Antwerp Conference Paper 2002

Reformation Bibles and the Personal Computer

Kaoru Yamazaki
The author gratefully acknowledges the help given by Judith Munzinger in adapting this paper, originally given at The Antwerp Conference 2002, for publication.

The history of Reformation Bibles, the printing of the Bible in the vernacular and the Personal Computer have many similarities.

In the study of the English Bible, William Tyndale is without question one of the greatest pioneers. The idea for the personal computer came from an engineer, Alan Kay (1940-), but little attention has been given to the process and history of this invention. Here, we are concerned with the achievements of William Tyndale and Alan Kay from a new perspective. First, we will consider and compare the development of technical processes from the Gutenberg Bible to the Reformation Bibles, and then the same development on the computer side from first-generation computers to personal computers.

Technical processes – the Bible
By the end of the second century AD the Chinese had apparently discovered that the two elements necessary for printing were paper and ink. In the sixth century, they invented the wood block. The technique of printing itself developed in Europe in the fifteenth century rather than in the Far East, even though the principle had been known there long before. There were two necessary elements in the invention of typographic printing in Europe. First, the invention of movable type cast from matrix and, second, the concept of the printing press itself, an idea that had never been developed in the Far East.

Then Gutenberg appeared on the scene. Born in Mainz, Germany, around 1397, his major contribution to printing came while he was working as a goldsmith. [1] He published the 42-line Bible around 1455. “The Gutenberg Bible provided a new orientation for the production of the Bible as a book, which pointed the way to the future, in particular to Luther’s translation project and the other vernacular Bibles.” [2] However, the Gutenberg Bible is a royal folio, that is, made of royal-size sheets of paper (400 mm x 280 mm). The size of the printing itself is 292 mm x 198 mm. This was the standard size and format of all of the earliest printed Vulgate Bibles up to 1475, when Venetian Bibleprinting began. “The Venetian Bibles, though also folio format, were printed on the smaller sheets which may be called Chancery paper, producing a leaf height of about 30 cm (12 inches) or a little less if the trim is not too severe. Unfortunately, incunabula catalogues treat all folios as identical, without distinguishing paper size.” [3]

Smaller-format Vulgate Bibles were introduced: “It is a commonplace that in 1491 Johann Froben of Basel produced the first ‘pocket bible’ – specially, an octavo Bible ….” [4]

A great Venetian printer, Aldus Manutius (1452-1516), established the Aldine Press and began the dissemination of classical texts as portable octavo books, and he introduced many innovations into the world of printing, thus providing a great service for travelling scholars. Nonetheless, this important development was not reflected immediately in the production of Reformation Bibles. Martin Luther (1483-1548) translated the Bible into German and published it in September 1522. However, the successful dissemination of a Reformation Bible had two requirements: portable size and the vernacular which were met not by Martin Luther, but by William Tyndale.

Professor David Daniell says in his biography of Tyndale “Luther improved the looks as well as the comprehensibility. His first Testaments and Bibles were still big, however: it was Tyndale who began with smart, small, but very readable pocket-sized volumes, with his New Testaments and Pentateuch”. [5] Tyndale published many works in a small format - the New Testament, the Cologne quarto 1525, the Worms octavo 1526, the revised Antwerp octavo 1534. In effect, he brought us a portable and vernacular Bible and thus opened the door to individual experience with God. That was the beginning of the vernacular, portable Bibles we know today. [6]

Technical processes – Computers [7]
Now let us look at progress in the development of computers. By the mid-twentieth century a computer was a digital calculator with a stored changeable program as a scientific signification. In that sense, the Hungarian- American mathematician, John von Neumann, wrote in 1944 the First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC in which he outlined the architecture of a stored-program digital calculator. The first Neumann machine was completed in Cambridge in 1949 as EDSAC (Electric Delay Storage Automatic Calculator).

Since then, the development of the computer has kept pace with that of the semi-conductor. The semi-conductor accelerates the progress of downsizing and speed of the computer, also key elements necessary for developing the Personal Computer. However, the first-generation computers and big digital calculators were mainly built for military purposes. Then the big and expensive “super computers” appeared, but these machines were still for major institutions only.

Another element of progress for the Personal Computer is GUI (Graphical User Interface), a computer program that enables a person to communicate with a computer using symbols, visual metaphors, and pointing devices instead of the difficult textual interfaces of earlier computing. The GUI is now the standard computer interface and has made computer operation more pleasant and natural. There was no one inventor of the GUI. It evolved with the help of a series of innovators, each improving on a predecessor’s work.

The first theorist was Vannevar Bush, Director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, who, in an influential essay published in 1945, entitled As We May Think, envisaged how future information gatherers would use a computer-like device, which he called a “MEMEX” – an idea which anticipated hyper-linking. Bush’s essay impressed Douglas Engelbart of Stanford Research Institute who predicted that the computer would eventually become a tool to augment human intellect. In 1968, Engelbart gave a remarkable demonstration of the “NLS” (oNLine System) which featured a keyboard and a mouse. He invented the mouse so that the user could easily select a command from a menu of choices shown on the display screen. The screen was divided into multiple windows each able to display text or an image. Today, almost every popular computer comes with a mouse and features a system that uses windows on the display. This legendary demonstration, known as “The Mother of All Demos”, had a major effect on computer engineers of the time, including Alan Kay.

When he was still a graduate student in 1968, Alan Kay envisaged a design for a small computer, the “Dynabook”. In 1977 he published two papers: Personal Dynamic Media (from which the name “Dynabook” comes) and Microelectronics and the Personal Computer. [8] Kay propounds the theory that the Dynabook is a personal computer that is easy to obtain, use and carry. It looks like a book and is very lightweight and thin. It has a keyboard, a pen for painting and a flat monitor with a wireless network. If the Dynabook were to become a reality, it would transcend all existing media and become “metamedia”. Metamedia is all the currently known media, as well as those which are still unknown.

Printing and Computing
The invention of computers or the information revolution is often described as having the biggest cultural impact since the Gutenberg invention. There exists a parallel between the development of printing and that of computing. Before Gutenberg, the manuscript books in Europe were owned by institutions (e.g. the church, the monarchy, etc.). In the case of computers, when the Neumann machines appeared, sometime around 1950, they were also owned by institutions. In the fifteenth century, Gutenberg’s printing press was the equivalent of computer workstations. Only wealthy people could own them, and only wealthy people and institutions could own the books produced by them. The number of books printed on the Gutenberg press was still small. Moreover, a Gutenberg Bible was not something to travel with; it was not designed to be replaced if it were lost or damaged. It was not until 50 years after Gutenberg that a printer, Aldus Manutius, and a Reformer, William Tyndale, began producing books that were affordable enough to be widely owned. They were still expensive, but they were replaceable and they were portable.

However, the real potential of the printing press was not fully realized until the seventeenth century. It therefore took about 150 years for writers and publishers to really appreciate what the technology could do and to put it into practice. It is important to note that there was a considerable time lag between the development of a new technology and the realization of its potential. This was true of the printed book and of its modern equivalent the Dynabook.

Let us now consider Tyndale’s and Kay’s thinking behind the portable Bible and the Dynabook.

Tyndale’s basic theology is the doctrine of “sola scriptura”. For him, like Luther, it is evident that scripture is the sole and exclusive source of faith and the only standard and rule by which to judge it. He stresses the fact that only the person who can understand scripture is able to know the law of God and justify his faith. He reasons that everything necessary was written in scripture, and that there is no more to be taught us than scripture. Tyndale says in his Answer, “Christ and his apostles preached an hundred thousand sermons, and did as many miracles, which had been superfluous to have been all written. But the pith and substance in general of everything necessary unto our souls’ health, both of what we ought to believe, and what we ought to do, was written.” [9]

Tyndale’s Bible has two characteristic elements: the vernacular tongue and its small size. His church is feeling, spiritual and invisible. The basis or authority of his church is individual experience with the Bible. The Bible for him is a medium to reach God. Luther thought likewise. However, Luther had no idea of interface with his users (readers). We could say that Luther was a pioneer of translation into the vernacular, therefore his role was to show a fundamental idea of a technique, and then Tyndale applied a user interface to this fundamental idea.

What was the thinking behind the Dynabook when Alan Kay started his project? Alan Kay’s ideal model was Charles Babbage’s machine, the “analytical engine”. [10] He also commented in an interview that the “MEMEX” of Bush is an ideal. Bush had a dream that MEMEX would become a sort of intellectual amplifier. In addition, Kay said that he devoted six months to reading Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Gutenberg Galaxy’. Kay discovered the concept that a computer was a medium, not a digital calculator with a stored program like a supercomputer or a PC.

In 1992, he said of the Dynabook “I made a cardboard model of what it might look like and started to think about what it should be able to do. One of the driving metaphors that came to mind was the analogy to the history of print literacy as it developed following the middle of the fifteenth century. In 1968, the simultaneous hit of seeing the three landmark technologies forced me to remember Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer who first decided that books should be the size they are today – because that size would fit in saddlebags of late 15th century Venice! In other words, Aldus was one of the first who realized that books could now be lost because you could just get another one without having to mortgage your house – and thus that books could now be intimately portable. McLuhan had pointed out in ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy’ that new media often initially take on the content of the old, and used the similar size and content of manuscript Bibles as one of his examples. I realized that desktop personal computers were the ‘Gutenberg Bibles’ after the institution time-sharing main frames”. [11]

The Dynabook is not a reality even now but Kay sees it as an amplifier for learning and a communication tool. His current project is a new programming system “Squeak” focused on children and education. He carries out educational experiments in pursuit of the realization of the Dynabook and says “Because without education, well, I don’t care about the other things that might be done with the Dynabook.” [12]

Tyndale’s Bible was for everyone who spoke English. He thought the authority of his church was an individual experience with the Bible. Therefore he translated the Bible into English. Because the small-size printed book came into being in the late fifteenth century, he was able to offer a printed vernacular Bible, small enough to be held in anyone’s hand.

In the 1960s, computers were big digital calculators installed in major institutions. However, Alan Kay thought that the computer should not be just a calculator but a communication tool. Therefore, he designed the Dynabook, which should be inexpensive, easy to carry and used by everyone freely.

Tyndale’s Bible and Kay’s Dynabook provided a new orientation for the production of the Bible as a book and of the computer as a communication tool, which pointed the way to the future. Moreover, thanks to the invention of the Personal Computer, Tyndale’s Bible and his legacy are now more readily available for retrospective consideration.

[1]Johannes Gutenberg is known as a symbol of the invention of printing, although there is some uncertainty about the invention. I would like to emphasize that there is no such thing as a “first” in any activity associated with human invention. I chose several people for this paper because of their names as a symbols of and spokesmen for the era.
[2]Nigel F. Palmer, “Biblical block books”, The Bible As Book: The First Printed Editions, Paul Henry Saenger, Kimberly Van Kampen, Anthony Kenny (ed.) (London, 1999) p.23
[3]Paul Needham “The changing shape of the vulgate bible”, The Bible As Book: The First Printed Editions, Paul Henry Saenger, Kimberly Van Kampen, Anthony Kenny (ed.) (London, 1999) p.61
[5]David Daniell, William Tyndale (Yale , New Haven and London, 1994) p.93
[6]Tyndale is not precisely the first person who published a pocket-sized vernacular Bible. There were some portable Dutch Bibles before 1525 as could be seen at the exhibition of “Tyndale’s Testament” at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp. However, he is a first-generation translator of pocket-sized vernacular bibles.
[7]Cf. Howard Rheingold Tools for Thought New York, 1985); Encyclopaedia Britannica on the net, ; Virtual Museum of Computing,
[8]Alan Kay “Personal Dynamic Media” IEE Computer (March, 1977), pp. 31-41; “Microelectronics and the Personal Computer” Scientific American (September 1977), pp. 231-244.
[9]William Tyndale, An Answer Unto Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, H. Walker (ed.) Cambridge, 1850.
[10]“I wish to God these calculations were executed by steam” from the Analytical Engine by C. Babbage. In the 19th century, Charles Babbage designed a flexible calculator with a program, and his supporter, Augusta Ada Byron, believed that the engine could draw a picture to play music.
[11]Alan Kay “What was it like back then?” Alan Kay Yasuki Hamano (ed.) (Tokyo 1992)
[12]Interview with Alan Kay “The Dynabook Revisited” Book and Computing (2002)

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