Of Books and Bibles

It’s convenient for Westerners to refer to Gutenberg when giving reference to making printed material “available to the masses,” as in “Words to Live By.” But history tells us more.

As a writer, I delve into words. As a Korean War veteran, I have also explored the histories of China, Korea, and Japan. Thereby hangs the thrust of my letter.

Movable type had already been invented in China with the use of clay and wood hundreds of years before Gutenberg, but it was in Korea in 1377-78 that a two-volume book was printed with the use of movable metal type. One volume of the two-volume Korean monk’s book, Jikji, exists today (in Paris) as the oldest extant book printed with movable metal type, predating Gutenberg’s Bible by several decades.

Granted, early printed books in Korea were more for the elite classes, but close to a century before Columbus discovered the new world, illiteracy in Korea was supposedly only a small percentage of that country’s population.

Thusly, when I see Gutenberg mentioned, I can’t help but consider that, as far as Western minds go, that becomes a convenient reference. In a broader world, the “words to live by” stem from a much richer history.


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