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Was the Gutenberg Bible the First Printed Book?

By Kevin Hellyer
Updated May 23, 2024
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You may think that Johannes Gutenberg’s creation of movable metal type in the mid-15th century that facilitated fast, quality reproductions of text marked a technological breakthrough. But that's not the whole story. Long before Gutenberg became the first European to use movable type, the printing technique was being used in China and Korea.

The Chinese were using movable type to print currency and government documents centuries before, and it was used in Korea to create the Jikji, the world’s oldest extant book printed with movable metal type, during the Goryeo Dynasty in the the late 14th century. This anthology of Buddhist priests' Zen teachings was printed in 1377, predating the Gutenberg Bible (42-line Bible) by 78 years.

Printing a page of history:

  • The printing technique using bronze cast elements was similar to Gutenberg’s. In Korea, this method was originally used to mint coins.

  • Most of the Jikji has been lost to history, and only the last volume has survived. It’s now housed at the National Library of France, though you can see a digitized copy online.

  • The last page of the Jikji, which originally totaled 307 chapters, indicates that it was printed using metal type at Heungdeok temple in Cheongju.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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