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.

Uncategorized

Farewell, With Many Thanks

The Manifold Greatness blog is no longer active, but remains available here as an online archive to explore.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


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

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

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

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

Folger debut of the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition, Lloyd Wolf

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

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

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

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


After the Exhibit: Final Thoughts

Kennesaw State University's 1611 King James Bible facsimile on display.

Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible left Kennesaw State University early last week, but it was not until Monday evening that we concluded our series of collaborative programming. To cap off a month of events, author Phillip DePoy spoke on his historical thriller, The King James Conspiracy, highlighting the continued fascination with the Bible’s translation.

The Manifold Greatness exhibition allowed the Department of Museums, Archives & Rare Books the unprecedented opportunity to partner with the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, the Cobb County Public Library System, the Smyrna Public Library, and Clayton State University in a span of five weeks.

Treasures found in a Bible at the event: Family Bibles: A Historical and Genealogical Resource.

All of our events were well attended, drawing over 300 university and community members to participate in panel discussions, lectures, and workshops. Topics that spanned the spectrum from 17thcentury religious music to the development of a novel’s plot drew diverse crowds and sparked interesting and insightful discussions. We anticipate that this dialogue will continue through ongoing book clubs and upcoming events hosted as part of Kennesaw State University’s exhibit, How God Became English: The Making of the King James Bible.

Thank you to the National Endowment to the Humanities, the American Library Association, the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, and the Folger Shakespeare Library for their wonderful work and guidance on this project. Best of luck to the remaining institutions, we look forward to reading about, and learning from, your programs and experiences.


The Bible and The Tempest

Pamela Coleman Smith. The Tempest. Caliban. ca. 1900. Folger.

The King James Bible was published in the same year that The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last single-authored play was produced: 1611. The KJB translation thus appeared too late to influence Shakespeare’s writing, but he was deeply influenced by its predecessor translations, especially the Geneva Bible and the Bishops’ Bible. The Bishops’ was the one read in English churches from its publication in 1568, but the Geneva (1560) was more popular for the general reader. It was available in cheaper formats, and it had an elaborate set of interpretive aids like introduction, marginal notes, and indexes––it was really the first “Study Bible.”

All of Shakespeare’s plays contain important allusions to the Bible, just as they allude to classical works like Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Virgil’s Aeneid. The Tempest is no exception. The story is the old one of shipwreck on a desert island, like the later Robinson Crusoe or even Gilligan’s Island. Shakespeare’s interest in this plot has to do partly with exploring humanity in isolation from civilization. What happens when people are forced to fend for themselves, without the aid of law or civic institutions? Seventeenth-century explorers to the New World were asking similar questions as they encountered native people living seemingly in a state of nature. Were such people brutal savages, in need of civilizing, or were they noble innocents, free from the corruptions of European society? The Tempest explores such questions, often in biblical terms.

Shakespeare’s island is a kind of Eden, presided over by the God-like figure of Prospero, with Ferdinand and Miranda as a version of Adam and Eve, and Ariel and Caliban and angel and devil. As in the Genesis story, temptation and obedience are crucial: Prospero charges Ferdinand and Miranda not to have sex before they are properly married, anxious about the temptation they offer each other alone on the island. Prospero and his brother Antonio may also have a biblical model in Cain and Abel, the first brothers and the first murderer and death. For Shakespeare and his contemporaries, the Bible was the place to go for puzzling out life’s big questions: can siblings really get along? can anyone? are humans inherently wicked or just corrupted by society? are forgiveness and redemption possible in this world?

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, 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.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers