‘Bach Bible’ Sent to Leipzig

On April 26, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, sent two volumes of the Calov Bible commentary from the library of Johann Sebastian Bach to Germany, their country of publication. They will be featured at the Bach-Museum in Leipzig from May through July as part of the 800th anniversary of St. Thomas Church (the Thomaskirche), where Bach served as Kantor for over two decades. The exhibition, titled “Bach, Bible, Hymnbook,” is also being held in connection with the Reformation Decade’s Year of Music, that is, part of a series of events leading to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 1517.

One of about 80 titles listed in Bach’s library at the time of his death in 1750, the Calov Bible commentary remains the only title to be identified positively as being owned by Bach. Each volume contains Bach’s unique “JSB” monogram signature on the title page, as well as marginal annotations, underlining, markings, and textual corrections by Bach.

The two volumes lent to the Bach-Museum in Leipzig are of the Old Testament, which contain most of Bach’s annotations and the Apocrypha. Both the Bible translation and the commentary are the work of Martin Luther, with additional commentary by Abraham Calov, a 17th-century Lutheran theologian and compiler of the commentary.

It is the practice of the Concordia Seminary Seminary library, where the volumes are held, never to allow more than two volumes to travel at the same time. They are, to be sure, irreplaceable, and are lent only to reputable organizations and institutions after careful review by and approval of the Seminary administration.

The volumes were purchased by the Reichles, a Lutheran immigrant family, from a Philadelphia bookseller between 1836 and 1847, nearly a century after Bach’s death. Nothing is known of the means or timing of the volumes’ “trip” to America. They eventually made their way with the family to Frankenmuth, Mich. The Bach connection was discovered in 1934 when the owner, Leonard Reichle, showed them to his cousin, visiting pastor, Christian Riedel, who recognized Bach’s monogram. Ludwig Fuerbringer, a former pastor at St. Lorenz in Frankenmuth and president of Concordia Seminary at the time, was instrumental in assuring that the volumes were subsequently presented to the Seminary by the Reichle family.

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