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.

From the Curators

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.


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.


Casiodoro de Reina and the Bear Bible

1569

La Biblia. Basel, 1569. Folger.

Yesterday was March 15, the anniversary of the death of Casiodoro de Reina (ca. 1520–1594). And that made us think of the Bear Bible, or Biblia del Oso, first published in 1569. The translation was largely the work of de Reina, a Spanish Reformer who began his religious life as a monk in the monastery of San Isidoro outside of Seville.

Persuaded by the writings of Martin Luther, de Reina fled Spain when he aroused the suspicions of the Inquisition. After a brief stay in Geneva, which he found uncongenial, de Reina traveled to England. In 1559 he became the pastor of the Spanish Protestant exile community in London, who worshipped at the church of St. Mary Axe, named after a neighboring tavern whose sign bore the image of an axe.

Seemingly trumped up due to the machinations of Spanish agents, accusations against de Reina included an astonishing array of crimes, among them dishonesty, embezzlement, immoral conduct with female congregants, and sodomy, as well as doctrinal and ecclesiastical errors. He fled England with his family in 1563 and devoted himself to the translation of the Bible, as well as to writings criticizing the Inquisition.

1569 Bear Bible

La Biblia. Basel, 1569. Folger.

There had been earlier Bibles in Spanish, but de Reina’s, first printed in Basel, was the most influential. The de Reina Bible was revised in 1602 by Cipriano de Valera, originally a member of the same monastic order as de Reina, who was, from 1559, a professor at the University of Cambridge.

Though it was revised again several times up to the twentieth century, this Spanish Protestant translation is still known, and still in use, as the Reina-Valera Bible. It has a status among Spanish Protestants somewhat equivalent to that of the King James Bible among English speakers. The charming printer’s mark of the bear climbing a tree for honey identifies the work of the Bern printer Mattias Apiarius, whose name (in his native German, “Biener”) means “beekeeper.”

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


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.


A Curator Looks at 400

Steven Galbraith. Photo by Ryan Jenq.

Steven Galbraith. Photo by Ryan Jenq.

Thinking about the one-year anniversary of Manifold Greatness takes me back to August 2009 and a balcony overlooking the ocean at Bethany Beach, DE. Miles from the Folger, my mind was more in Margaritaville than Jacobean England, but I owed Hannibal Hamlin a phone call regarding the King James Bible. A few days earlier we had met with my Folger colleagues regarding plans for the KJV’s 400th anniversary. We agreed to co-curate a Folger exhibition in 2011, but as ideas flew around the room, the scope of the exhibition grew and grew. There was talk of partnerships, grants, websites, and traveling exhibitions.

In some ways this is the most exciting moment in the life of an exhibition: the moment when you think as creatively as you can, without yet worrying about what might not be possible. The KJV anniversary was clearly going to be a bigger project than we had first imagined. I think that I can speak for both Hannibal and myself in admitting that although it was exciting, it was also pretty overwhelming. We agreed to talk everything through in a few days. I left the library for the beach.

Fast forward to this past fall. Like Hannibal, who recently shared his reflections on the one-year anniversary of the exhibition, I was inspired by our meeting last fall with representatives from the exhibition’s host sites. As I stood before this amazing group of people and heard their plans for their exhibitions, it really dawned on me that the exhibition on which we all had been working was really about to launch. With the Folger Shakespeare Library, the NEH, and all of these dynamic librarians, curators, and educators putting their efforts behind the exhibition, I knew things could only go well.

A year in and I am thrilled by the reach of Manifold Greatness. So far the exhibition has traveled to eighteen sites (counting the larger exhibitions at the Folger, the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin).  The Folger exhibition broke previous attendance records and the turnout at the exhibition sites has been very impressive. We are so thankful for all the support. The blog itself has been visited 30,948 times. Thank you for reading!

I couldn’t have seen any of this three years ago from my perch looking out over the ocean. When I did phone Hannibal we talked at length about how fun it was going to be to work together and agreed that we wouldn’t let things get too overwhelming. We were right on one count!  But from my vantage point the future looked pretty promising.

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 Sauer Bible

"Biblia, Das ist: Die Heilige Schrift Alten und Neuen Testaments, Nach der Deutschen Übersetzung D. Martin Luther". Courtesy Rochester Institute of Technology.

Whenever a librarian or curator begins working at a new library, he or she is given the overwhelming, though gratifying, challenge of getting to know the collection. When I was in library school, my advisor John Ellison gave me sound advice that when I start any new job to spend time afterhours and during breaks just browsing the stacks until I felt comfortable in my new surroundings. I’ve since made this a habit.

When I first arrived at RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection last September, a great many books called to me from the shelves, but one book in particular really beckoned.  Here’s what I saw:

“Biblia, Das ist: Die Heilige Schrift Alten und Neuen Testaments, Nach der Deutschen Übersetzung D. Martin Luther”. Courtesy Rochester Institute of Technology.

 I happen to love books that are missing their binding material.  Though they can be a challenge to handle, they are great examples to use when teaching bookbinding and the anatomy of books.  From a distance, the book looked early to me, perhaps sixteenth-century.  When I opened it, however, I quickly realized it was a later German Bible.  Its title page was missing (a common ailment in early Bibles), so I moved forward to the beginning of the New Testament, which often has its own title page. 

Two things jumped off the New Testament title page: “Saur” and “1743.” 

“Biblia, Das ist: Die Heilige Schrift Alten und Neuen Testaments, Nach der Deutschen Übersetzung D. Martin Luther”. Courtesy Rochester Institute of Technology.

 How exciting!  This book was a copy of the first edition of “The Sauer Bible.” In an earlier post,  Hannibal Hamlin mentioned John Eliot’s missionary Bible translated into the Native American language Massachusett and Robert Aitken’s “Revolutionary” Bible produced during the American Revolutionary War.”

Printed in 1663 and 1782, respectively, these were the first and third Bibles printed in the United States.  Both appeared in the Folger’s Manifold Greatness exhibition. The Sauer Bible could have as well.  Historically, it rests between Eliot’s Massachusett Bible and Aitken’s “Revolutionary” Bible, as the second Bible printed in the United States and the first Bible printed in America in a European language.

The Sauer Bible takes its name from Christoph Sauer, a German immigrant and printer in Germantown, PA who in 1743 sought to publish a Luther Bible in German for the waves of immigrants that were making their homes in Pennsylvania.

When in the fall of 2013, the Cary Collection attempts its own Bible exhibition, this copy of the Sauer Bible will certainly be featured as an important artifact in the history of the Bible in America.  For more on this topic, I would recommend Hannibal Hamlin’s essay “The King James Bible in America” from the Manifold Greatness exhibition catalog.

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.


Manifold Greatness On the Road: One Year On

A family Bible from a workshop hosted at the University of Minnesota. Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

A family Bible displayed at a workshop hosted at the University of Minnesota. Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

Hard to believe the panel exhibition of Manifold Greatness has been traveling across America for a year! Like you, I’ve followed its progress, reading reports from Whitworth University (Spokane, WA), Winfield Public Library (Winfield, KS), Mobile Public Library (Mobile, AL), and Hope College (Holland, MI). And these are only the posts on the blog’s first page! I remember when Steve Galbraith and I, as co-curators of Manifold Greatness, met with representatives of all the host sites.

In September, 2011, the American Library Association hosted a daylong workshop, where Steve and I talked about the genesis and realization of the exhibition, and about what we saw as its most compelling stories. It was fascinating and moving to hear then from all the representatives, as they described the diverse array of events with which they would surround the Manifold Greatness panels. So many of these have now come to pass: lectures and colloquia on the translation of the Bible, on the influence of the King James Bible on American writers, on family Bibles, on rare book preservation, and much more. Through the wonders of communication technology, we’ve been able not only to read about these celebrations but to see photographs, and even watch a live stream of the colloquium at the University of Minnesota. It’s as if the conversation we started at the Folger is ongoing, being joined and carried on by other communities across the country.

In a way this reminds me of the spread of the King James Bible itself. I wrote in the exhibition book about Parson Weems, the almost legendary Bible salesman of the Philadelphia printer Matthew Carey. Weems hawked Bibles in the 1790s and early nineteenth century in Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia, and his native Virginia. But he sold Bibles to Northerners, too. From New York he wrote to Collins that their publishing plans had “knock’d up just such a dust here among the Printers as would a stone if thrown smack into the center of a Hornet’s nest.” As an interesting aside, Weems was also the author of The Life of Washington , a collection of stories about America’s first president and the origin of the famous (but untrue!) anecdote of young George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree.

Weems was the Johnny Appleseed of Bibles, planting them wherever he and his horse rode. Weems’s efforts were later eclipsed by those of the American Bible Society, whose goal was to put a Bible (King James Version) in every household. By mid-19th century they were printing and distributing a million Bibles a year. In the twentieth century, the Gideons took on the task of putting a Bible in every hotel room. The huge dissemination of the King James Bible in America ensured its influence on American literature and culture. The influence of Manifold Greatness will be more modest, I’m sure, but like the book it explores, it will have a wide reach. The panels have already traveled to 14 states, and they will reach 13 more before they reach the end of their road in 2013.

Happy trails!

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


Looking Back

Rockwell Kent. Plattsburgh State Art Museum. Bequest of Sally Kent Gorton. Copyright 1930, R.R. Connelley & Sons, Inc and the Plattsburgh College Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Well, as I write this, Manifold Greatness is coming down, making way in the Folger’s Great Hall for the next exhibition. I’m in Columbus, but I can imagine the Bibles and books being carefully carried back down to their usual resting places in the Folger vaults. The couriers are sealing up loan items to transport them back to their homes at the Library of Congress, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Graceland (Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.), the Bodleian Library, Lambeth Palace, and elsewhere. The Hamlin Family Bible will find its way back to me. The ever-resourceful Caryn Lazzuri will no doubt find a storage space for the antique radio she scrounged up for the exhibition, and the pulpit and pew we borrowed from the Lutheran Church of the Reformation will be returned.

It’s been a remarkable experience planning, making, mounting, and writing and talking about Manifold Greatness. Thinking back on how much it involved is almost dizzying. And I’ve learned so much. I remember coming (online) upon the John Alden Bible at Pilgrim Hall, for instance, and how exciting it was to think that this might have been the first King James Bible in America. We almost got a Bible owned by Bob Marley, a photo of which we did use on the traveling panel exhibition. That loan, like some others, didn’t work out, but Elvis’s King James Bible was a fine addition. It was fun to see this loan, and Manifold Greatness, advertised at Graceland, which I visited in November. We borrowed Bibles and other books from around the world; the Library of Congress and the Bodleian were especially generous. Steve Galbraith, Caryn, and I sat down with Mark Dimunation, the Library of Congress’s Chief of Rare Books and Special Collections, and he showed us some gems: the Massachusett Bible of John Eliot, the first Bible printed in America, and Robert Aitken’s “Revolutionary” Bible, America’s first homegrown KJV. We made a pitch for the KJV Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on, but it had been traveling too much and needed a rest from exhibitions. A happy alternative was the George Washington Family Bible, which we found at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, across the Potomac in Alexandria, Virginia.

John Bois’ manuscript notes of the proceedings. Courtesy of Corpus Cristi College, University of Oxford.

Especially momentous was the loan of the “Big Three,” the only surviving manuscripts from the KJV process itself. Manifold Greatness brought these together for the first time; they’re normally at the Bodleian Library, Corpus Christi (Oxford), and Lambeth Palace (London). They met first in Oxford’s exhibition and then travelled to the Folger, their first visit to America as well. I was fascinated, as visitors were, by the Bishops’ Bible with the inscriptions of one of the KJV translators, deleting a word here, adding one there, noting changes in the margin. I gave at least half a dozen tours of the exhibition, and it was a treat to be able to read aloud from this document, showing how the specific language of this most influential of books actually came into being.

My memories stay with me, but I’ll miss the physical experience of the exhibition. I loved the contrast between  the massive and luxurious Bishops’ Bible of Queen Elizabeth I and the tiny, spare Bible brought to sea by Justinian Isham. The case of Literary Influences (also viewable as an interactive timeline on the exhibition website) was another favorite. I hadn’t realized until they were all in place what a radical bunch of biblical writers we’d assembled: John Milton, John Bunyan, William Blake, Herman Melville, Allan Ginsberg. You could practically hear their rebellious roaring through the glass! Finally, being able to walk from the case with the fragile little leaves from Tyndale’s 1530 Pentateuch across to the 1968 photo of Earthrise, listening on cellphone to the Apollo 8 astronauts reading Genesis from outer space—that was an amazing leap across the centuries. Manifold Greatness indeed.

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


Thomas P. Meyer Prisoner of war

Inscription. New Testament. New York: American Bible Society, 1863.

With each new post I write for the Manifold Greatness blog, I am struck anew by the long reach of the King James Bible and how much history was covered by just our one exhibition. Take, for example, the 1863 King James New Testament loaned by the American Bible Society for the Folger exhibition. When images of the Bible first arrived at the Folger, we were all struck by the book’s inscription:

Presented by the Sanitary
Commission, through
the rebel authorities at
Richmond, Feb. – 1864
Belle Island
Richmond, Va.
Thomas P. Meyer
Prisoner of war

This extraordinary copy dates back to the American Civil War, when it was given to a Union prisoner of war named Meyer “through the rebel authorities” by the United States Sanitary Commission, an organization that provided relief to Union soldiers. Wanting to learn more, I began reading about the prison on Belle Isle and ended up on a website that had a transcription of the diary of Zelotes A. Musgrave, a Union prisoner of war from Ohio, who spent about five months in the prison. Spare, though compelling, daily entries such as “Belle Island. The body lice are fat.” provide a captivating glimpse of the harsh conditions at Belle Isle. At one point Musgrave receives a blanket from “our government, as rather the Christian Commission,” a moment of comfort reminiscent of the Sanitary Commission’s gift of the New Testament to Thomas P. Meyer.

Reading through Musgrave’s diary also brought back memories of what I had learned about the Civil War history of my own hometown. I grew up in Elmira, New York, which was the site of a rather brutal Union prison. I thought about how the words of the King James translation have brought relief to many in need. A Confederate prisoner of war in Elmira likely read the same Biblical passages as a Union prisoner of war at Belle Isle (see Hannibal Hamlin’s earlier post on the Civil War)—just as a young man sailing “beyond the seas” sought comfort in the Psalms and Martin Luther King inspired millions with verses such as Amos 5:24.

In the planning stages of the Manifold Greatness exhibition, Hannibal and I agreed that we wanted to show the human side of the history of the King James Bible. Meyer’s Civil War New Testament is a powerful example and we are thankful to the American Bible Society for allowing it to be a part of our exhibition.

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, open through Monday, January 16.


Myths Debunked: King James and the King James Bible

Trevelyon Miscellany. 1608. Folger.

OK, more myths to bust. King James I did not translate the King James Bible, and he was also no saint! I’ve seen at least one recent book (a collection of KJV excerpts) entitled King James’s Bible. The implicit claim of this title is true, to the extent that the KJV was commissioned by King James, and it was presumably the Bible he himself used from 1611 until his death in 1625. But, in this last sense, it was pretty much everybody else’s Bible, too.

James certainly did not do any of the translating of the KJV. He was a very scholarly king, interested in theology and the Bible. Among other works, he wrote a book on demonology (1597) and a learned exposition on several chapters of Revelation. He also translated some of the Psalms into meter, but this practice tended to involve turning English prose versions into verse, rather than rendering the original Hebrew into English. Lots of people wrote metrical Psalms at this period, and most didn’t know Hebrew.

James set the KJV ball rolling, but once it was in motion he more or less left it alone. The eminent scholars worked away on the project for years, without any involvement from the monarch. The dedicatory Epistle to King James at the front of the KJV refers to the king as the “principle mover and author of this work.” However, the word “author” in this case doesn’t mean what it does in a phrase like “the author of Shakespeare’s works is William Shakespeare.” It’s closer to our word “authority,” or really someone who authorizes or instigates (as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it).

James I at the hunt (standing, right). Gascoigne, The noble art of venerie or hunting. 1611. Folger.

It’s interesting that the British tend to refer to the KJV as the “Authorized Version,” while Americans prefer the “King James Bible.” The term “Authorized Version” dates from only the nineteenth century, while as early as 1723, according to one writer, it was “commonly called King James’s Bible.” In the seventeenth century, most people just referred to it as the new or latest translation. For the first American edition of the KJV, the “Revolutionary Bible” of 1782, the printer Robert Aitken carefully removed any reference to King James.

I’ve also occasionally heard the KJV described as the “St. James Bible.” Maybe people have the “St. James Infirmary Blues” going through their heads, or they’re thinking of the many churches dedicated to St. James (there are actually several saints by this name, including St. James the Great, St. James the Less, and St. James the Just). I don’t know. But the only James associated with the KJV is King James I, and he was never canonized. Not only was he less than saintly in his behavior (a bit of a party animal), but he was not a Catholic, which seems a fairly basic requirement for sainthood.

We can keep calling it the King James Bible, but we shouldn’t let that nickname mislead us into giving James more credit than he’s due.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, on view through January 16, 2012.


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