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Chess master playing at Adobe Systems


The most beautiful 3:16 in the world
Donald Knuth Scientist
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So I wrote to Hermann Zapf, who by then was a good friend, and I said, 'Hermann, I've got this idea for a crazy book called 3:16. Can you do the cover for me? The cover... I want you to make the most beautiful three that's ever been designed in the history of the world, and the most beautiful colon, the most beautiful one, the most beautiful six and then I can have my book and it'll look... it'll look great, saying 3:16'. And, so Hermann wrote back enthusiastically saying, you know, and he'd also... also taken a couple of the verses of the Bible that he'd found in his German Bible and he... and he... he did it with his... with his calligraphy, and he's one of the greatest calligraphers of all time, and then he said, 'You know, Don, I know hundreds of calligraphers around the world, I could... I could get those people to... to contribute a page to your book, and each one... each one could do these... these verses'. Well, you know, as I said, graphic designers turn out to be the nicest people in the world, and... and he was going to introduce me to even more of them this way. So, he... so while I'm in Boston, and cleaning house and things like this, I also go to the Boston Public Library and to the Christian Science Bible Museum and Harvard... Andover-Harvard Theological Library and... and study... and copy down all the different translations of these verses that... that I can find and... and read as many... and start reading the commentaries on the verses, so that I can really research the... the subject much better than I had done cursorily in the... in the '70s. And... Hermann made... made the calligraphy for the... the verse John 3:16, which is the one that - the reason we chose 3:16 - it's the most famous verse in the Bible by its number. People in... in the Super Bowl always hold up signs saying John 3:16 and it's sort of a capsule review of the Gospel and... and I chose Hermann to be the calligrapher for that verse, and he... he provided me with a sample page, showing his... his rendition of John 3:16. So, while I'm in Boston, I get the sample page printed at a good printer, and... and then Hermann and I drafted a letter to these 60 calligraphers around the world - the best in their... in their respective countries - inviting them to contribute their pages for the other... for the other verses. So, this was a project that I had time to do while I was in Boston, and... and I spent a lot of time then in the Boston public libraries and these other libraries, reading what I... what I could, about... what people... what people's comments were on these... on these verses, that I... this... I was... by the time the end of my sabbatical, the end of Jill's sabbatical occurred, which... I was in the middle of the Old Testament, let me think, I was just, yes, I was just getting into Song of Solomon at that time and then we drove across country to get back to California and... and I stopped off in Yale for a couple of days to use the... the divinity school library there, and did the book of Isaiah and Jeremiah and I stopped off in Pennsylvania, you know, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, different places coming across country, working on this. And then I got back to Stanford and I still had a... a few more years to go through the New Testament and we got great libraries out here, Stanford Library, Berkeley Graduate Theological Union Library, and so it was a weekend project for several more years after that, to... to see what the... what the story of these 3:16s would... would be.

Born in 1938, American computing pioneer Donald Knuth is known for his greatly influential multi-volume work, 'The Art of Computer Programming', his novel 'Surreal Numbers', his invention of TeX and METAFONT electronic publishing tools and his quirky sense of humor.

Listeners: Dikran Karagueuzian

Trained as a journalist, Dikran Karagueuzian is the director of CSLI Publications, publisher of seven books by Donald Knuth. He has known Knuth since the late seventies when Knuth was developing TeX and Metafont, the typesetting and type designing computer programs, respectively.

Tags: 3:16, German Bible, Bible, Boston Public Library, Christian Science Bible Museum, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Old Testament, Song of Solomon, California, Yale University, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Stanford University Library, New Testament, Graduate Theological Union Library, Berkeley, Hermann Zapf, Jill Knuth

Duration: 4 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008