400 years have passed since the last edition of the Kralice Bible. That edition was the result of over 30 years of work. Out of Kralice nad oslavou (West Moravia) emerged a work of monumental proportions that had a huge influence on the history and culture of the Czech Churches. The eleven translators were mostly ministers of the historic Moravian Church. The Kralice Bible was the first complete Czech translation of the Bible from the original languages. During the early Middle Ages the Church used a Latin Bible translation called the Vulgate. Each copy was costly since they had to be written by hand on parchment. The majority of the population could neither read nor write. The reformation which increased the interest in a Bible without fixed interpretations, the Renaissance with its predilection for ancient languages and, finally, the invention of the printing press were all turning points.
What is also remarkable about the Kralice Bible is that it was published illegally. In the Kingdom of Bohemia the Moravian Church, which published it, was not allowed in the country. However, the individual noble families had their own laws in their dominions. Johann the Elder of Žerotin, himself a member of the Moravian Church, set up a secret printing press in 1560 in Eibenschütz (Ivančice), which was later moved to Kralice where this unique work of the Czech Brethren was published.
The work of the Moravian Church
The Moravian Church, founded in 1457 in Kunvald (East Bohemia), developed an appreciation for higher education only during later generations. Since that time, many ministers of the Moravian Church belonged, after their studies at foreign universities, to the best educated strata of Czech society of that time. Amongst them was Jan Blahoslav, bishop in Eibenschütz, who published, with the help of the Žerotín printing press, a Czech grammar as well as remarkable hymnals (Kantionale) for the Czech and German speaking members of the Bohemian Brethren. He translated the New Testament from Greek into Czech and published it in 1564. When he died prematurely in 1571, the representatives of the Moravian Church were made aware that a complete Bible in Czech was needed. They formed a group of professionals who were able to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew. This group started their dedicated work in 1577 in Kralice, the place where the Žerotín printshop laer found a new home.
The Kralice editions of the Bible
We know the names of the eleven translators. Of some we know more, of others less or nothing. It is clear that their share of the translation was not the same. Most of them were ministers or bishops of the Moravian Church. Their names were : Ondřej Štefan (+1577), Izaiáš Cibulka (Caepola; +1582), Mikuláš Albert z Kaménka (Nicolaus Silesius, specialist for Hebrew and later professor at the Prague University), Jiří Strejc (Vetterus, the poet and translator that put the Psalms in verse form), Jan Hlaváč (Capito), Pavel Jesen (Jesenius, from Slovakia), Jan Ephraim (later a bishop), Lukáš Helic from Posen (originally a Jew, specialist for Hebrew), Samuel Sušický (worked in Slavkov / Austerlitz), Adam Felin (Kocourek; worked in Austerlitz / Austerlitz), Jan Eneáš Boleslavský (worked in Trebitsch / Třebíč and Eibenschütz, later a bishop ). The management of the printing press was in the hands of Zachariáš Šolín and after him, Brother Elam.
Beginning in 1579 the Kralice translators published the results of their work as the so-called “Six-Creations” ("šestidílka"). The apocryphal writings appeared in 1588 in the fifth volume. The last of the six volumes (1593) was the translation of the New Testament by Jan Blahoslav with small corrections. The six-volume set was lavishly decorated - characteristic are the large initials. Apart from the actual Bible text, the six-volume Kralice Bible included theological notes ("glosses"). In 1596 the Brethren published in Kralice the entire text in one volume where the Bible text was printed, without notes, in two columns per page. In 1601, the translation of the New Testament appeared with extensive notes. And finally, the whole Bible was published again in a large format, without notes and with less embellishments in 1613.
No edition was identical to the previous one. This underlines the fact that the Brethren were constantly working on the text, always looking for a still more apt expression or a better graphic design. However, if in the year 1620, the Bohemian Reformation had not been brought down, the successors of the Kralice translators would have continued to work on other editions of the Czech Bible. But because of this, the 1613 edition became the last authoritative version for centuries to come. The Kralice Bible was printed even after that year, but until the Edict of Toleration in 1781 exclusively abroad, where many Czech Protestants had fled.
Characteristics of the Kralice Bible
In a brief summary, this is what was characteristic for the Kralice translators:
1. A humble approach to tradition in its dynamic form - the attempt to examine former Czech translations critically and to preserve as much as possible.
2. A vigilant look at the original Hebrew or Greek text and its intentions, a careful sorting and weighing of the traditions that developed out of the original text - from the old rabbinic one to the contemporary ones.
3. A lasting respect for the living, dynamic character of God's word that touches human hearts and invites them to follow him, and not just a collection of dogmatic statements.
4. Constant consideration for the inherent message of the Bible text that comes from faith and is leading to faith. The Kralice translators had the courage and the language to put themselves at the service of the biblical message
From texts by Blahoslav Hájek, Pavel Keřkovský und Jiří Lukl
Editing and translation of the German Original: Oliver Engelhardt