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.

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.

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