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.

Apollo 8 and the King James Bible

Earthrise. NASA.

Forty three years ago today, on December 24, 1968, a global radio and television audience estimated at half a billion people listened to a live broadcast from lunar orbit by the Apollo 8 astronauts. Their spacecraft was the first manned vehicle in history to reach the Moon and the first to go into orbit around it; hours earlier, they had photographed the planet Earth above the lunar surface in a famous image now known as “Earthrise.”

As the Christmas Eve broadcast came to an end, Lunar Module Pilot William Anders began to read from the book of Genesis, using the words of the King James Bible translation, produced more than three and a half centuries earlier. (Genesis, in particular, was translated by the First Westminster Company, one of six companies of translators who worked at Oxford, Cambridge, or Westminster.) Using a copy of the text on a fireproof page, prepared in advance of the mission and kept at the back of the flight plan, Anders started with the familiar words, “In the beginning…”

Command Module Pilot James Lovell continued the Genesis passage, followed by Commander Frank Borman, who had chosen the reading. Borman then brought the broadcast to an end with the words: “And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good earth.”

Listen to the original audio of the Apollo 8 crew’s reading from Genesis (with transcript) on our Manifold Greatness website. The Apoll0 8 recording is also included in the  audio guide to the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.

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