Biblical Archaeology Review 40:2, March/April 2014

Strata: Psalm Book Sold for Record Price at Sotheby’s

A little book of psalms—the first book printed in North America—was sold for a record $14,165,000 at a Sotheby’s auction on November 26, 2013. One of 11 known books to have survived out of the 1,700 copies made, the Bay Psalm Book was printed in 1640 by Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their ministers had retranslated the Psalms because they felt the King James Version did not reflect the original Hebrew as closely as it should. The Puritans believed their salvation depended on it.a The Bay Psalm Book sold at Sotheby’s was one of two that belonged to Boston’s Old South Church, whose past congregants included Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams. In 2012 the congregation controversially voted to sell one of the copies to pay for maintenance for the church’s 19th-century building. The winner of the auction was David M. Rubenstein, cofounder and co-CEO of a Washington, DC-based investment group, who also bought a copy of the Magna Carta in 2007 for $21 million. According to the New York Times, Rubenstein plans to lend the Bay Psalm Book to libraries in the United States to display; the book will ultimately be displayed in one library through a long-term loan.

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