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.

Posts tagged “Abraham Lincoln

Seven Speakers, Exhibits, and Community: Manifold Greatness at Centre

Bible, ca. 1880s, Cassell, Peter, and Galden, 2 volumes. Illustration by Gustave Dore. Centre College. Exhibited with Manifold Greatness.

Gustave Dore, “The Angel Appearing to Balaam.” Bible, ca. 1880s, Cassell, Peter, and Galden, 2 volumes. Centre College. All Bibles pictured here were exhibited with Manifold Greatness.

As part of the Manifold Greatness exhibit, the staff at The Grace Doherty Library and the Religion Program at Centre College designed a program which included seven speakers, hoping to appeal to a broad range of college and community patrons. Our program began in February and ran through April 30, involving nationally known scholars, Centre College faculty, and local genealogists.

Manuscript inscriptions, Geneva Bible, 1594. Centre College. Exhibited with Manifold Greatness. (Click any image to see it larger.)

Manuscript inscriptions, Geneva Bible, 1594. Centre College. (Select the image to see it larger.)

Dr. Margaret Mitchell, Shailer Mathews Professor and Dean of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, visited our campus on February 25 to deliver “Bible and Media Revolutions: A Select History.” Dr. Mitchell spoke to a crowd of approximately 375 students, faculty, staff, and community members.

Dr. Bart Ehrman, James A. Gray Professor, University of North Carolina, Chapel, spoke to more than 700 students, faculty, and community patrons on April 17, to deliver the paper, “Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Changed the Scriptures and Readers Who May Never Know.” Dr. Ehrman’s address prompted a furious letter in the local newspaper from an irate reader who, although he admitted he had not attended the lecture nor had he read any of Dr. Ehrman’s books, was convinced that Dr. Ehrman was an agent of the devil.

Earlier in the term, on March 27, Dr. Phillip White, Associate Professor of English, Centre College, led a more intimate conversation with a group of 30 students, faculty, and community members in the library’s reading room with his presentation, “A Miracle of Style: Some Ways the King James Bible Affected Later Writers and Writing.” Dr. White discussed Lincoln’s use of the King James Bible phrasing in both the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural. He also discussed Hebrew idioms from the KJB that have been assimilated as English idioms, such as:

To fall flat on one’s face
To pour out one’s heart
The land of the living
The skin of one’s teeth
Like a lamb to the slaughter
A drop in the bucket
To give up the ghost

On April 18, Dr. Amos Tubb, Gordon B. Davidson Associate Professor of History, Centre College, led a similar discussion group in the library’s reading room in his presentation, “The History of Publishing in England and the King James Translation,” walking the group through the complex and sometimes baffling history of the publication of the KJB.

Manuscript inscription, Geneva Bible, 1594. Centre College. Exhibited with Manifold Greatness.

Manuscript inscription, Geneva Bible, 1594. Centre College. (Select the image to see it larger.)

Dr. Eugene March, Arnold B. Rhodes Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, also led a discussion group through “The ‘Birthing’ of the King James Version of the Bible: Two Hundred Years of Labor Pains,” describing the initial resistance to the new translation and the many printing errors that plagued the early editions.

Finally, on April 30, Reverend Mark Davis, Pastor-Theologian, First Presbyterian Church of Lexington, Kentucky, spoke to group of 175 students and community members with his presentation, “Authenticity and Authority: The King is Dead, Long Live the King.”

Also, Boyle County Public Library developed an exhibit of family Bibles to accompany Carolyn Crabtree, genealogist and researcher, and her program, “Family Bibles as Sources for Legal Documents and Historical Research,” on April 25.

Clearly, the integration of the exhibit Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible with our English, History, and Religion programs was of great benefit. In addition, the collaboration with the Boyle County Public Library further strengthened the bond between Centre College and the community at large. Overall, the exhibit and the accompanying program were of real significance.

Stan Campbell is Director of Library Services at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.


Bibles in Battle

New Testament. New York, 1863. American Bible Society. Courtesy of the Museum of Biblical Art.

New Testament. New York, 1863. American Bible Society. Courtesy of the Museum of Biblical Art.

On April 6 & 7, 1862, opposing Confederate and Union forces met in the woods and fields of rural Tennessee. The ensuing battle would become the bloodiest to date in the United States. Casualties totaled over 23,000 dead and wounded—more than the number killed during all 8 years of the Revolutionary War. Even today, the Battle of Shiloh conjures up images of intense suffering.

For soldiers facing injury, illness, and possible death, the Bible could be a source of comfort. Bibles were distributed with items such as food and blankets by the Sanitary Commission, a relief organization organized to aid Union soldiers. One prisoner of war, Thomas P. Meyer, received a King James Bible while he was held captive at  Belle Island prison in Richmond, Va.  Other soldiers inscribed their names or listed battles in which they had fought inside their copies of the Bible, as this short video from the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum shows.  The Museum of Biblical Art is currently featuring an exhibition on soldiers’ Bibles from the Civil War to the present day.

While armies fought on the field, orators waged a war of words for public opinion. Two of the most famous abolitionists, Frederick Douglass and  Abraham Lincoln,  both have connections to the King James Bible. A personal copy owned by Douglass is the subject of an earlier post, and Lincoln (and later, President Obama) were sworn in to office on a King James Bible.

Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website. She is a communications associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


The Hamlin Family Bible

Hamlin family Bible on display at Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition. 2011.

It was a particular treat to be able to include a Bible from my own family in the Family Bibles case of the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition. My fellow exhibition curator Steve Galbraith, exhibition manager Caryn Lazzuri, and I had been looking for a nineteenth-century Bible to represent the later history of family Bibles, when publishers provided pre-printed genealogical pages. We also thought it would be good to use an American Bible, continuing our transatlantic story.

Around the same time, after my father’s death in January 2011, I came across an old Bible in my parents’ home in New Haven. It was an old, somewhat worse-for-wear, King James Bible, printed in Boston in 1841 by B.B. Mussey. A battered plastic wrapper around it still had a mailing label attached, addressed to Louise Hamlin, known to me in childhood as “Cousin Louise.” On looking through the Bible, I found some family history recorded on blank leaves between the Old Testament and the New, one of the places often used for this purpose. The information related to, and was presumably written by, my great-great-great grandfather, Hannibal Hamlin.

Campaign banner. 1860. Library of Congress.

Hannibal Hamlin is actually of more than family interest, since he served as Vice-President of the United States from 1861 to 1865, during the first term of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Hamlin entered politics in his home state of Maine, where he was a member of the House of Representatives. Hamlin later served as U.S. representative, U.S. senator, and Governor of Maine, before becoming Vice President. He started out as a Democrat, but in a move that caused considerable shock in Washington, he crossed the floor of the Senate in 1856 to join the new Republican Party as a protest against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Hamlin was a life-long opponent of slavery, which was part of the reason he was dropped from the ticket for Lincoln’s second presidential campaign.

In the Bible, Hamlin records his two marriages, first to Sarah Jane Emery. Sarah Jane died in 1855; Hamlin must have liked the family, since he married her sister Ellen Vesta Emery the next year. The births of Hamlin’s children are also recorded in the Bible. Charles and Cyrus were the most important historically, both serving as officers during the Civil War. Cyrus championed the enlistment of African-American troops, and led a brigade of black soldiers at the Siege of Port Hudson. On retirement he was awarded the honorary rank of brevet major general. He died of yellow fever in 1867. Charles fought at Gettsyburg, and retired with the honorary rank of brevet brigadier general. Charles and his sister, Sarah, were at Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot.

Charles had a number of children. One of them, Cyrus, was my great-grandfather. Another, Charles Eugene, was the father of Louise, to whom the Family Bible was passed down, along with much other family memorabilia. I still have Hamlin’s baby rattle, the walking sticks that got him around Washington, his copy of Byron’s works, and lots of pictures. Charles Eugene also wrote a biography of the vice president. I’m lucky to have so much information about my family history, but like so many American and British families, I have some of that information stored in the old family Bible.

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.


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