Lifestyle & Human Interest

400-Year-Old Bible Stolen in $8M Heist Finally Recovered and Returned to Rightful Owner


People love heist movies. There’s a reason why Hollywood keeps churning out films such as “Ocean’s 8,” “The Town,” and “Logan Lucky.”

Yet these movies almost never focus on the aftermath of such crimes, the real life loss left in their wake. Indeed, the case of an old Bible stolen over two decades shows the very real cost of theft in both human and historical terms.

According to the Washington Post, Gregory Priore, archivist for the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, had a horrible revelation some time in the 1990s.

For years he had worked extensively with first editions and original copies of books by John Calvin and Edmund Burke, Isaac Newton and Adam Smith.

One day, he realized that these volumes were worth a lot of money. So he hatched a scheme with the help of John Schulman, a rare book seller who ran the nearby Caliban Book Shop.

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Their heist proved a simple, slow-motion affair that went on for year after year after year. Priore would convey the books to Schulman, who then would sell them online, even using eBay at various points.

Sometimes Priore would secretly slice maps and other documents out of books and secret them away in folders. Other times he simply tucked a volume under his arm and walked right out the front door.

Over the span of 20 years, the pair pilfered some $8 million in books from the Carnegie Library. “Greed came over me,” Priore confessed.

The New York Times reported that one of those books was a 1615 Geneva Bible that was also known as a Breeches Bible. A translation favored by English protestants and beloved by Puritans, it preceded the more famous Kings James Version by decades.

As sometimes happens over time, translations can introduce minor differences in particular passages. That’s how the book Priore stole came to have its odd name.

Some Geneva Bibles and the King James Version translated Genesis 3:7 as having Adam and Eve cover their nakedness with fig-leaf “aprons” after they sinned. But the Breeches Bible featured the first couple making leafy “breeches.”

This particular Bible has significance beyond its linguistic quirk. The first Pilgrims likely carried editions very similar to it onto American soil.

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“One can only imagine the journey this particular Carnegie Library Bible has taken,” Robert Jones, special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Pittsburgh field office, stated. In fact, authorities located this Breeches Bible in an unexpected place: the Netherlands.

It was set to be displayed as part of a 2020-2021 collection specializing in pilgrimages to America. The museum bought the bible through a private seller in 2015 for $1,200.

It’s currently appraised at about $5,500. Museum director Jeremy Bangs was surprised when investigators contacted him and asked him to mail the volume back.

Centuries rendered the Breeches Bible quite fragile. However, the FBI’s Art Crime Team itself helped to bring the Bible back to the United States.

According to Fox News, Jones said, “From a dollar-figure sense, it is not priceless. From a history perspective, it is priceless.”

“I am happy to say it has finally made its way back to its rightful owner here in Pittsburgh.”

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
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