Vol. 2, Number 8
Pp. 8-9
January 1999

Bibles for Bibliofiles:

UMD plays host to the Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Museum Collection -- one of the largest Bible collections in the United States   

By David A. Gustafson

Swiss-German Bible from the 1600s The Bible is one of the most important, if not the most important, literary work in the Western world. Christians are inspired, guided and challenged by the Bible's message; even non-Christians regard the Bible, especially the King James version, as an important example of classical literature. No other book has enjoyed the Bible's wide circulation. Millions of copies have been printed and read.

Duluth is the home of one of the largest Bible collections in the United States - the Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Museum Collection, presently housed in the Library at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. This vast collection (which now numbers nearly 1800 items) was started by the Reverend Henry Ramseyer, who was the secretary of the Northern Bible Society until his death in 1945. Originally, the collection was kept in the Bible House building at 715 West Superior Street in Duluth. In 1979, the collection was moved to UMD.

Bible societies put great emphasis on evangelism. The mission is to spread the Gospel to all people and to provide Bibles to people in their own language. Evangelism was Ramseyer's main goal, but as years passed he became fascinated by the history of the Bible. Initially, he gathered various editions of Bibles as a means to illustrate the history of the English Bible. In time, he expanded the collection to include translations of the Bible in as many languages as possible; over 400 languages are now represented.

Ramseyer acquired Bibles in languages of the different nationalities who emigrated to the Iron Range, as well as those of various Native American tribes. He also collected editions published by other Bible societies, including the American Bible Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Wycliffe Bible translators.

Bibles make up only a portion of the collection; the holdings also include prayer books, hymn books, sermons, tracts and old theological books. An example of the latter is a 1490 edition of the minor works of Thomas Aquinas, regarded as the greatest theologian of the Middle Ages. This work predates the famous Gutenberg Bible by almost fifty years.

Arabic Bible of the 15th Century A unique feature of the collection is a number of Torah scrolls, dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries. The Torah, which is central to Judaism, is made of the first five books of the Old Testament - from Genesis to Deuteronomy. A portion of the Torah is read in the synagogue each Sabbath; the entire Torah is read over the course of the year. Jews regard Torah scrolls as sacred objects, to be handled with reverence.

Bibles, however, are the centerpiece of the collection, which features a first edition copy of the King James Bible, published in 1611. It also contains a 1540 edition of the Great Bible of Henry VIII and a copy of Erasmus's Latin text, dated 1554. Other editions, published over a period of over 300 years, make the Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Collection both educational and fascinating.

A portion of the collection can be seen on the third floor of the Library. Because of the collection's size, only a few items are exhibited at once. Displays ordinarily center around a theme - such as the Iron Range, the Lord's Prayer or the Christmas Story. The present display features, among other items, a Bible in Iroquois and a Bible printed for the Northern Bible Society in Duluth by Oxford University Press in Great Britain.

The library staff at UMD invites individuals and organizations to visit the Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Collection. Staff members will give presentations and answer questions regarding the materials. If you are interested in seeing the collection, call 218-726-8102 for information. This area is fortunate to have such an important collection. It is well worth seeing.

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Errata: The first illustration is misidentified. It should be Dutch Bible, undated but probably 1882. Also, the Thomas Aquinas does not antedate Gutenburg. It postdates it by approximately 34 years.

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