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.

Influences

“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.


The Blog Revisited: Anniversaries, Holidays, and Happy Birthdays

Handel's Messiah. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, Toronto, Canada. Photo by Gary Beechey.

Handel’s Messiah sing-along. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, Toronto, Canada. Photo by Gary Beechey.

You may have noticed that Hannibal Hamlin’s recent post on Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, and the King James Bible began “Happy Birthday Walter!” And with good reason. As we look back on the Manifold Greatness blog since its own birth announcement on March 15, 2011, birthdays and other anniversaries have been an enormous help to us in tracing the origins and cultural influences of the 1611 King James Bible, from its time to the present day. Many of our posts have been quite different, of course, with no anniversary connotation. But again and again, we’ve found that anniversary dates are a welcome and frequent part of the mix.

A special date, like Whitman’s birthday, not only gives a blog post an easy-to-understand reason for appearing when it does; it often means that there will be other links and resources elsewhere for readers to explore on the same day on the same topic. For our  blog, paying attention to such dates has also created, in effect, a real-world immersion in the width and breadth of the King James Bible’s influence, so that we find ourselves noting the anniversary of the first Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) one day, the death date of reggae superstar Bob Marley another day, and the death of King James Bible translator John Rainolds on yet another. Others in an almost endless list of examples include the anniversaries of the reading from Genesis from Apollo 8 in lunar orbit, the death of William Blake, and the death of Elvis Presley.

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

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

Anniversary dates can be tough deadlines, too. Behind the scenes, we’ve occasionally found ourselves scrambling to create a post on or near belatedly discovered date. Steve Galbraith produced that post on the anniversary of Bob Marley’s death in a matter of hours; Helen Moore, at the Bodleian, wrote the Rainolds tribute in very short order; and, quite recently, Hannibal Hamlin marked the rarely noted anniversary of the death of Casiodoro de Reina, a crucial early Spanish Bible translator, with just a few hours’ notice. For all of which and more, many thanks to all three!

King James Bible-influenced poems, songs, movies, television shows, and other creative works have anniversaries to celebrate, too, from the release of the 1956 film version of Moby Dick to the debut of the Byrds’ Turn, Turn, Turn. Handel’s Messiah has given rise on this blog to posts on Handel’s birthday, the anniversary of the oratorio’s original Dublin premiere, and the modern custom of performing it in the days before Christmas rather than during Lent, the period before Easter. Christmas and Easter, of course, are among the annual holidays—religious and secular, fixed-date like Christmas and moveable feast like Easter—that we have marked on the blog, too, which has also included posts tied to Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving, among others.

Ultimately, the impulse to celebrate anniversaries led to the entire Manifold Greatness project, inspired by the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible, and to countless other projects around the globe in the anniversary year of 2011. But the same impulse has also inspired a modern King James Bible myth. The natural desire to link the King James Bible to a specific date, as well as to the year 1611, has led to the widespread, but false, idea that the King James Bible was first published on May 2, one of several King James Bible myths debunked on this blog over time.

King James himself, of course, is inevitably linked to several anniversary dates, including the date of his coronation. On June 19, 2011, we first wished him “Happy Birthday, King James!” You can wish him the same next Wednesday, as June 19 rolls around once more.


Walt Whitman’s American Bible

Whitman, Leaves of Grass. 1856. Drew Univ. Library, gift of Norman Tomlinson, Jr.

Whitman, Leaves of Grass. 1856. Drew Univ. Library, gift of Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr.

Happy Birthday, Walter! Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is deeply indebted to the King James Bible, despite Whitman’s claims to be utterly original. In fact, Whitman wrote of his work as “the Great Construction of a New Bible.” The first, slim, volume of Leaves of Grass was published in 1855. Whitman paid for it himself, and there were fewer than 800 copies. The rest of Whitman’s poetic life was spent revising and adding to this collection, culminating in the final “Deathbed” edition of 1891. The original 95 pages had swollen to almost 450, and the 12 poems of the 1855 edition had become nearly 400.

Various explanations have been offered for Whitman’s title, “Leaves of Grass,” including the obvious pun on the “leaves” of a book. But somewhere in the background is probably the statement of Isaiah that “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:6-7). Isaiah’s grim prophecy of death is transformed by Whitman into a celebration of the natural cycle, in which death is part of life and the poet, like all the people he sings of in his poem, returns to the earth from which he came. As Whitman writes in “Song of Myself,” “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,/ If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.”

Walt Whitman. From a copy of Shakespeare's works associated with Whitman. Folger.

Walt Whitman. Engraving in Whitman’s former copy of Shakespeare’s works. Folger.

“Song of Myself,” the first poem in the 1855 edition, may also derive its title from the Bible. The great Old Testament celebration of love is the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon, an erotic dialogue between a man and a woman rich in metaphors of spices, fruits, animals, and birds. Whatever the original author intended, Jews and Christians have both traditionally interpreted the poem as an allegory for the love between God and humanity. Whitman’s “Song,” typically and radically, is not of God, or even a lover, but of himself: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself.”

One striking feature of Whitman’s poetry is his rambling but rhetorically powerful prose-poetic line, often full of lists of people, places, and things. He adapts this line, just as William Blake did before him (and Alan Ginsberg after), from the parallelistic prose of Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets, in the King James Version. Leaves of Grass may be a new American Bible, but in some ways it sounds a lot like the old one.

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

Note: You can read (or hear) about the Whitman engraving shown here on the web page Personalizing Shakespeare, by Louis B. Thalheimer Head of Reference Georgianna Ziegler.


Arlington National Cemetery and the King James Bible

World War I chaplains memorial, Chaplains Hill, Arlington Cemetery. Esther Ferington, 2013.

World War I chaplains memorial, Chaplains Hill, Arlington Cemetery.

Since this blog began in the spring of 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, we’ve examined inscriptions from the King James Bible in several locations around Washington, DC, home of the Folger Shakespeare Library. We took a look at the Library of Congress and at biblical influences on Martin Luther King’s rhetoric, including a biblical inscription at the Martin Luther King Memorial, which we revisited recently as part of our Washington, DC, cherry blossoms entry.

On this Memorial Day weekend, Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac, seemed like a good place to look for King James Bible inscriptions. Two examples on the Arlington memorials and monuments are perhaps the best known, in addition to some private citations on individual tombstones. (Robert E. Lee’s former home, Arlington House, still stands at the highest point on the grounds; in yet another KJB connection, you can see Lee’s own King James Bible here.)

One of the two King James Bible inscriptions is on the World War I chaplains memorial, dedicated in 1926. The memorial includes a line from John, 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Located on the brow of Chaplains Hill within the cemetery, the memorial is now accompanied by memorials to Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains that include later wars; the Jewish chaplains memorial was dedicated relatively recently, in 2011.

Confederate Memorial, Arlington Cemetery

Confederate Memorial, Arlington Cemetery

Ploughshares

The Confederate Memorial was unveiled in 1914, almost half a century after the end of the Civil War, in a section of the cemetery that was set aside for Confederate graves in 1900. Both the graves section and the memorial were seen as symbols of national reconciliation.

The memorial is encircled near the top with the line from Isaiah 2:4, “and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks.” Above this inscription, a female figure representing the South lifts a laurel wreath southward with one hand; she holds a pruning hook in her other hand, which she rests on a plow. The pruning hook and plow are meant to illustrate the King James Bible passage.

Learn more about the King James Bible in American history, including Confederate and Union copies of the King James Bible, in our Historic American Bibles image gallery. 

Curious about the post-Civil War origins of Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day? Try this recent blog post from the Smithsonian American History Museum.


Changing Images of the Bible in Art

David Steel talks about biblical images in art at Cameron Village Regional Library

David Steel talks about biblical images in art at Cameron Village Regional Library

On March 19, the Cameron Village Regional Library in Raleigh, North Carolina, played host to North Carolina Museum of Art curator David Steel, who presented an illustrated lecture about masterpieces of art based on stories from the Bible.

For example, The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (ca. 1617) was painted by two giants of the art world. Peter Paul Rubens painted the figures of Adam and Eve, and Jan Brueghel painted the animals and the nature elements. Brueghel specialized in these subjects and often collaborated with figure painters. Steel noted that in this work the tree of knowledge contains several different fruits, and that some scholars make a good case for the forbidden fruit being an orange, not an apple.

The story of David and Bathsheba is another popular subject for artists—perhaps because it’s a good excuse to put a female nude in the center of a painting. But Rembrandt’s 1654 Bathsheba at Her Bath is different from others. Bathsheba is not a great beauty, as in earlier versions. That’s because Rembrandt was using his mistress as a model. Bathsheba dominates the canvas, and possibly because Rembrandt’s personal and professional life was in a shambles at the time, she is reflective and sad. The canvas for this painting, unusually, is almost a perfect square.

Curator David Steel speaks on The Bible in Art

Curator David Steel of the North Carolin Museum of Art speaks on biblical images in art

We saw three versions of the story of Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes. The first, by Caravaggio, is Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598-99). Steel compared this dramatic version to another painting on this subject by Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, completed between 1611 and 1612. Gentileschi’s portrayal is much more violent and brutal than Caravaggio’s. Perhaps Gentileschi was expressing her anger at men after being raped by her art teacher. The third version, Judith and Holofernes, is a 2012 painting by Kehinde Wiley. In Wiley’s depiction, the model for Judith is an African American Rikers Island prison guard, attired in a Givenchy dress. The head she holds in one hand is that of a white woman.

All in all, the evening was one of both beauty and enlightenment.

Sue Scott is Arts and Literature Librarian at Cameron Village Regional Library, Raleigh, North Carolina.


A Lively Opening at Missouri Valley College

Professor David I. Roberts reading a passage from a 20th century Bible.

Professor David L. Roberts reads a passage from a 20th century Bible.

The Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit opened to great fanfare March 19 at Missouri Valley College’s Murrell Memorial Library in Marshall, Missouri. David L. Roberts, Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at the college, presented his slideshow, “A Best-Seller like No Other: The King James Bible and Its 400 Years of Influence.”

Students, faculty and community members attended the event and enjoyed not only the displays of historical Bibles, but also the displays of nativities, song books, and other church-related items.

Professor Roberts began his slideshow with the prose of the King James Bible. Comparing it to other and later versions of the Bible, the King James Version is poetic and sounds “pretty” when read aloud. One of the main points was that words sound better with an “eth” at the end. “Maketh,” “sayeth,” even “asseth!”

Professor Roberts presenting his slideshow.

Professor Roberts presents his slideshow.

In the slideshow, Professor Roberts also pointed out some key elements of the Manifold Greatness exhibit. The influence of the King James Bible in popular literature, movies and music spans from children’s programming (A Charlie Brown Christmas) to more adult music (The Byrds.) Also, the King James Bible reached new heights when the creation story was read by Apollo 8 astronauts as they rounded the moon.

Murrell Library is looking forward to several more speakers, fun activities, and even hosting a Last Feast reception during the Manifold Greatness exhibit.

Jae Steinkuhler is the special events coordinator at Murrell Library, Missouri Valley College.


Doubling Up

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administers the oath of office to President Barack Obama on Jan. 21, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administers the oath of office to President Barack Obama on Jan. 21, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

During his second Inauguration on Monday, President Barack Obama used not one, but two King James Bibles. One of the books was the Lincoln Bible, used during his first inauguration. The Lincoln Bible is currently housed in the collection of the Library of Congress and includes a note stating that this is the Bible used by Lincoln for his swearing-in as President on March 4, 1861. You can learn more about the Lincoln Bible from the Library of Congress’ blog post.

The second Bible belonged to Dr. Martin Luther King and accompanied him on many of his travels. “We know our father would be deeply moved to see President Obama take the Oath of Office using his bible,” Dr. King’s children said in a statement. “His ‘traveling bible’ inspired him as he fought for freedom, justice and equality, and we hope it can be a source of strength for the President as he begins his second term.”

Barack Obama is not the first president to use more than one Bible while taking the oath of office. Richard Nixon and Dwight D. Eisenhower both used two Bibles during their inauguration ceremonies. You can watch Barack Obama’s second inaugural address here.

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.


The KJB on TV

The Emmy-winning television program Little House on the Prairie enjoyed great popularity between 1974 and 1982, and remains in syndication today.  Based on the book series chronicling the adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder as a girl and young woman on the Western frontier, the program includes dramatic encounters with the harsh realities of pioneer life.

During one poignant episode, the townspeople must shelter in the church and schoolhouse on Christmas Eve to wait out a sudden blizzard while other residents search for several of the town’s children trapped outside in the storm. By the following day, the children are recovered safe and sound, although one man dies during the search and leaves behind a grieving family. Community leader Charles Ingalls (played by Michael Landon) picks up a copy of the King James Bible and reads the Christmas story from gospel of Luke to comfort the survivors.

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.


Refashioning a Classic

Cover of the 1962 edition of A Wrinkle in Time. Art design by Ellen Ermingard Raskin.

Cover of the 1962 edition of A Wrinkle in Time. Art design by Ellen Ermingard Raskin.

Fans of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s popular science fiction fantasy novel, will likely remember its trio of leading characters, Meg Murry, Calvin O’Keefe, and the precocious Charles Wallace; the mind-bending possibilities of the tesseract; and the children’s dramatic final confrontation with IT.

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, and this epic story of good vs. evil continues to be widely read by children and adults. In fact, A Wrinkle in Time was recently made into a graphic novel by writer Margaret Ferguson and illustrator Hope Larson.

“It was definitely an important book for me. It’s one of those books that I’ve gone back to again and again throughout my life.” Larson said in an October interview.

With the novel’s motifs of love, redemption, and sacrifice, many readers detect spiritual themes. L’Engle herself considered A Wrinkle in Time to be a Christian allegory, and the text borrows directly from the King James Bible in one of the novel’s final scenes as Meg Murray prepares to face IT and rescue her brother Charles Wallace. Meg receives encouragement from another character, who tells her:

The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And the base things of the world, and the things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought that are. (I Corinthians 1:25-28)    

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.


Pilgrims, a Bible, and a Love Triangle

Artistic rendering of John and Priscilla Alden.

As we approach Thanksgiving,  images of the Pilgrims assembled around an autumnal feast may pop into mind as we stock our own cupboards with cranberries, stuffing, and canned pumpkin. Although the Pilgrims did bring food supplies with them on the Mayflower, these items ran out during their first winter in the New World; a successful harvest the following year prompted a celebration of “thanksgiving.”

Artistic rendering of John and Priscilla Alden.

In addition to foodstuffs, weapons, farming supplies, 102 passengers, and two dogs, the Mayflower also carried a copy of the King James Bible belonging to John Alden. In an earlier post, curator Hannibal Hamlin notes that this may have been the first King James Bible to arrive in America.

Alden was not a Pilgrim himself; rather, he was a cooper, or barrel-maker, hired by the Pilgrims at Southampton, where the Mayflower was docked before beginning her trans-Atlantic voyage.  William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims, described the 21-year-old Alden as a “hopefull yong man.” Alden may also have been a man of faith, choosing to carry a Bible with him as he journeyed to the New World.

 Alden’s youth and skill must have impressed Bradford, for the future governor of the colony also noted that the Pilgrims very much wished that Alden would join them, although they left the final decision in his hands. Upon arrival on the shores of Massachusettes in November 1620, Alden opted to stay with the Pilgrims and added his signature to the Mayflower Compact, signed on November 21, 1620.

Alden soon had another tie to the Pilgrim settlement. Sometime between 1620 and 1623, he married Priscilla Mullins, a young woman in her late teens or very early 20s. Priscilla had sailed with her parents and older brother Joseph on the Mayflower. However, her parents and brother died soon after their arrival in Massachusetts, leaving Priscilla to fend for herself in the new colony. According to folk tradition, her beauty attracted the attention of Miles Standish, the colony’s military adviser,  as well as John Alden, and the two men were deep rivals for her affection. This story prompted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish.

The historical record offers no evidence of a Mullins-Alden-Standish love triangle. However, Priscilla did end up marrying John Alden (the younger man) and over the course of their long marriage, the couple had 10 children, with a possible 11th child dying in infancy. Several of their descendents became notable figures in their own right; their oldest son, John, escaped being tried for witchcraft in Boston, and a daughter, Sarah, married Alexander Standish, son of Miles Standish and his second wife, Barbara.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was descended from another Alden offspring, and helped immortalize his ancestors through his literary output.

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.


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