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 June, 2012

On Giving Interviews

The Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition on view at the University of Mississippi. Photo by the Rev. J.C. Browne. Image courtesy of the University of Mississippi.

Here at Ole Miss, community interest in the Manifold Greatness exhibition has been high, and pre-exhibit publicity included press releases to many local news outlets.  When those stories appeared, we did receive many questions from the public about the details and dates for the exhibit.  We also got requests for interviews.

The primary thing I learned from the interview experience is that the results will always surprise you.

When the local newspaper reporter and photographer came to meet me just after we finished setting up, I was very excited.  It was my first chance to show the exhibit off and to talk about what was in it.  I clearly talked too much and too quickly.  The questions I answered in writing later were quoted correctly, but many of the facts and details that I had rambled about in person were jumbled in the article, and in the photo descriptions.  I wished I had supplemented the hours and programs listed on our website with a “fact sheet” about the items from special collections that we were displaying.  Some of these materials are featured in my previous post.  Luckily my community friends didn’t know the difference and enjoyed reading about the exhibit anyway.

My second experience with an interview was later in the month with students reporting for the student-run TV station.  The interview request came with no warning as I was preparing for a meeting.  I went out to meet the students, unsure what to expect, and I was presented with a camera and a microphone.  They asked very good, very quick questions, and their segment was very informative and interesting. Even though I felt rushed, in the end I was pleased with them and with the experience.

Christina Torbert is Head of Serials and  Bibliographer for Philosophy and Religion at the J.D. Williams Library at the University of Mississippi.


Talking About “The Book That Changed the World”

The Rev. Dr. Charles Sumners. Image courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, CO planned an ambitious month of programming to celebrate Manifold Greatness. Our events were varied, including a concert, lectures, public discussions, and several film screenings built around KJB: The Book That Changed the WorldThis dramatized documentary by actor John Rhys-Davies retraces the history of the King James Bible.  

The first screening brought so many people that we couldn’t fit them in our largest community room. We quickly realized that the demand for this programming was higher than we had anticipated. We asked our local city-run senior center and faith-based organizations to lend us space and technical assistance for additional screenings, which we ran through the month of June.  

Some of our Manifold Greatness scholars hit the road with us and facilitated lively public talks directly following each screening.  The Reverend Dr. Charles A. Summers (retired) led two programs that featured films and discussions about the King James Bible.

“Even though the KJB is specifically part of my heritage as an Anglican/Episcopal priest, I was glad we could utilize resources from other faith groups to understand its history,” he commented.

Audiences actively participated in programming around KJB – the Book that Changed the World, including a recitation from memory of the King James Bible version of the Twenty-third Psalm while it was read aloud.

“They were surprised that they could do it but then commented that it was almost subliminal,” Sumners said.

Other interactive activities included discussions about the process of Bible translation in general, and the process of creating a documentary about the Bible.  

The Reverend Dr. Charles A. Summers received his B.A. from Davidson College, earned his Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary in Kentucky, and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Presbyterian Seminary in Atlanta, GA. He did post-graduate work in Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  Rev. Sumners is also an accomplished producer of Christian and secular documentaries for over 35 years.  

 Dr. Scott Munger also offered a humanities perspective on the King James Bible. He was the topic of an earlier post.

We are sharing our experiences in the hope that other communities hosting Manifold Greatness can use it to enhance their celebrations while the exhibit is on display in their cities.

Rachel Stovall is a Community Relations Specialist at Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, CO.


More Reggae

Album cover art. The Harder They Come, 1972.

It’s a warm, sunny day in Rochester, NY and my office is resounding with the soundtrack to The Harder They Come—a reggae classic. It prompts me to follow up on an earlier post that discussed how Bob Marley carried a copy of the King James Bible with him and often engaged friends in religious debate. Marley and other reggae artists also incorporated verses from the KJV into their lyrics and I thought I’d share a couple with you.   

One example of Marley’s use of Bible verse is his song “Small Axe” .  Click here to watch on YouTube.

A helpful website “dedicated to matching Reggae song lyrics to Biblical quotations” compares Marley’s “Small Axe” to the biblical passages from which he drew his inspiration. For example, they show how Marley drew inspiration from Proverbs 26:27 and Ecclesiastes 10:8 for the song’s refrain.

Marley: “And whosoever diggeth a pit, Lord, Shall fall in it – shall fall in it.

Whosoever diggeth a pit Shall bury in it – shall bury in it.”

Proverbs 26:27 – “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.”

Ecclesiastes 10:8 – “He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.”

Perhaps my personal favorite example of the use of Biblical verse in Reggae music is the Melodians “Rivers of Babylon” (1970), a highlight of The Harder They Come soundtrack.  Songwriters Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton beautifully interpret Psalms 19 and 137 with Rastafarian references to Emperor Haile Selassie I as “King Alpha” and “Fari” or “Jah Rastafari.

 Click here to watch on YouTube.

Psalm 137:  “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yes, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” 

Psalm 19:  “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”

Melodians “Rivers of Babylon”:

“By the rivers of Babylon
Where he sat down
And there he wept
When he remembered Zion

‘Cause the wicked carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alpha’s song
In a strange land?

‘Cause the wicked carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alpha’s song
In a strange land?

So, let the words of our mouth
And the meditation of our heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight
Oh, Fari”

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.


From the Ole Miss Archives

As we prepared to receive the Manifold Greatness exhibit at the University of Mississippi, Dr. Leigh McWhite, one of our archivists, began seeking items that would give the viewer a sense of the translators’ work and would also make a connection between the exhibit and Mississippi and/or the South. 

As it happened, she found several.

On display is an edition of St. Jerome’s Vulgate, printed in Basel, Switzerland in 1591.  It is among the last editions published before the introduction of the 1592 version, which soon superseded it. The 1592edition of the Vulgate was sponsored by Pope Clementine VIII, and this edition was later consulted by the teams of English translators working on the King James Bible.  The Clementine Vulgate remained the authorized text for the Roman Catholic Church until 1979.

Clementine Vulgate, 1591. Basel, Switzerland. Image courtesy of the University of Mississippi.

The Choctaw tribe has had a long association with the state of Mississippi, and the University of Mississippi has a copy of the Second Book of Kings translated into the Choctaw language by the American Bible Society in 1855.  Choctaw translations of portions of the Bible first appeared in print in 1836 and a complete edition of the New Testament was produced in 1848.  The Choctaw Bible Translation Committee in Mississippi is currently working to translate the entire Bible into Choctaw.

Choctaw Bible, 1855. Courtesy of the University of Mississippi.

  A more contemporary and very Southern translation is the Cotton Patch Bible created by Clarence Jordan.  Born in Georgia in 1912, Clarence Jordan created an interracial Christian farming community outside Americus, GA called Koinonia (from the Greek word for “communion,” which is used in Acts 2:42 to refer to the earliest Christian community).  In the late 1960s, Jordan began writing his “Cotton Patch” series, which translated the scripture into a colloquial Southern accent and context.  “Jews” and “Gentiles” became “white man” and “Negro,” and Jordan changed all references to “crucifixion” to “lynching.”  The Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles in the University of Mississippi’s Special Collections is from the James H. Meredith Collection.  James Meredith is a prominent figure in the American civil rights movement and integrated the University of Mississippi in 1962.

Clarence Jordan. The Cotton Patch Version of St. Paul’s Epistles. Image courtesy of the University of Mississippi.

Christina Torbert is Head of Serials and  Bibliographer for Philosophy and Religion at the J.D. Williams Library at the University of Mississippi.


Going Global

Dr. Scott Munger. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

Dr. Scott Munger is culturally adventuresome Biblical translator who has overseen Bible translation work in some 40 languages around the world. That international experience helps provide a unique perspective on American religious, social, and political life. Scott is currently Vice President of Biblica, the producer of The Holy Bible: The New International Version. He and his family—wife, children, and grandchildren—now live in Colorado.

Here is an interview that Pikes Peak Library District, currently hosting the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition,  recently conducted with Dr. Munger about Bible translation.

Question: How do you feel about the King James Version of the Bible? 
Answer: I treasure and revere it like I would a famous ancestor—but one who lived in a different age and time.

Question: Biblica has created the NIV translation of the Hebrew Bible. How did the Biblica processes differ from the processes of King James Version translators’?
Answer:  The processes are remarkably similar. Both began with the call for a fresh translation, both were supported by dedicated people from various Christian denominations, and both were undertaken as a group project.

Question: Did that involve translating from the original languages of the Bible?
Answer: Yes, the KJV and the NIV are each done from the languages of the original biblical texts: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Likewise, translators of both versions considered history and tradition (e.g., the KJV relied a great deal upon the work of William Tyndale, killed in 1536), but they also considered present and future needs. And most important, the translators of the KJV and NIV tried to represent the Word of God in the language of their day, that is, with vocabulary and style that would speak to the hearts of their contemporaries.

Question: We know that 48 translators worked on the King James Bible of 1611.  How many translators did it take to come to the NIV version that Biblica publishes now?
Answer: The Committee on Bible Translation is an independent group of 15 scholars from many Christian denominations. The CBT determines the NIV text. But their work builds upon the efforts of over 100 original contributors. Unlike the KJV, the NIV is a “green” text. During the half century since its original conception, thousands of helpful suggestions from readers and scholars worldwide have made the NIV translation what it is today.

Question: What goals did the Biblica translators have while translating the Bible?
Answer: The NIV’s goal, similar to that sought by the KJV, is to create a balance, designed for “the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning” (www.niv-cbt.org).

Question: With its soaring language, the King James Bible is very poetic. Do you think that some of the translations today lose the beauty of that poetic edge?
Answer: Beauty is hard to define, and is often in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to language, beauty of both form and content must be considered. A skillfully worded poem about the glories of a microwave meal will never win a Pulitzer. The real, inner beauty of the KJV comes from its content. Note the last two verses of Psalm 23, below, the first from the KJV and the second from the NIV.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (KJV)

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (NIV)

Modern people are often charmed by older forms of language. The KJV’s “… est” and “… eth” caress our ears. But we need to consider that what sounds quaint to us was common to people in 16th and 17th century England.

Question: With so many new translations available, is the King James Version still important and relevant today?
Answer: The KJV endures as a testimony and example not only of great Bible translation and great English, but of great thought. The former is due to the heart of those who undertook the translation. But the thoughts they conveyed are those of the original authors, men and women—inspired, I believe, by a gracious God—all of them now considered world-renowned prophets, rulers, poets, and reformers.

Rachel Stovall is a Community Relations Specialist at Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, CO.


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