Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Archive for March, 2011

Reading the (whole) KJB aloud

Moody Bible Institute radio show

How long does it take to read aloud the King James Bible? The 400th-anniversary year of 2011 is giving us lots of chances to find out.

This week, the BBC reports on an organized “reading relay” at a church in Sussex that began on Monday and, if all goes as planned, will wrap up this Sunday, March 27, with breaks at night. Earlier in March, the King James Bible Challenge at the 2011 Bath Lit Fest went for a round-the-clock approach expected to take 120 hours. In the end, it clocked in at 96 hours. Then there’s the on-going, global “public reading” being created through the YouTube Bible project (Prince Charles recently added fourteen verses) — although that one is probably a topic for another day.

It’s all very much in the spirit of the King James Bible translators, who knew that they were producing a translation to be heard, not just read. They even read aloud alternative wordings in their committee meetings, seeking rhetorical power through word choice and word order, while still focused on accuracy. To hear the results for yourself, try reading aloud this line from the older, 1568 Bishops’ Bible: “Get thee up betimes and be bright, for thy light cometh.” (Isaiah 60:1). Then, listen to the same line from the King James Bible: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come.”


Off to Literary London!

Claes Jansz. Visscher. London. ca. 1625 (Detail). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Visscher. View of London. ca. 1625. Folger.

Well, I’m off to Londontown, UK, taking a class of undergraduates from Ohio State for a week-long trek through “Literary London.”

We’ll be standing on ground of huge importance to the making of the King James Bible and its subsequent history. We’ll tour Westminster Abbey, for instance, where two of the six teams of translators were ensconced; they worked in the Jerusalem Chamber, a location Shakespeare also mentions in Henry IV, Part 2. We’ll also visit St. Paul’s and Southwark Cathedral, where English Christians have heard the KJB read and sung for 400 years. Some of Shakespeare’s theater colleagues worshipped at Southwark (then St. Saviour), since it was near the Globe; his brother Edmund was buried there. The playwrights John Fletcher and Philip Massinger are also buried at Southwark, as is the great preacher Lancelot Andrewes, one of the KJB translators.

Our last two days are in Stratford, and we’ll visit Holy Trinity Church, where it’s possible Shakespeare himself heard readings from the then-new King James Bible. He retired to Stratford about the time the King James Bible was published, and this was supposed to be the Bible translation used in English Churches from then on. Whether Holy Trinity actually purchased and put to use copies of the KJB before Shakespeare’s death in 1616, I don’t know.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


In the beginning …

It seems amazing how far we’ve come since I first broached the subject of doing something on the KJB at the Folger when I was a fellow back in 2007-2008.

What started out as an idea for a Folger exhibition has snowballed into a joint exhibition with the Bodleian and the Harry Ransom Center, a traveling panel show, and a major website, funded by the NEH, and a collection of essays to accompany all this, The Making of the King James Bible, published by the Bodleian. Since I was already organizing a conference at Ohio State and editing a book for Cambridge – The King James Bible after Four Hundred Years – before the Folger events were even thought of, the last few years of my life have become pretty much all KJB, all the time.

But these many months of labor are starting to bear fruit. I’m excited to see the fabulous website now in its final stages, ready to launch in mid-April, to hear about libraries and colleges across the country that are applying to the ALA to host the panel exhibition, and to see, with my co-curator Steve Galbraith, and Caryn Lazzuri, Exhibitions Manager, the exhibition itself start to take shape, as decisions are made, texts are written and rewritten, and loans secured from across the country and overseas. One of the panel titles is “Many Forms for Many Readers,” referring to the variety of shapes and sizes in which Bibles were printed. We could say the same about the whole exhibition – many forms for many readers, viewers, listeners, and visitors at the Folger and beyond. Amazing!

Hannibal Hamlin, an associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Welcome to Manifold Greatness!

The words of the 1611 King James Bible ring out today in books, poems, popular songs, speeches, and sermons. But who translated it, and what made this particular translation so influential?

Jointly produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library and the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, with assistance from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, Manifold Greatness tells the little-known story of one of the most widely read and printed books in the history of the English language: the King James Bible.

Learn more about the origins and later impact of this towering achievement—which marks its 400th anniversary in 2011—as our curators share their discoveries and impressions through posts, images, video interviews, and more.

Join us to explore the dangerous world of earlier English Bibles, which could bring a death sentence to a translator… the massive, multiyear project that produced the King James Bible… and its later roles on both sides of the Atlantic, from family record-keeping to presidential inaugurations, and from literature to public devotion.


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