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.

In the News

Martin Luther King, Thomas Jefferson, and the King James Bible, Cherry Blossom Edition

King Memorial and cherry blossoms, April 8, 2013. Photo: Esther Ferington

King Memorial and cherry blossoms, April 8, 2013.

Washington, DC, the home of the Folger Shakespeare Library, is reveling in the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20 to April 14) as the Japanese cherry trees around the Tidal Basin and elsewhere are now approaching their glorious but short-lived “peak bloom.”

We thought we’d revisit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, first discussed in this blog post by Manifold Greatness curator Hannibal Hamlin around the time of the memorial’s original (but storm-delayed) dedication in August 2011.

Martin Luther King often quoted from the Bible, including the King James Bible, in his speeches, including a line from Amos evoking a time when justice runs down “like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” You can see that quotation in the inscription here from a 1955 speech in Montgomery, Alabama. And yes, those are cherry blossoms at the top of the picture!

Inscription at the King Memorial. April 8, 2013.

Inscription quoting the Book of Amos, King Memorial, April 8, 2013

Over the past year and a half of the Manifold Greatness exhibit’s continuing travels, some of the Manifold Greatness host sites have included special events that touched on King’s use of the King James Bible as well as the connection between the King James Bible and the black church tradition. For more examples of the role of the King James Bible in American public life, you may want to explore the Modern Life image gallery on our Manifold Greatness website.

Jefferson Memorial. April 8, 2013.

Jefferson Memorial. April 8, 2013.

The King Memorial is located directly on the Tidal Basin, which is encircled by those blossoming Japanese cherry trees. King’s statue looks across the water at the Jefferson Memorial, which has its own historic associations with the King James Bible. One of Thomas Jefferson’s post-presidential projects was to assemble, from scripture, an account of Jesus’ teachings that excluded supernatural elements, producing what he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. You can see one passage in the Historic American Bibles image gallery on the Manifold Greatness website, or learn much more about it at the Smithsonian’s Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, which includes a complete online facsimile.

CherryBlossoms

In between the Jefferson and King memorials along the edge of the Tidal Basin is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Unlike many American presidents, however, Roosevelt does not offer us a simple King James Bible connection through his inauguration ceremonies. Franklin Roosevelt followed the tradition of being sworn in on a Bible, and he used the same one for all four inaugurations (he had also used it when he was sworn in as governor of New York in 1928 and 1930). But it was not the King James Bible. Roosevelt was sworn in on his family’s 1686 Dutch Bible (scroll down to see photos), the oldest Bible used at any presidential inauguration to date, and the only inaugural Bible in a modern foreign language, Dutch.

The traveling exhibit Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife appears next in mid-April at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky; the Tifton Museum of Arts and Heritage in coordination with the Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia; and the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland.


The Queen James Bible

Queen James BibleLast week, a new adaptation of the King James Bible titled the Queen James Bible attracted considerable  media attention. A statement on the Bible’s website notes “The Queen James Bible seeks to resolve interpretive ambiguity in the Bible as it pertains to homosexuality.” Its editors have changed 8 verses: Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10 and Jude 1:7, amending each to remove anti-gay language.

One of the claims made on the Queen James Bible website is that James I, the royal sponsor of the King James Bible, was called “Queen James” during his lifetime due to his public affection for other men. While James did have many male favorites, including Robert Carr and George Villiers, his sexual preferences remain ambiguous. There is no historical evidence that James was referred to as “Queen James” by contemporaries, although one epigram noted “Rex fuit Elizabeth, nunc est regina Jacobus” (Elizabeth was King, now James is Queen). However, the epigram is apocryphal. Furthermore, whether the epigram is a comment on his sexuality, or the difference in governing style between James and his forceful cousin, remains unclear.  James and his wife, Anne of Denmark, had 7 children, although only 3 of them reached adulthood. In addition, Anne suffered several miscarriages. Within a few years of his marriage, James also became romantically linked to Lady Anne Murray, a Scottish noblewoman.

Whatever James’ sexual orientation may have been, the King James Bible is one of the definitive achievements of his reign, and its legacy continues to inspire Bible translation and interpretation today.

Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website and Family Guide. She is a Communications Associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.


Final Days and Beautiful Sunshine for the Folger Exhibition

It will be tough to say goodbye to the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition after this Monday (in the words of Juliet, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”)… but we hope to see you before it goes!

The Folger exhibition is open today (Saturday), Sunday, and Monday; admission is free. And we’re delighted to have started the last weekend of the exhibition with brilliant sunshine.

Some of the many “don’t miss” items now on display in the Folger exhibition include:

Bishops' Bible. 1568. Folger.

• An Anglo-Saxon manuscript from about the year 1000 that retells biblical stories in epic verse
• A rare Wycliffite Bible from the 1380s
• A 1530 fragment from William Tyndale’s contraband biblical translations, discussed by Hannibal Hamlin in this post: Tyndale was executed in 1536
• Queen Elizabeth’s 1568 Bishops’ Bible
• A Bodleian copy of a 1602 Bishops’ Bible annotated with translators’ changes
• 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, including the Hamlin Family Bible

Earthrise. Apollo 8, December 24, 1968. NASA.

And what story does it all tell? In the words of the Washington Post from last September:

The exhibition includes fascinating mysteries, epic battles, stake burnings and other enthralling episodes in the lives of the men involved in Bible translation. It covers the events that led to the birth of the King James, as well as the book’s influence on art, literature, popular culture, music and history—from Handel’s “Messiah” to the reading of Genesis by the astronauts aboard Apollo 8, a broadcast heard by a quarter of the people on Earth at the time, making the Bible’s reach literally astronomical.

The New York Times (also in September) put it this way:

Pay close attention to the major new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library here, “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” and you will see not only manuscripts going back to the year 1000, an early translation from the 14th century, Queen Elizabeth I’s copy of the Bible, and imposingly bound versions of the King James; you will also sense the gradual birth of the modern English language and the subtle framing of a culture’s patterns of thought… you cannot survey the riches at the Folger without realizing that you are being given a glimpse of a culture’s birth.

In his recent blog post about an American Civil War POW’s King James Bible, curator Steve Galbraith noted “the long reach of the King James Bible and how much history was covered by our one exhibition.” Another reminder of those historical KJB associations comes this weekend, with the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday on Monday and Dr. King’s actual birthday on Sunday. Curator Hannibal Hamlin wrote about Martin Luther King and the King James Bible last August, and King is recognized in the Folger exhibition as well. On Monday, the exhibition’s last day, the Folger Shakespeare Library also offers a free, family-friendly event for the King holiday on the theme of protest. And once again, the King James Bible of 1611 traces its connections to the present day.


Tips for Visitors

The exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible opens to the public today at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, and we couldn’t be happier!

The Manifold Greatness exhibition will be on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library from September 23 to January 16. If you will be going to the Folger exhibition, you may be interested in the following tips for visitors:

HOURS: Monday–Saturday, 10am–5pm; Sundays, Noon–5pm
ADMISSION: Free
LOCATION: 201 East Capitol Street, SE, one block from the US Capitol, Washington, DC
METRO: Union Station (red line) or Capitol South (orange / blue line)
DAILY GUIDED TOURS: Monday-Friday, 11am and 3pm; Saturdays, 11am and 1pm
Folger docents offer guided tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger’s national landmark building, free of charge. No advance reservations required.
GROUP TOURS: Docent-led tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger national landmark building, are offered for groups of 10 or more. To arrange, please call (202) 675-0395.
AUDIO TOURS: Visitors, using their own cell phones, can call (202) 595-1844 and follow the prompts for 200# through 213# to hear the Folger Manifold Greatness curators share personal comments on exhibition items.

Folger Shakespeare Library is a world-class center for scholarship, learning, culture, and the arts. It is home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500–1750). The Folger is an internationally recognized research library offering advanced scholarly programs in the humanities; an innovator in the preservation of rare materials; a national leader in how Shakespeare is taught in grades K–12; and an award-winning producer of cultural and arts programs—theater, music, poetry, exhibits, lectures, and family programs. By promoting understanding of Shakespeare and his world, the Folger reminds us of the enduring influence of his works, the formative effects of the Renaissance on our own time, and the power of the written and spoken word. A gift to the American people from industrialist Henry Clay Folger, the Folger—located one block east of the U.S. Capitol—opened in 1932.

Learn more about the Folger exhibition.
Learn more about the Folger Shakespeare Library..


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.


Record attendance for Bodleian Manifold Greatness exhibition

The Bodleian’s Manifold Greatness exhibition closed its doors on Sunday 4 September, with visitors still savouring their chance to encounter its exhibits right up to the last moment. The final attendance figure was 58,024 – a record for a Bodleian exhibition – and the whole team here is delighted at the response the exhibition has drawn. Many local people have enjoyed the chance to learn more about Oxford’s connections with Bible translation – from Wyclif, to Tyndale, the KJB translators, and beyond – and early in the exhibition’s run this connection was given a slot on the prime-time local TV news. The exhibition has also been covered in the Oxford Times and on BBC Radio Oxford. Visitors have been drawn from all over the globe, and comments have been left in the visitors’ book in many different languages.  The meeting of different cultures and languages through the act of Bible translation was one of the themes of the exhibition, and so it is very apt that the exhibition itself should have become a place of so many local, national and international encounters with the story of the KJB.

Helen Moore is Fellow and Tutor in English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.  She chaired the Oxford ‘Manifold Greatness’ curatorial committee.


Making the ‘Manifold Greatness’ Bodleian App

Making of the King James Bible, Bodleian app

The Bodleian Library’s first app, ‘The Making of the King James Bible’, is now available to download for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. The narrative and content were conceived and written by the curators, with valuable input from colleagues at the Bodleian Library and others.

From the earliest days of planning, the Bodleian’s ‘Manifold Greatness’ exhibition has had a strong narrative focussing on the KJB’s links to Oxford and the material culture of the translators’ time, particularly in the form of the books connected with the translation that survive in Oxford libraries. This narrative transferred well to a digital environment, allowing us to create an app that would both enhance the experience of visitors to the Bodleian and provide a coherent and enjoyable digital encounter for those further afield.

For me as a writer, one of the most interesting aspects of this process (my first taste of app-writing), was the three-dimensional and interactive way in which a story, images, sound and information can be presented in an app. Architectural and skeletal metaphors kept occurring to me as I worked on it.

Making of the King James Bible, Bodleian app

Like chapter headings in a book, the main menu supports the whole structure, and articulates the narrative of the app in miniature. But thereafter, the structure of the app becomes much less linear, as independent narratives branch out from the spine of the ‘Manifold Greatness’ story. The important role accorded to images and sound in an app, and the way they interact with text, has been another fascinating aspect to the project.

It certainly reminded me that the interaction of text and image has always been a key element in the physical process of Bible reading.  The artist who illustrated the Old English biblical poems in MS Junius 11; the creator of the woodcuts used in the Geneva Bible; or the cartographer John Speed, whose maps of Canaan were included in the 1611 KJB, all have an important role to play in the history of biblical reception. (These images can be viewed in the app).

Helen Moore is Fellow in English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and chaired the Oxford ‘Manifold Greatness’ curatorial committee.


The King and the King James Bible

Elvis Presley King James Bible. Courtesy Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

Today marks the 34th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Though known primarily as a rock and roll singer, Elvis had a special love for the gospel music he’d grown up with in Tupelo, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee. Performances of favorites such as “How Great Thou Art” and “Peace in the Valley” earned him his only three Grammy awards and a spot in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The lyrics to many such gospel songs are rooted in the language of the King James Bible.

On Sunday, my local PBS station, Maryland Public Television (MPT), aired a documentary called “He Touched Me: The Gospel Music of Elvis Presley.”  It was a joy seeing and hearing Elvis perform his gospel favorites and to hear his former bandmates recall how after their shows ended, Elvis and his band would sing gospel songs and jam for friends until the sun rose.

Elvis owned many Bibles and always kept one close by. The King James Bible pictured here, normally found in Elvis’s room in Graceland, will be on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library as a part of the Manifold Greatness exhibition. The loan approval for Elvis’s Bible came shortly after news that we would not be receiving the Abraham Lincoln/Barack Obama Bible from the Library of Congress.  We were disappointed, but completely understood the decision. And after all, we might not have gotten the President, but we got the King.

Steven Galbraith, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Books, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


The King James Bible and the U.S. Civil War

Drummer boy, Manassas 150th anniversary, July 2011. Copyright Jeff Mauritzen and Discover Prince William & Manassas, VA.

Yesterday, July 21, was the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run, the first major land battle of the Civil War. The coincidence of the anniversaries of the U.S. Civil War and the publication of the King James Bible offers an opportunity to reflect on how important the KJB was for this crisis in American history.

For both sides, South and North, the war was conceived in biblical terms. As Abraham Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural Address on March 24, 1865, “Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” In the mid nineteenth century, the King James Bible was overwhelmingly the Bible of American Protestant Christians, with the American Bible Society alone publishing a million KJBs annually. Lincoln was sworn in on a copy of the KJB, just as George Washington and other presidents were before him. The key issue in the Civil War was slavery, and for Southerners the Bible provided its justification, as argued in works like Josiah Priest’s Bible Defense of Slavery (Glasgow, KY, 1852). Yet Northern Abolitionists from John Brown to Frederick Douglass (as discussed in this earlier post) found their justification in the Bible too.

In fact, though the KJB, along with Christianity, was introduced to slaves by their owners in hopes it would encourage obedience, the slaves turned the religion and the book against their masters, finding in them instead a source of hope and a manifesto for freedom from bondage. The spiritual “Go Down Moses,” for instance, interprets the story of Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt as a promise for the exodus of blacks out of slavery. The language of African American religion, music, literature, and public oratory has been steeped in the rhythms and phrases of the KJB ever since.

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


Words, Words, Words

Over the weekend, British media announced that Prince Charles contributed two verses (Genesis 1:1-2) to The People’s Bible, a handwritten Bible being produced in the UK in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

Although the KJB translators probably had little idea that their text would still be used by members of the royal family centuries later, they did choose their words carefully.  In some cases, the translators made adjustments to previous English versions of the Bible. For example, William Tyndale, one of the first people to translate portions of the Bible into modern English, rendered the first verses of Genesis like this:  

In the beginning God created heaven and earth. The earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the deep, and the spirit of God moved upon the water.  

In the King James version, the verses appear like this:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

In fact, for many readers, the version of the verse as it appears in the King James Bible has become the standard and other translations sound odd. In the Bishops’ Bible, produced in 1568, Isaiah 60:1 reads:  “Get thee up betimes, and be bright, for thy light cometh, and the glory of the Lord is risen up upon thee.”   

While it may be a stretch to imagine such language resounding from a pulpit today, the Bishops’ Bible remained a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I and her personal copy is in the Folger Shakespeare Library collection. With the “Compare Translations” feature,  it is easy to note differences in the language of the King James Bible and earlier translations and see how much has changed-or not-over the years.

Amy Arden is a Communications Associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library and assisted in content development for the Manifold Greatness website.


Ohio State Conference

Thompson Library, The Ohio State UniversityWell, I should have posted this a couple of weeks ago, but conference organizing takes its toll apparently. I came down with a cold a few days before our conference at Ohio State (May 5-7) and I’ve been struggling with it ever since.

The conference, The King James Bible and its Cultural Afterlife, was a great success, though, and all the participants I’ve heard from (we had about 150) enjoyed themselves and the lively exchange of ideas. We had eminent literary scholars from across the world: New Zealand, Belgium, Taiwan, England, Scotland, and across the United States. Universities represented included Oxford, Glasgow, Leuven, Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand), Yale, Georgetown, William and Mary, Maryland, Purdue, Rutgers, and many more. David Norton (author of The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today) gave the keynote address, which focused on biblical language and allusions in Jane Eyre. The plenary panels offered superb papers by scholars of the Reformation, African American literature, English Romanticism, Milton, Gay and Lesbian Studies, and biblical scholarship. Many of the presenters–Stephen Prickett, Jason Rosenblatt, Adam Potkay, Gergely Juhasz, Katherine Bassard, Heather Walton, Michael Wheeler–were contibutors to The King James Bible after 400 Years, but they were joined by Gordon Campbell (Bible: The Story of the King James Bible, 1611-2011), David Jasper (The Sacred Body: Asceticism in Literature, Religion, Art, and Culture), Leland Ryken (The Legacy of the King James Bible), and many others. These books were on display outside the conference theater, along with the book for the Folger-Bodleian exhibitions, Manifold Greatness, a copy sent to us hot off the press.

Another feature of the conference was a reading and talk by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Edward P. Jones. He read passages from his novel The Known World as well as his short story collections about characters in Washington, DC, all chosen to highlight the influence of the King James Bible. He spoke afterward of how the minimalism of the Old Testament narrative had shaped his own style, avoiding unnecessary adjectives and adverbs and minimizing authorial intrusions.

Not only was the discussion outstanding over the several days, but the weather weirdly cooperated with us, giving us the only sunshine Columbus had seen for many weeks.
 
Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Arts, crafts, and the KJB

Folger flowers: Papers from the Lada-Mocarski Decorated Paper Collection, Folger Shakespeare Library.

If you follow Manifold Greatness on our Twitter account and  our Facebook page, you already know that the celebration of the King James Bible this 400th anniversary year has taken some creative turns, in everything from drama, music, and art to crafts as ephemeral as flower arranging and scarecrow making.

A quick round-up of some recent highlights reveals—in the last week alone—two new, live-theater productions based on the King James Bible, both in Oxford. A one-night performance at Merton College, University of Oxford, The Full 1611, used lines from every book of the KJB to fashion a 100-minute drama. An Oxford theater troupe, meanwhile, is staging Tales of King James, an original two-actor play, in St. Barnabas Church.

On Wednesday, the King James Bible Trust announced the winning new choral works for its King James Bible Composition Awards, out of eight finalist pieces—both to be aired June 19 on BBC Radio 3′s The Choir: “Out of the South Cometh the Whirlwind,” by Zachary Wadsworth and “The Mystery of Christ,” by Christopher Totney.

In the visual arts, a juried exhibition of modern mosaics on the theme of the King James Bible remains on view through May 30 at Lichfield Cathedral. (In the US, contemporary artist Mako Fujimura has produced a commissioned series of paintings in honor of the King James Bible 400th; they’ll be in the On Eagles’ Wings KJB exhibit, opening in July at New York’s Museum of Biblical Art.)

And, as mentioned, some local crafts are responding to the anniversaryas well. A flower festival in Belfast this weekend marks the anniversary with floral displays evoking Bible verses. Nor is this the only KJB flower arranging this weekend alone; there’s another in Stoke Row. Last week’s Eastwood & Kimberley Advertiser even reported that this year’s scarecrow festival in Underwood included “biblical characters” made by residents “to mark the King James Bible’s 400th anniversary,” although a non-KJB George and the Dragon won the contest. You can see the slingshot-wielding David scarecrow here.


Q & A with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Bodleian Manifold Greatness exhibition

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Less than two weeks ago, he was being watched around the world during the royal wedding, but just recently Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has been on a four-day visit to the Oxford diocese—ending yesterday at the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Bodleian Library.

We’ve been following along on Twitter (@lambethpalace) and his website, www.archbishopofcanterbury.com, and looking forward to the exhibition visit! The Bodleian stop included a 33-minute question and answer with Oxford students that is already available online.

On his website, you can find an account of the entire four-day visit to the diocese, which includes plenty of audio clips. Scroll to the very end for info on the Manifold Greatness visit. Or, go right to an audio-only page with the full Q & A.

Questions include the consequences of having different translations, the difference between hearing and seeing biblical text, and more. The audio begins with about five minutes of remarks by the archbishop before the first question.

UPDATE: Learn more about the archbishop’s visit and the question and answer session from this Bodleian Library announcement, which includes photos.


Mythbusters 2: May 2 Publication Date of KJV

Queen Elizabeth I (Penelope Rahming) and Sir Derek Jacobi cut Shakespeare’s birthday cake at the Folger Shakespeare Library, April 2008. Claire Duggan.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about the King James Bible. (See my earlier post on Shakespeare as translator.) On both sides of the Atlantic, people are celebrating today as the publication date of the KJV. Even Garrison Keiller has used the date in his Writer’s Almanac. The date even seems to have a certain venerable tradition, since the date is noted as far back as 1866 in A Reference Book for English History by Alexander Charles Ewald. It’s been in lists of famous dates ever since.

The problem is that it’s not true. Never mind that there’s no documentary record of May 2 as a publication date — the more important point is that the whole notion of a “publication date” did not exist in 1611. Even pinning down the year of publication of books can be tricky. Some were given fake imprints with falsified dates (many 17th century Geneva Bibles, for instance). In other cases, especially with a book as huge as the Bible, printing took a rather long time, and it is not at all clear when the finished product was finally made available to the public.

The one record that does help approach the time of publication is the Stationers’ Register, but there’s no record of the KJV, because it was considered a revision, not an original book. David Norton, who knows more than anyone about the text and printing of the KJV, describes it as having appeared sometime between March 1611 and February 1612 (the earlier system of dating, beginning the New Year on March 25, is a further complication). So it’s actually possible the KJV didn’t come out in 1611 at all!

We are uncomfortable with uncertainty, it seems, especially anniversaries. Look at Shakespeare’s birthday (photo above!). No one knows on which day in late April he was born, for the simple reason that all we have is a baptismal record, not a birth certificate (there wasn’t such a thing). We want to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, though, and April 23 appeals for two reasons: he died on April 23, and we like the symmetry of matching birth and death dates; and April is St. George’s Day, patron saint of England.

It doesn’t seem that May 2 has any particular associations, but we do want to a day to celebrate. Never mind if it’s the right one.

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


Easter 2011: KJB at the Globe

The Bible at the Globe. Courtesy Carol Kelly.

“The King James Bible was written to be read aloud. It was a performance text or it was nothing.” This stirring declaration by David Hall, head of classics at Dollar Academy, in his essay in the theater program shown here, suggests one reason behind the plethora of nationwide and worldwide recitals of the KJB in the last few months, including this one at the Globe in London that covered the entire text. The setting provided the perfect link with Shakespeare, whose plays, too, were written to be performed, not read.

I attended the Easter Sunday afternoon recitals of the Gospels according to St. Luke and St. John at the Globe. Four actors, two male, two female, took it in turns to recite the entire texts, in sections of about ten to fifteen minutes each. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of visuals—I was hoping they wouldn’t have someone reciting from a pulpit dressed in Jacobean clothes! In fact, the four young actors were casually dressed, which added not only a comfortable informality to the proceedings but also seemed a good way to reinforce the notion that this Bible still speaks to us today, just as it did four hundred years ago. The text was piped discreetly into their ears with the help of i-players but this did not detract at all from their delivery, which was engaging and fluent. The actors moved around the empty stage, at times addressing the audience, at times delivering their lines to the whole cosmic world with clarity and thought-provoking intensity. They brought out the wonder of the words but also the humor and humanity behind the familiar stories.

Barbara Marten, Globe Bible recital, 2011. Photo: Fiona Moorhead

The recital was designed so that people could come and go freely, and folks taking the tour of the Globe that day were ushered in and out to sample a short section of the recital. I was apprehensive about being able to sit for four hours on a seat with no back, listening to a recital with minimal visuals, but it was far from being a challenge.

The Gospel according to St. John seemed particularly suited to the young actors’ talents. Although not one word was cut, the recital had been carefully structured so that each section ended on a poignant moment or on a passage that was memorable such as, “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

The experience made me appreciate not only the power of those words, but also the human voice as an instrument of communication. I thought of seventeenth-century churchgoers hearing the King James Bible for the first time. This recital brought the words to life, where they belong.

Carol Kelly is the Festivals Project Coordinator for the Education Department of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. As she notes here, she attended the April 24, 2011, afternoon performance of the Shakespeare’s Globe read-through of the entire King James Bible, which we previewed in this earlier post.


Shakespeare did not write the King James Bible, no way, no how.

In Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Walter “Monk” McGinn (played by Brendan Gleason, here to the right of Liam Neeson) says, “Do you know who Bill Shakespeare was, sonny? He’s the fella that wrote the King James Bible.”

The occasion of Shakespeare’s birthday—traditionally celebrated April 23, though no one knows the precise date—is a good time to offer some reflections about a persistent myth. Since the late nineteenth century, some people have suggested that Shakespeare was involved in the translation of the King James Bible. Just to be clear,

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!!

The reasons this legend developed are complex, and not entirely known, but the idea is preposterous in itself. We know the names and identities of the roughly four dozen King James Bible translators (the number is rough because over time some died or dropped out and had to be replaced). All but one of them were clergymen. The exception, Henry Savile, was included because of his prodigious learning and particularly his exceptional knowledge of Patristic Greek. Indeed, save a few political appointments, all the translators were eminent linguists, the very best scholars of ancient languages—Hebrew and Greek, but also Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic—in England. Some, like Lancelot Andrewes and, judging from the Translators’ Epistle to the Reader, Miles Smith, were also fine writers. But this was not why they were chosen. The translators were not especially interested in what we think of as literary style, and they certainly were not aiming to produce a masterpiece of English prose. Their overwhelming concern was to produce to the most accurate English translation possible of the Bible. The many years of work involved hours and hours of discussions of the most minute details of language: points of grammar, syntax, vocabulary; careful comparison of verses, clauses, and individual words in all the ancient languages, including Latin, as well as contemporary translations in European languages, and all previous English Bible (Tyndale, Coverdale’s Great Bible, Geneva, Bishops’, Rheims); also discussion of theology, ancient history, archaeology. Not very sexy, but that’s what made the KJV!

Literal accuracy was the goal, which is why the English of the KJV sometimes sounds foreign, as in using the word “to know” for having sex (Gen. 4), or Hebrew idioms like “the skin of my teeth” (Job 19) or “the apple of my eye” (Deut. 32), which make little sense in English. Shakespeare, according to Ben Jonson, had “small Latin and less Greek.” This was a little unfair. By our standards, Shakespeare’s Latin was excellent, he just wasn’t as remarkable a scholar as Jonson. There’s no evidence, though, that Shakespeare had more than a little grammar school Greek, and he likely had no Hebrew at all. He lacked the basic skills necessary for Bible translation. He was also not a clergyman; since many clergymen considered players as next-door to brothel-keepers, it’s inconceivable anyone would have considered him as a candidate for the translation team. Finally, although Shakespeare and the King James Bible have been lauded as the twin pillars of English literature since at least the Victorians, they aren’t really much alike. Shakespeare can write fine prose, but he more often writes in verse, and what sets his style apart from other playwrights is the metaphorical density of his language and his invention of words and idioms. The King James Bible is entirely in prose and generally eschews complex metaphor. The vocabulary is also extremely limited. The language of Shakespeare and the language of the KJV aren’t the same.

The one piece of evidence often hauled out in support of the “Shakespeare wrote the Bible” argument is a bit of “code” from Psalm 46. All sorts of people mention this, from Bishops to conspiracy theorists. It goes like this. In the KJV, count 46 words from the beginning of Psalm 46: “shake.” Count 46 words from the end: “spear.” Shakespeare turned 46 in 1610. Thus, so it goes, Shakespeare has encoded his signature in the psalm to mark his secret involvement in the translation. (The more committed cryptographers delve into Kabbala and further supposed number patterns, but I’ll leave this wackier stuff aside.) So many problems with this! First the second 46 count has to leave out the word “selah.” It’s not a word from the actual Psalm but an indicator of performance (no one knows quite what it means), yet it is there on the page, and if you include it “spear” is 47 words from the end, not 46. Furthermore, “shake” and “spear” are in many earlier English Bibles as well, in roughly the same places (45-47 words from beginning and end). Spears are plentiful in the Bible, because they were in ancient Palestine, and people with spears tend to shake them. No great mystery. What’s really in evidence here is an amusing coincidence, discovered by someone with codes on the brain, probably in the 1890s. No one seems to have noticed it before then, which makes it seem rather ineffective as a signature. It’s absurd that Shakespeare would have been involved in translating a Bible, but it’s even more absurd that if he had been involved he would have left his mark in so obscure and meaningless a fashion. Some compare this to medieval stonemasons who inscribed their names on stones in place no one could ever see, presumably as a declaration to God. Shakespeare was not an anonymous craftsman, however, but a popular and successful playwright, whose name appeared prominently on his published work. The more you know about Shakespeare, and the more you know about the King James Bible, the sillier this idea becomes. Imaginative writers like Rudyard Kipling and Anthony Burgess have played around with the myth in their fiction, but that’s where it belongs. In fiction, not in reality.

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


Praise for Manifold Greatness, the book

Named “Pick of the Day” on the Bookshop page of the London Times last Friday, Manifold Greatness: The Making of the King James Bible also got a nice review from the Times earlier in the week, on April 9, which described it as: “the beautifully presented and scrupulously edited Manifold Greatness… erudite but never dull,” memorably adding, “Go thou forth and buy it!’” (Update: Sorry, we couldn’t include the direct link here, given the Times site’s restricted paid access.)

Just out from Bodleian Library Publishing, Manifold Greatness is a richly illustrated, accessible account of the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible, told through chapters written by leading scholars who include the curators of the Bodleian and Folger Manifold Greatness exhibitions.

Chapters include the context for the translation, its impact in England, and its reception and cultural influence in America, from the 1600s to the present day. There’s also a chapter on rare KJB-related materials at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Images range from rare early English Bibles to the Algonquin Bible of 1663, Harper’s Illuminated Bible of 1846, and much more.

The book’s editors are Helen Moore and Julian Reid. Contributors include Moore and Reid, Valentine Cunningham, Steven Galbraith, Hannibal Hamlin, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Peter McCullough, Judith Maltby, Christopher Rowland, and Elizabeth Solopova.


Taking the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe (and beyond!)

In the world of King James Bible celebrations in this anniversary year of 2011, one of the most widely anticipated events will begin this Sunday: reading through the entire King James Bible on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe in London (left).

Five groups of actors at a time, many of them Globe regulars, will make their way through every word of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis 1 to the end of Revelation, over a series of epic readthroughs (audience members, we understand, can quietly come and go). This Sunday alone will include readings from 10 am to midnight, with one half-hour break. Throughout the week, six-hour sessions ending at midnight will carry the text forward, followed by a marathon reading on Good Friday, more on Easter Sunday, and the final round on Easter Monday. For more information, consult the Globe’s own Blogging the Bible!

We’ve noted before the startling number of marathon King James Bible readthroughs this spring, both secular and religious (“Reading the (whole) KJB aloud”). As of today, for example, two churches in Fife are midway through an attempt to become the first churches in Scotland to read the entire King James Bible aloud. The Bath Lit Fest, as we reported, had its celebrity-laden King James Bible Challenge, and in late May, there’s the Hay Festival’s planned KJB reading in 96 hours, to be conducted by churches on both sides of the English-Welsh border. And there have been many more, and, no doubt, more to come.


Drumroll, please… announcing the Bodleian Libraries Manifold Greatness exhibition!

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

Great excitement this morning with the official announcement of the Bodleian Libraries exhibition opening (April 22) of Manifold Greatness: Oxford and the Making of the King James Bible. Hurray and huzzah!

Manifold Greatness is a collaboration between the Bodleian Libraries and the Folger Shakespeare Library with the assistance of the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. It will include the Bodleian Libraries exhibition announced here and a subsequent NEH-funded exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in September and the Harry Ransom Center in early 2012, as well as a major companion website, a traveling exhibition throughout the United States produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library in partnership with the American Library Association, and more. Also look for Manifold Greatness: The Making of the King James Bible, from Bodleian Library Publishing.

From this morning’s announcement: “The Bodleian Libraries Summer 2011 Exhibition opens on Friday 22 April 2011. It celebrates the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible and sheds new light on its creation by examining the working process of the two translation committees based in Oxford at Merton and Corpus Christi Colleges.”

Included in the exhibition are the three key surviving working materials brought together for the first time: from Bodleian Libraries, the only surviving copy of the 1602 Bishops’ Bibles used by the translators; from Lambeth Palace Library, a unique document containing an interim translation of the New Testament epistles; and — on display for the first time ever — translator John Bois’s notes from the General Meeting of 1610 at which the work of the committees was reviewed and the translation finalized.


Back from London

Well, I’m back from London. As per my previous post, I was there for a week (and two days in Stratford) with a class on “Literary London.” Fabulous as always, though I hadn’t expected a solid week of sunshine. Lots going on over there for the KJB anniversary. We toured the New Globe Theater on the Southbank and saw posters for their onstage cover-to-cover KJB reading.

The Globe is also staging some Bible-related plays in their upcoming season: Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (nothing to do with KJB but certainly wrapped up in religious issues), and Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn, which features James I, William Tyndale, and John Reynolds, as well as the title character. The Royal Shakespeare Company is getting in on the act too. I had dinner with Michael Boyd, the RSC artistic director, and Jacqui O’Hanlon, the director of education, and they talked up a new play about the translation of the KJB, Written on the Heart, by David Edgar, that they’ve commissioned for their next season.

There are more KJB books out now too that I hadn’t seen yet, Derek Wilson’s The People’s Bible, for instance, and one soon to be released by Melvyn Bragg, The Book of Books. My own The King James Bible after 400 Years, co-edited with Norman Jones, sold out its first print run in a couple of months. Cambridge is scrambling to get another printing out soon. What an appetite there seems to be for KJB books, play, readings, and shows! And wait til Manifold Greatness is launched on the world — website, book, panel show, the mother exhibition in DC!! Steve Galbraith and I have already had several queries about visiting lectures from libraries hoping to host the panels. All very exciting.

At various points on our London tour, guides and docents would ask if we knew about the KJB anniversary. I felt rather proud to be able to say I was at the epicenter of KJB activities on the other side of the ocean.

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


Why “Manifold Greatness”?

Dedication to King James I, King James Bible

Bible. English. Authorized. 1611. Folger.

If you visit the King James Bible Trust website, as we often do, you may notice that the words “manifest,” “great,” and “greatness” come up fairly often in its events list. At the University of Toronto, “Great and Manifold: A Celebration of the Bible in English,” is on display through June. At Cambridge, “Great and Manifold Blessings: The Making of the King James Bible” wraps up that month as well.

And then, of course, there’s our own Manifold Greatness project, a major, two-continent endeavor that includes a new book from Bodleian Library Publishing, a Bodleian Library exhibition opening at Oxford on April 22, and, funded by the NEH, an exhibition this fall at the Folger Shakespeare Library, an early 2012 exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, a major website that’s now launching within weeks, and a traveling exhibition produced in partnership with the American Library Association.

But why “manifold” and why “greatness”? The answer lies in the King James Bible’s dedication to King James I, not always printed in modern editions, which begins, “great and manifold were the blessings” when James became king.  (“Manifold” here means both “varied” and “abundant.”) Today, the same words describe the King James Bible itself.


Reading the (whole) KJB aloud

Moody Bible Institute radio show

How long does it take to read aloud the King James Bible? The 400th-anniversary year of 2011 is giving us lots of chances to find out.

This week, the BBC reports on an organized “reading relay” at a church in Sussex that began on Monday and, if all goes as planned, will wrap up this Sunday, March 27, with breaks at night. Earlier in March, the King James Bible Challenge at the 2011 Bath Lit Fest went for a round-the-clock approach expected to take 120 hours. In the end, it clocked in at 96 hours. Then there’s the on-going, global “public reading” being created through the YouTube Bible project (Prince Charles recently added fourteen verses) — although that one is probably a topic for another day.

It’s all very much in the spirit of the King James Bible translators, who knew that they were producing a translation to be heard, not just read. They even read aloud alternative wordings in their committee meetings, seeking rhetorical power through word choice and word order, while still focused on accuracy. To hear the results for yourself, try reading aloud this line from the older, 1568 Bishops’ Bible: “Get thee up betimes and be bright, for thy light cometh.” (Isaiah 60:1). Then, listen to the same line from the King James Bible: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come.”


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