A Mysterious German Bible from 1898

When I was sixteen, a European exchange student enrolled at my small-town high school for the year. I was, of course, instantly infatuated and placed myself front and center to gain his favor. He was from Germany and we were together for a year and a half. The latter fifty percent of our relationship took place with me pining away in Connecticut and him pining away back home in Germany. Not exactly a recipe for success, but, nearly two decades later, I still carry fond memories of that time in my life.

A year or so after he went home, I was still obsessed with all things German. I noticed a friend was in possession of a book so old, the cover was crumbling and the spine had flaked off, revealing the threads binding the book together. The gold lettering on the cover was in German. I opened it and deduced it was a German Bible written in old-fashioned typography. I wanted it, and my friend was kind enough to give it to me, mailing it to me as a surprise even though we only lived a few miles apart. It’s been sitting in my bookcase for almost twenty years, barely touched. I’m afraid it’ll fall apart if I touch it too much, but I wanted to explore it once again.

A page with publication information shows the book was printed in 1898 in Dresden, an eastern city near the borders of Poland and the Czech Republic, at what appears to be a printing house named Rammingschen. I couldn’t find any information about it except for other books printed there, especially Bibles with the same or similar information pages and publication dates as mine.

The most interesting feature of this 120-year-old book, however, is a handwritten message inscribed a few pages inside. The spidery script is difficult to read, and the foreign language makes it nearly impossible. I sent images to a friend in Germany named Albert, whom I met through the exchange student many years ago. Although context and Google Translate had already provided me a solid sense of the message’s content, I wanted a native speaker to weigh in.

The gold lettered text on the cover reads: Gift of the Saxonian Main Bible Society.

The inscription on the blank page inside, from someone named Max Liebmann (sp?) says, “In memory of your Confirmation and for your diligent practice and reading.” On the bottom, Max wrote a verse from Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

I believe the stamp says “Joh. 5:39: Seek in the scripture.” John 5:39 says: You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.

My research took me to an online encyclopedia entry for “Bible Societies,” which originally appeared in Volume V03, Page 911 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. The following is an excerpt from that entry (emphasis added):

The impulse which founded the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804 soon spread over Europe, and, notwithstanding the turmoils of the Napoleonic wars, kindred organizations on similar lines quickly sprang up, promoted and subsidized by the British and Foreign Bible Society. Many of these secured royal and aristocratic patronage and encouragement—the tsar of Russia, the kings of Prussia, Bavaria, Sweden, Denmark and Wurttemberg all lending their influence to the enterprise. Within fourteen years the following Bible societies were in active operation: …the Saxon Bible Society (Dresden, 1814)

The circulation of the Scriptures by German Bible Societies during 1905 was estimated as follows: …the Saxon Bible Society (Dresden), 44,000

I’m not sure what to do with the Bible now. It wasn’t a family heirloom; the friend who gave it to me thinks his parents found it at a tag sale. The exchange student and I are both nearing the age of thirty-five now, and we’ve completely lost touch, which my husband isn’t complaining about. The Bible doesn’t connect me to a younger, more carefree time just because it shares a language and country of origin with someone I knew during that point in my life.

Perhaps I’ll sell it at a tag sale and let someone else enjoy it.

Melissa Johnson