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 September, 2011

KJV in the USA: Folger Institute’s King James Bible conference begins

Jill Lepore

The Folger Institute, a consortium of 40 universities and the Folger Shakespeare Library, kicks off a major scholarly conference this evening with a public lecture, “KJV in the USA: The King’s Bible in a Country Without a King,” by keynote speaker Jill Lepore.

Lepore, who is both a New Yorker staff writer and David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University, offers something of a (hilarious) preview today on the New Yorker’s blog, The Book Bench, with a post entitled “An American King: Noah Webster’s Holy Bible.”

Noah Webster’s edit of the King James Bible is also included on our Manifold Greatness website in the site’s Historic American Bibles gallery. While the project was enormously important to Webster, it was—as Lepore explains—not particularly successful among American, or any other, Bible readers.

Noah Webster. Library of Congress.

Webster's edited Bible. 1833. Amherst College.


The Folger Institute conference, “An Anglo-American History of the KJV,”continues through Saturday, October 1. The conference includes plenary lectures, panels, and round tables, with a focus on the King James Bible and early modern England in the Friday sessions and a focus on the King James Bible and America on Saturday.

For a look at the great variety of subjects to be covered, including links to additional materials supplied by some of the speakers, consult the online program at the link above.


Sing unto him a new song

Cathedra, the chamber vocal ensemble of Washington National Cathedral

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s resident early music ensemble, the Folger Consort, presents A New Song: Music Inspired by the King James Bible this week from Friday, September 30, through Sunday, October 2, with period strings, organ, and Washington National Cathedral’s chamber vocal ensemble Cathedra, Michael McCarthy, director.

An early music seminar will be held this evening, September 28, to discuss the program, and there is an audience discussion period prior to the Friday concert.

The following text is excerpted from notes by one of the Folger Consort’s artistic directors, Robert Eisenstein.

 

“Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.”
Psalms 33:3, King James Bible

The Folger Consort’s A New Song is part of a worldwide—and, with the current exhibition, Folger-wide—celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. We have decided to center our musical offering on settings of biblical texts from the reigns of King James I and King James II. In the case of the former, we will mostly be presenting anthems based on English translations that preceded the King James Version, many of which were important sources for the committees of scholars who translated the King James Bible.

It is difficult to find 17th-century musical settings of the King James Bible version of the Psalms because Coverdale’s beautiful prose from his 1535 Bible made its way into the Book of Common Prayer, which was still in use throughout our chosen period. By the time of the Restoration, however, most English settings of biblical texts other than the Psalms were taken, sometimes with a bit of variation for musical reasons, from the King James Version, and this will be apparent in our selections of anthems by Henry Purcell, Pelham Humfrey, and John Blow. All of this music will be performed with the forces most commonly used for anthems in the 17th century—a small choir supported by organ and often by strings that accompany the verses and provide an opening symphony and instrumental interludes. We have also included some wonderful representative instrumental music from the time.

(L-R) Folger Consort artistic directors Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall. Credit: Mig Dooley

We begin with an anthem by Thomas Tomkins written for the coronation of James I. Other composers represented in the program include Giovanni Coprario (tradition has it that he taught music to James I’s children); Orlando Gibbons, who was, with Coprario, a member of the household of James I’s son, Prince Charles; Henry Purcell, one of the greatest composers of the Baroque and certainly one of the greatest English composers of any era; and two other wonderful English Restoration composers, Pelham Humfrey and John Blow.

We conclude with an anthem for the next rulers of England after James II. Purcell’s Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem was composed for the coronation festivities for William and Mary at Westminster Abbey in 1689.

 

Robert Eisenstein is, with Christopher Kendall, one of two artistic directors of the Folger Consort, the resident early music ensemble of the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Going on the Road!

Photo by Lloyd Wolf.

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s King James Bible exhibition is going on the road! Forty public, university, and college libraries across the United States will host a smaller traveling version of Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible beginning right away and continuing through July 2013.

From California to Georgia and Vermont to Texas, the 14-panel exhibit will criss-cross the country bringing the story of the KJB to diverse library audiences of all ages. Tour sites have fascinating programs planned to honor the 400-year history of the King James Bible and its enduring importance in world culture—and we hope you’ll be learning about some of them here on the Manifold Greatness blog as well as the Manifold Greatness Facebook page, YouTube channel and playlist, Twitter feed, and Flickr account.

There will be films, concerts, panel discussions, writing contests, lectures, plays, and readings—all dedicated to learning more about this remarkable work. A few library sites even have copies of the original 1611 King James Bible and other rare early Bibles to show their visitors.

I and my team at the American Library Association’s program development and partnerships group in the Public Programs Office have been delighted to work with the Folger Shakespeare Library in organizing the library tour. Representatives from the forty tour sites gathered in Washington, DC, on September 22 and 23 for a working session that included the opportunity to view the major Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library and talk to the curators and designers.

And now, in the months and years to come, they will present their own King James Bible programs and displays, which are sure to attract wide attention in their communities. In fact, the first sites will debut the traveling exhibit this week!

To see if the exhibit will be coming to your area, please visit the itinerary on our ALA website or call the ALA Public Programs office for more information (312-280-5045). You can also check the locations and schedule pages on the Manifold Greatness website for the same information.

The ALA Public Programs Office is grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for making this traveling exhibition for libraries possible, and to the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, with assistance from the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin, for creating such a beautiful and informative exhibition. We expect the tour to be a huge success and a catalyst for individual learning and research across the country.

Susan Brandehoff is Director of Program Development and Partnerships at the American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office.


T.S. Eliot and the King James Bible

Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot. 1938. (c) By kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust   (a registered charity).

The Nobel Prize winning poet and playwright Thomas Stearns Eliot was born 123 years ago today, on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. Eliot grew up in St. Louis and went to college at Harvard. After graduate studies at Harvard, the Sorbonne, and Merton College, Oxford, he ultimately settled in England. In 1927, he became a British citizen and converted to the Anglican Church. T.S. Eliot died in England in January 1965.

Many of T.S. Eliot’s poems, including The Waste Land (1922), draw on the King James Bible, but his later works, including Ash Wednesday (1930) and The Four Quartets (1945) are especially rich in biblical language and ideas.

Learn more about Eliot and the King James Bible (as well as the KJB’s influence on eleven more writers, from John Milton to Marilynne Robinson) through the Literary Influences timeline on the Manifold Greatness website. In the case of Eliot, the timeline uses Ash Wednesday as an example of the ways in which Eliot’s language is enriched by, and sometimes borrows from, the King James Bible, citing particular passages from the poem and the Bible, as well as the Book of Common Prayer.


The Aitken Bible: Preventing Fatal Confusion and Alarming Injuries

Aitken Bible. Library of Congress.

The year was 1781. The war between the colonies and the crown had been dragging on for years. America was still six years from adopting a constitution. Robert Aitkin, a Scottish immigrant, sensed a religious need—and a commercial niche. The Revolutionary War had choked off the supply of Bibles to the colonies. He petitioned the “United States in Congress” for permission to publish an authorized edition of the King James Bible to prevent “fatal confusion that would arise, and the alarming Injuries the Christian faith might suffer.” Such evils might occur, he said, because of “Spurious and erroneous Editions of Divine Revelation.”

Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado holds a replica of the 1611 King James Bible. A panel version of the Manifold Greatness exhibition will travel to East Library in Colorado Springs in 2012. R. David/ National Endowment for the Humanities.

A year passed before Aitkin’s prayers were answered when Congress’s two chaplains endorsed his undertaking. Within days, the Continental Congress resolved to “recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.” The grateful publisher printed 10,000 copies of the King James translation, placing an abstract of the congressional testimonial in the preface of his Bibles.

Aitkin’s King James Bibles were produced singly and in two volume sets. About fifty remain in existence, including one the Library of Congress has lent to the Folger Shakespeare Library for its exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible.

Representative Daniel Webster of Florida previews the Manifold Greatness exhibition. R. David/ National Endowment for the Humanities.

The exhibition, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, has also been turned into a traveling exhibit to be displayed and discussed in forty libraries across the country over the next two years. The Folger also produced a rich website full of material for a wide range of audiences of all ages.

NEH hosted a preview reception on September 21 for Members of Congress to showcase the results of its 2010 grant. (See photos)

NEH Chairman Jim Leach and Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey discuss the King James Bible. R. David/ National Endowment for the Humanities.

Alas for Aitkin, the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 reopened trade between the new United States and Europe. Aitkin’s version of the King James Bible, despite being the only Bible ever recommended by Congress (the First Amendment to the Constitution, which said that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” wasn’t ratified until 1791), couldn’t compete.

Practicality triumphed over ideology. The Aitkin Bible, with pages only 3 1/8 inches wide, almost no margins, and inferior paper, was undersold by higher-quality foreign imports. Americans bought the English version, whether the product of their colonial overlords or not. No act of any Congress could convince them otherwise.

Judy Havemann is the communications director for the National Endowment for the Humanities and is grateful for the research published on the website of the Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum and Paul C. Gutjahr’s An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880.


Tips for Visitors

The exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible opens to the public today at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, and we couldn’t be happier!

The Manifold Greatness exhibition will be on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library from September 23 to January 16. If you will be going to the Folger exhibition, you may be interested in the following tips for visitors:

HOURS: Monday–Saturday, 10am–5pm; Sundays, Noon–5pm
ADMISSION: Free
LOCATION: 201 East Capitol Street, SE, one block from the US Capitol, Washington, DC
METRO: Union Station (red line) or Capitol South (orange / blue line)
DAILY GUIDED TOURS: Monday-Friday, 11am and 3pm; Saturdays, 11am and 1pm
Folger docents offer guided tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger’s national landmark building, free of charge. No advance reservations required.
GROUP TOURS: Docent-led tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger national landmark building, are offered for groups of 10 or more. To arrange, please call (202) 675-0395.
AUDIO TOURS: Visitors, using their own cell phones, can call (202) 595-1844 and follow the prompts for 200# through 213# to hear the Folger Manifold Greatness curators share personal comments on exhibition items.

Folger Shakespeare Library is a world-class center for scholarship, learning, culture, and the arts. It is home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500–1750). The Folger is an internationally recognized research library offering advanced scholarly programs in the humanities; an innovator in the preservation of rare materials; a national leader in how Shakespeare is taught in grades K–12; and an award-winning producer of cultural and arts programs—theater, music, poetry, exhibits, lectures, and family programs. By promoting understanding of Shakespeare and his world, the Folger reminds us of the enduring influence of his works, the formative effects of the Renaissance on our own time, and the power of the written and spoken word. A gift to the American people from industrialist Henry Clay Folger, the Folger—located one block east of the U.S. Capitol—opened in 1932.

Learn more about the Folger exhibition.
Learn more about the Folger Shakespeare Library..


New video! The Making of a Folger Exhibition: Manifold Greatness

Just in time for today’s opening of the Folger exhibition, this wonderful new video, The Making of a Folger Exhibition: Manifold Greatness:

This video is a production of Alabama Public Television (APT) in partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library. Thanks to APT Executive Producers Heather Daniels and Mark Fastoso who manage a production studio at the Folger which produces original educational videos like this one.


Shake Up Your Saturdays! (And Sundays, and Mondays, and…)

Family programs. Folger Shakespeare Library.

As the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition gets ready to open to the public this Friday, a host of related Folger programs and events are on the way—right away—from this Saturday’s family program to concerts and plays, a major conference, lectures and conversations, and much more!

First out of the gate, this Saturday morning at 10 am, is a Folger family program in the Folger’s “Shake Up Your Saturdays!” series, tailored specifically to the King James Bible. Registration is required, but admission is free. To quote the organizers: “During the reign of King James I, Shakespeare wrote some of his best known work, including the witchy Macbeth. Join us to learn about the translation of the most famous book in the world, and how it still affects us today!”

Jill Lepore

But that Saturday wake-up call is just the beginning. Next week, the Folger Consort, the resident early music ensemble of the Folger Shakespeare Library, is holding an early music seminar on September 28 that considers its upcoming concert, A New Song: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible.Concerts take place September 30 through October 2.

And at just about the same time, the Folger Institute—a consortium of 41 colleges and universities and the Folger Shakespeare Library—hosts a major academic conference on An Anglo-American History of the KJV, September 29 through October 1. Jill Lepore, a noted scholar and staff writer for The New Yorker, kicks off the conference with her keynote address, “KJV in the USA: The King’s Bible in a Country Without a King.”

And that’s just next week! Looking ahead:

On October 4, Folger director Michael Witmore introduces and moderates a conversation with former three-time US poet laureate Robert Pinsky inspired in part by the Manifold Greatness exhibition (the event is part of Folger Poetry’s prestigious O.B. Hardison Poetry Series, named after a former Folger director.)

Owiso Odera, Ian Merrill Peakes, Othello, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photograph by James Kegley.

On October 18, it’s the premiere of the Folger production of William Shakespeare’s Othello, written and performed about the time that King James came to the throne—more about that closer to opening night! We could go on (and there are already more events scheduled for November and December…) but you get the idea.

We’d love to have your family join us for Shake Up Your Saturdays! this Saturday morning. Just don’t think for a moment that there isn’t much more to come, for every audience and age.


Countdown to Friday! The Folger Exhibition Arrives

Exhibition visitors, Folger Shakespeare Library.

As readers of this blog well know—most recently through a behind-the-scenes account from Folger exhibitions manager Caryn Lazzuri—opening day is nearly here for the Folger Shakespeare Library exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible. Open to the public starting this Friday, September 23, the exhibition draws together rare materials from the Folger collection and from some 14 individuals and institutions, including the Folger’s partner in the overall Manifold Greatness project, the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.

Embroidered binding. Folger.

According to a Folger Shakespeare Library press release, “through materials from the year 1000 to 2011, Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible offers a “biography” of one of the world’s most famous books, the King James Bible of 1611, which marks its 400th anniversary this year.”

A blockbuster, NEH-funded exhibition, Manifold Greatness “traces the centuries-long narrative of the King James Bible and the English Bibles that came before it. The exhibition also shows how its words have played out over the centuries since 1611, from Handel’s Messiah and countless works of literature to the Apollo 8 astronauts’ reading of Genesis as they orbited the Moon.

“The legacy of the King James Bible is actually too huge to articulate in a brief sentence or two, because its influence is astronomical,” notes exhibition curator Steven Galbraith. Fellow curator Hannibal Hamlin adds, “It influenced English-speaking writers, not just in Britain and America, but all over the world. Everybody from John Milton in Paradise Lost to Charles Schultz in A Charlie Brown Christmas—it’s the King James Bible.”

Exhibition Highlights

King James Bible. 1611. Folger.

Some of the many extraordinary items on exhibition include:

• An Anglo-Saxon manuscript from about the year 1000 that retells biblical stories in epic verse; the manuscript’s drawing shows God creating Eve from Adam’s rib

• A rare Wycliffite Bible from the 1380s

• A 1530 fragment from William Tyndale’s contraband biblical translations, discussed by Hannibal Hamlin in this recent post: Tyndale was executed in 1536

• Queen Elizabeth’s 1568 Bishops’ Bible

• A Bodleian copy of a 1602 Bishops’ Bible annotated with translators’ changes

Elvis Presley King James Bible. Courtesy Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

• The Folger first edition of the King James Bible

• The Prince Henry Bible, an elaborately bound copy of the King James Bible owned by James I’s older son, Prince Henry, who died in 1612.

• A “Wicked” Bible (1631) in which the printer omits a key word from the commandment on adultery

• A King James Bible that came over on the Mayflower

• King James Bibles owned by Frederick Douglass and Elvis Presley

• Early family Bibles, with century-old handwritten records of births, christenings, and other events

Due to the interest in the King James Bible this anniversary year, the Folger is adding Sunday viewing hours from noon to 5pm. Manifold Greatness can also be seen Monday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and one hour before performances and readings.


Behind the Scenes: Exhibition Transformations

Folger conservators install materials for a Manifold Greatness case. Photo by Caryn Lazzuri.

This post about Folger exhibitions and Manifold Greatness first appeared on the Folger Shakespeare Library blog, “The Collation” and we wanted to share some excerpts here, too. Exhibitions manager Caryn Lazzuri, who wrote it and took numerous photos, describes her job as “a post that includes everything from editing label text to searching the Internet for fresh violets in January.” In addition to her background in museum exhibitions, she holds an MFA in poetry. (See the full Collation blog post for more fascinating information (what ARE all those noises during installation?) and many more Caryn Lazzuri photos!)

It’s that time of year again: for two weeks every four months or so, the Folger’s Great Hall locks its doors and transforms from one exhibition into the next. Or, perhaps that’s how it seems to Folger visitors and readers and staff who are barred from the space and have to wait to see the next show. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind those closed, locked doors, let me give you a little glimpse…

The old exhibition, the one that’s coming off view—we take that down on the very first day. Then the work begins. Conservation comes down from the lab armed with hammers and nail guns, drills, magnets, and lots of tiny triangles of plastic vivak. We move rare materials into their new homes—Case 2, Case 8, the pilaster before Case 5—and we work off the plans we drew up months ago, during Case Layouts, to arrange each case into a neat array of rare materials on view. Once everything is in place, the lighting must be fixed, and small adjustments made here or there. Each label has to be just-so, of course.

Installation underway! Photo by Caryn Lazzuri.

At that midway point, loans from other institutions arrive. Each lender’s contract is different, but many require a courier to accompany the loan material and supervise installation. We measure light levels, temperature, and humidity, and when those levels meet the approval of the lender and everything is where it needs to be, we close and seal the case with the courier present, and—in many cases—we don’t open it again until the installation comes down and the courier is present once again.

For Manifold Greatness, 14 institutions or individuals have lent material to be on display, with several more contributing facsimiles. Each loan, each facsimile, each Folger artifact, each panel on the wall has a specific place in the show, and directing that choreography is one of the most gratifying parts of my job as Exhibitions Manager. A result of two years of work by curators, conservators, designers, and editors, this exhibition finally materializes into something tangible in a two-week flurry of constant activity.

Bishops Bible. Folger.

I love the “curtain-up” moment when we sweep up the dust, roll the rugs back out, turn on the lights, and open the doors. I hope you’ll come by and see the show, which opens to the public on September 23. We’ve got some amazing stuff to see: early biblical manuscripts, a Bishops’ Bible that probably belonged to Elizabeth I, a “Wicked” Bible with a misprinted commandment, association Bibles from people as disparate as a seventeenth-century traveler and Elvis Presley, and even a stake for burning heretics.

Manifold Greatness will be on exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library from September 23 through January 16. From February 28 through June 2, the exhibit will be at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. You can learn more about the King James Bible on the exhibition website. A traveling exhibition produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library in partnership with the American Library Association (ALA) has also been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Caryn Lazzuri is Exhibitions Manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library. A full version of her blog post appears on the Folger Shakespeare Library blog, The Collation.


My Favorite Exhibition Item?

William Tyndale, Hertford College Chapel, Oxford, photo (c) Tim Rawle

What is my favorite item in the exhibition (which opens, of course, later this week)? There are so many to choose from, and the scope of our exhibition is so broad, but here are a couple of items I’m particularly fond of.

First, the fragments of William Tyndale’s 1530 translation of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) are truly remarkable. That they survive is nearly miraculous in itself. There is only one complete copy of this book known to exist, in the collection of the British Library. These few leaves of another copy, lent for the Folger exhibition from The Ohio State University, were discovered in an entirely different book, where they had been used as binding waste (scrap paper used by printers for book covers, spine linings, or endpapers). Tyndale’s translation was printed cheaply and designed for practical use by eager Protestant readers. The fact that so little survives of this book suggests that it was simply read to dust. Yet what an enormously important little book!

Tyndale. Bible. Old Testament (fragment). 1530. The Ohio State University.

Tyndale is the real hero of English Bible translation. A remarkable linguist, Tyndale must have learned Hebrew, in order to translate the Old Testament, somewhere in continental Europe, since few in England knew the language. He worked under extreme duress, in hiding and on the run from authorities, and yet his translation proved so powerful that it shaped all other English Bibles for the next four hundred years. Statistics that claim that 85% (or other figures) of the King James Bible is pure Tyndale are misleading in their mathematical precision, but anyone who reads the two translations side by side can see that they represent a genuine truth. For all the praise heaped on the literary magnificence of the style of the King James Bible, it is Tyndale who largely created this style. In his own way, Tyndale was a writer of the rank of Shakespeare, Milton, and Bunyan. His influence on the English language may be greater than all these. For his great pains, Tyndale was publicly strangled, and his status as a writer has suffered because of our modern prejudice against translation in favor of “original” literary works. I hope our exhibition does something to increase awareness of this remarkable man and his literary achievements.

My other favorite (among many others) is Linus reading the Nativity story from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Linus and Charlie Brown in an earlier scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). CBS/Photofest.

Despite the fact that the show is an animated short based on a popular comic strip, Linus’s attempt to explain to Charlie Brown the “meaning of Christmas” is deeply serious, cutting through the crass commercialism that has enveloped the holiday (and in 1965!! imagine what Charlie Brown would think in 2011). I’ve watched this show dozens of times, and I still love it. Culturally, and speaking for myself, it’s as important a part of Christmas as Handel’s Messiah, Christmas carols, or a Christmas Eve service. I’ve heard and read Luke’s Nativity narrative more times than I can count, but I always hear Linus’s sweet, slightly lisping voice in the back of my head. I’m glad we could include it in Manifold Greatness.

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


Record attendance for Bodleian Manifold Greatness exhibition

The Bodleian’s Manifold Greatness exhibition closed its doors on Sunday 4 September, with visitors still savouring their chance to encounter its exhibits right up to the last moment. The final attendance figure was 58,024 – a record for a Bodleian exhibition – and the whole team here is delighted at the response the exhibition has drawn. Many local people have enjoyed the chance to learn more about Oxford’s connections with Bible translation – from Wyclif, to Tyndale, the KJB translators, and beyond – and early in the exhibition’s run this connection was given a slot on the prime-time local TV news. The exhibition has also been covered in the Oxford Times and on BBC Radio Oxford. Visitors have been drawn from all over the globe, and comments have been left in the visitors’ book in many different languages.  The meeting of different cultures and languages through the act of Bible translation was one of the themes of the exhibition, and so it is very apt that the exhibition itself should have become a place of so many local, national and international encounters with the story of the KJB.

Helen Moore is Fellow and Tutor in English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.  She chaired the Oxford ‘Manifold Greatness’ curatorial committee.


Discovering a “Judas Bible”

Bible. English. Authorized. 1613. Folger.

Although I’ve been involved with my share of exhibitions, I’m always somehow surprised by how much work goes into them, from the planning stages through to the installation and de-installation.  Indeed, as I write this blog entry, I’m reminded that my colleagues at the Folger are hard at work with the installation, which happens to be one of the most intense parts of the process.  Hannibal Hamlin and I are deeply grateful for all of their efforts.

I think the most exciting part of the exhibition planning process is searching for artifacts to illustrate the exhibition’s narrative. Once there is an exhibition outline, it’s time to search the library catalog and hunt through the library vaults. The process is always one of discovery, through which you find amazing items that you may never have known about. Finding such incredible artifacts is always a thrilling moment.

Hannibal and I had a memorable “Ah-Ha!” moment while researching the so-called “Judas Bible.”  We had read that some copies of the 1613 folio edition of the King James Bible had a misprint in which “Jesus” was mistakenly set as “Judas” in Matthew 26:36. This misprint read: “Then commeth Judas with them unto a place called Gethsemane.” Substituting Judas for Jesus at this moment in the New Testament was clearly a significant mistake, though considering the similarity in the spelling of their names, one can understand how such a mistake was made.

When Hannibal and I pulled the Folger’s copy of the 1613 edition and opened it to Matthew 26:36, we saw “Then commeth Jesus.” At first glance, anyway.  To our great delight a second glance revealed that “Jesus” was actually printed onto a cancel slip that was glued over “Judas.” This was a fairly common way of making corrections in early modern books.  Hannibal and I were looking at a “Judas Bible.”  If you look closely at the image above, you can see the “J” of “Judas” peeking out from behind the “J” of “Jesus.”

The Folger’s “Judas Bible” will appear in the Folger’s Manifold Greatness exhibition alongside the “Wicked Bible” in a case called “Misprints and Misfortunes: Printing the King James Bible.”

Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


The KJB at a Folger Neighbor

Robert Reid, Understanding. Library of Congress. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith.

Last weekend’s blog post about the Martin Luther King Memorial highlighted the newest addition to the list of Washington monuments, memorials, and official spaces which include at least one inscription from the King James Bible—and inspired us to think of some others.

Religious images and references to God are fairly common in “white-marble Washington,” but written texts from the King James Bible can be harder to find. One place to look is just across the street from the Folger Shakespeare Library, in the magnificent Great Hall of the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building. (The Folger Shakespeare Library, unlike the Library of Congress, is a private, nongovernmental research library. Henry and Emily Folger placed it on Capitol Hill next to the Library of Congress, which has always been a Folger neighbor.)

The image shown here, depicting Understanding, is from a group of four paintings by the artist Robert Reid on the north wall of the Great Hall’s second floor. Below Reid’s painting is a verse from Proverbs 4:7, in the words of the King James Bible: “Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

The Great Hall at the Library of Congress also famously exhibits the Giant Bible of Mainz (1452-53), one of the last great handwritten Bibles, and the Gutenberg Bible (about 1455), the first book printed in movable metal type in western Europe.

The quotations in the Great Hall are both numerous and varied, reflecting the nineteenth century’s fascination with science and engineering as well as art, literature, philosophy, religion, and more. For additional information, see librarian and historian John Y. Cole’s On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Library of Congress. Cole is also director of the library’s Center for the Book.


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