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 July, 2013

Farewell, With Many Thanks

The Manifold Greatness blog is no longer active, but remains available here as an online archive to explore. For more information about the King James Bible, its history and influences, consult the Manifold Greatness website, http://www.manifoldgreatness.org.


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

2011: Representative Daniel Webster of Florida previews the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition. R. David / National Endowment for the Humanities.

Today is Friday, July 12, 2013, the last day for the touring exhibit of Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, which has traveled to 40 libraries across the United States. The original Bodleian Library and Folger Shakespeare Library exhibitions of 2011 are long over, as is the 2012 Ransom Center exhibition. We’ve shared some final words in recent posts from the curators of the Folger exhibition, Steve Galbraith and Hannibal Hamlin, who have written on this blog many times. And so, with the conclusion of the touring exhibit, it is time to end the Manifold Greatness blog as well.

Starting in March 2011, this blog has debunked myths about the King James Bible; explored KJB-related anniversaries and holidays; offered a guide to family and young visitors’ activities; examined American historical milestones from Jamestown and the Mayflower to the speeches of Martin Luther King; taken close looks at many rare and historic materials from the exhibition (including a Civil War prisoner’s Bible and one owned by King James’s son, Prince Henry), and highlighted the cultural influences of the King James Bible, ranging from A Charlie Brown Christmas and the lyrics of Bob Marley to Handel’s Messiah and William Blake. (Late in 2011, swept up in year-end listmania, we also gathered our “top 10 posts,” including a King James Bible owned by Elvis Presley.)

Folger debut of the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition, Lloyd Wolf

2011: Debut of the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition. Photo by Lloyd Wolf.

We’ve reported often, too, on Manifold Greatness events, from the traveling panels’ debut, to numerous events and displays at the traveling exhibit host sites, to lectures, exhibition openings, and other occasions, including the NEH exhibition preview for members of Congress pictured above. See this blog post on the congressional reception for more photos—and the story of the 1782 Aitken Bible, the only Bible ever recommended by Congress.

In the words of Ecclesiastes in the Byrds’ #1 hit in 1965, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” however, “To everything there is a season.” And while the King James Bible translators—and the Byrds—surely did not have blogs in mind, the same insight still applies. With the conclusion of the traveling exhibit, it is the “season” for this blog to finish, too. We thank you for your encouragement, participation, and support during its run of almost two and a half years. We also offer special thanks to everyone who has written for the blog, all of whom we’ve listed in the Sponsors and Credits page.

For more information on the King James Bible of 1611, including its origins, creation, and later influences,we encourage you to explore the extensive, rich content of the Manifold Greatness website. 


Looking Back, and Far Ahead

The Jerusalem Chamber. (c) Westminster Abbey.

The Jerusalem Chamber, (c) Westminster Abbey.

I’m writing this from Borough High St. in Southwark (London), a few blocks from Southwark Cathedral, and in the vicinity of what used to be Winchester Palace, the London residence of the Bishop of Winchester. Lancelot Andrewes, translator of the King James Bible and perhaps supervisor of the First Westminster Company, was granted the bishopric in 1618. He is buried in Southwark Cathedral and is represented in effigy lying on top of his tomb.

London is full of reminders of the translation of the English Bible. Across London Bridge, which is just up the road and on the right, is the church of St. Magnus Martyr. Miles Coverdale, who translated the first complete English Bible (apart from the Wycliffites), is buried there, since he served for a time as rector.

William Tyndale. English translation, Pentateuch. 1530. Ohio State University.

William Tyndale. English translation, Pentateuch. 1530. Ohio State University.

William Tyndale, translator of translators, is buried in Vilvoorde in the Netherlands, where he was strangled and burned, but his sculpted head is included as a decorative architectural feature at St. Dunstan-in-the-West, where he lectured. John Donne later preached at St. Dunstan’s.  A little south of St. Paul’s, where Donne was dean, stood the church of Holy Trinity the Less, destroyed in the Great Fire. John Rogers, the man responsible for Matthew’s Bible (1537), was rector there a few years earlier. He was later burned alive as a heretic at Smithfield, a 10 minute walk north, near the church of St. Bartholomew the Great. Benjamin Franklin worked briefly for a printer in the Lady Chapel of St. Bart’s.

Of course, Westminster itself, the location of two companies of the King James Bible translators, is down the Thames to the west. Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester (before Andrewes), member of the Second Cambridge Company, and one of the revisers of the final King James Bible text, is buried in Westminster Abbey, as is, of course, King James I. Archbishop Matthew Parker, who supervised the translation of the Bishops’ Bible (1568), is buried at Lambeth just across the Thames.

Erasmus. Novum Testamentum. 1519. Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Erasmus. Novum Testamentum. 1519. Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

The celebrations of the King James Bible anniversary have died down here. There are no upcoming events listed on the website of the King James Bible Trust. And in the United States, the tour of Manifold Greatness comes to end on July 12—oddly enough, my birthday. Perhaps more appropriately, it is the date of the death of Erasmus (1536), who produced the Greek text of the New Testament that became known as the Textus Receptus, an essential resource for translators from William Tyndale to the King James Bible companies.

As I reflect on the long history of Manifold Greatness, from its inception and planning, to the years of research, to the exhibition at the Folger, to the long journey of the panel exhibitions, I wonder what lies ahead for the King James Bible in 2111. Will the 500th anniversary be celebrated as were the 400th and the 300th? Will the King James Bible still be in use in some churches? Will American presidents still be sworn in on it? Will the King James Bible have an afterlife in the 21st century? Will some lecturer refer back to the 2011 anniversary celebrations at the Folger, as I referred in my opening lecture to celebrations in New York and London in 1911? Few of us will know. As Matthew writes, “of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

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


“Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land”: The King James Bible and the Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell. National Park Service.

Liberty Bell. National Park Service. The line from the King James Bible is near the top of the bell.

Perhaps the most surprising fact about the Liberty Bell is that it was first cast many years before the American Revolution, in 1751—not in 1776, as one might assume. Pennsylvania’s colonial assembly ordered a bell for its state house, specifying that the London company making the bell place on it a passage from the King James Bible, Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.” That phrase was apparently a reference to the liberties established in the Pennsylvania colony by its Quaker founder William Penn, including religious freedom and the powers of the legislative assembly. Anti-slavery advocates later gave the Liberty Bell its name based on the biblical words, and used it as an abolitionist symbol starting in the 1830s.

As explained by the National Park Service, the first bell cracked almost immediately after it reached Philadelphia. The same metal was used to cast a second bell, with the same biblical language, in 1753. That one—the bell we know today—lasted until 1846, when a crack appeared and another followed, retiring it from service. What would the Liberty Bell sound like if it had never cracked? For that matter, what would it sound like if it were rung today, as-is? Thanks to a computer model described in this article on a National Park Service website, you can hear it for yourself. Just select the  audio links for the “unbroken” or “cracked” Liberty Bell.

Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, is a joint project of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, and the Bodleian Library of Oxford University, with assistance from the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin, that marked the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible. A traveling exhibit to 40 libraries around the United States is now at the 40th library, the Nancy Guinn Memorial Library in Conyers, Georgia, through next Friday, July 12. Manifold Greatness also includes an extensive website with image galleries, original videos, interactive timelines, and more.


Fine Press Books and the King James Bible

Song of Solomon. Chapman and Hall, 1897. Cary Collection, RIT.

Song of Solomon. Chapman and Hall, 1897. Cary Collection, RIT.

The 40-location Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit is in the midst of its grand finale at the Nancy Guinn Memorial Library of the Rockdale-Conyers Library System in Conyers, Georgia; the Conyers exhibit runs through July 12, the final day of the 40-site tour. Several months from now, the recently retired panels will be on view in Rochester, New York, as explained by Manifold Greatness co-curator Steven Galbraith:

A few weeks ago one of the four sets of the traveling Manifold Greatness exhibition arrived at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where they will be on display one last time this coming fall. Although that’s still several months away, I couldn’t resist putting up a few of the panels. It reminded me of my second post to the Manifold Greatness blog, The Exhibition Panels Have Arrived, back on April 15, 2011 (see photo below). I felt like I was being reacquainted with old friends, to whom I want to introduce new friends at RIT.

The focus of the RIT’s Cary Collection differs quite a lot from that of my previous home at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Cary Collection documents the history of graphic communication, with an emphasis on the history of printing. One of the strongest collections here is of fine press books; that is, books that exhibit exceptional quality in design, materials, and execution. With this in mind, the Cary Collection’s version of Manifold Greatness will present the history of the King James Bible alongside 19th and 20th-century fine press editions of the Bible, most of which use the King James translation as their text.

Bible, Doves Press. 1903-05. Cary Collection, RIT.

Bible, Doves Press. 1903-05. Cary Collection, RIT.

For example, the edition of the King James Bible printed by The Doves Press is a typographical masterpiece (Hammersmith, England, 1903-1905). Designed to reflect 15th-century Venetian printing, this Bible has little ornamentation, letting the text speak for itself through an elegant typeface. The type’s designer and founder of the Doves Press, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, is as famous for his type design as he is for what he eventually did with his type. In 1916 he threw his type and the punches and matrices used to make it into the River Thames. A dramatic end to the Doves Press.

The edition of The Song of Solomon published by Chapman and Hall in 1897 features beautiful Pre-Raphaelite-inspired plates designed by H. Granville Fell, but what makes the Cary Collection copy so outstanding is the book’s vellucent binding by Cedric Chivers (1853-1929) from Bath, England. In preparing a vellucent binding, a painting on paper is set beneath a translucent layer of vellum, so that the image can be seen through it. Any tooling, like the good tooling used in this design, was applied to the outside of the binding.  Not only does this technique create a striking binding, but it also ensures that the painting won’t be damaged when the book is handled or shelved between other books.

April 15, 2011: The day the panels arrived! Folger exhibition team. L to R, curator Hannibal Hamlin, exhibitions manager Caryn Lazzuri, curator Steve Galbraith

April 15, 2011: The day the panels arrived! Folger exhibition team. L to R, curator Hannibal Hamlin, exhibitions manager Caryn Lazzuri, curator Steve Galbraith

One last example from the Cary Collection demonstrates that illustrations found in fine press editions of the King James Bible can be as remarkable as the type and the bindings. One of the most famous printmakers and type designers of the early twentieth century is Eric Gill (1882–1940). If you have used the typeface Gill Sans, then you are familiar with Gill’s work. Gill created 50 illustrations for The Golden Cockerel Press edition of The Four Gospels (1931). Look through these pages to see the Deposition of Christ as told in the Gospel of Mark, and notice how Gill incorporates the word “And” into the design. Joseph of Arimathea actually stands on the letter N, while a figure, perhaps Mary, the mother of Jesus, climbs a ladder that scales the side of the letter A. Mary Magdalene holds Jesus at the base of the cross.

These are just a few of the fine press editions of the King James Bible that will be on display at the Cary Collection this coming fall when we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the printing of the King James Bible. I guess it will officially be the 402nd anniversary, but who’s counting?

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


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