paper is ragpaper.
Driver estimated the value of the Bible at $8,000 to $9,000.
The inscription willing the book to Mary Goolidge and her son, Joseph, was signed by Susannah Westlye and dated 1798. There is no known connection with the famous Wesley family of the 18th century. John and Charles Wesley’s mother, Susanna, died in 1742, John did not have children and none of Charles’ children who survived to adulthood were named Susanna.
Southwestern archivist Mike Pullin will consult University of North Texas rare book expert Ken Lavender to get suggestions on preserving the Bible and insights on verifying its authenticity. Pullin also plans to study the history of the Bible.
Additionally, the Bible “tells us quite a bit about the history of printing,” Driver said. “We will examine this Bible and learn quite a bit about how manuscripts were printed and preserved.”
He said the copious footnotes in the Bible will be of particular interest.
About 25 years ago, Moore, then the pastor of Spencer Memorial Baptist in Tampa, Fla., said a man who listened to Moore’s radio program called and asked the pastor to visit him. After talking with him for more than an hour, Moore recalled, the man brought out the Bible, telling Moore that he had purchased it from a bookstore owner in England at the end of World War II.
Moore did not say how much the man paid for the Bible but did say that immediately after the war the European economy was decimated and he believed the bookstore owner desperately needed money and took whatever the serviceman offered.
Moore borrowed the Bible for a television program, and when he returned it, the man, who asked not to be identified, offered to sell it to him, but Moore couldn’t afford the asking price.
Moore and the man kept in touch over the years. This year, the man said he was getting older and that no one in his family loved the Bible the way Moore did.
“I wanted it for my seminary and for the young ministerial students to see what a person had to go through to read the King James,” Moore recalled telling the man. “I want it for the preachers to know about these early translations.”
The man asked Moore to make him an offer on the Bible.
After praying with his wife, Moore offered “much less than [the man] originally asked” and the man accepted.
Southwestern’s next-oldest King James Bible was printed in 1616. Its oldest Bible is a polyglot printed between 1514 and 1517 and released in 1522.
Moore has a three-generation connection to Southwestern. He was born in Fort Worth when his father was a music professor at Southwestern. He graduated from Southwestern in 1952 with a bachelor of divinity, and his son and daughter earned degrees from Southwestern in the 1980s.