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 “Authorized King James Version

On the Road: Manifold Greatness in California

On Thursday, February 24, a crowd of nearly 90 students, faculty, staff, and local community members gathered to celebrate the opening of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University, and to hear a talk by Dr. Bart Ehrman, New York Times bestselling author and James A. Grey Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill.

Keynote presentation at the opening of Manifold Greatness at Loyola Marymount University. Photo courtesy Loyola Marymount University.

Keynote presentation at the opening of Manifold Greatness at Loyola Marymount University. Photo courtesy Loyola Marymount University.

In a keynote talk titled “What Kind of a Text is the King James Bible? Manuscripts, Translation, and the Legacy of the KJV”, Dr. Ehrman introduced our community to a brief history of Bible translation and his perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the KJV as both a work of literature and a theological text. Ehrman’s conclusion? The King James Bible is indisputably one of the greatest works of English literature ever published. The rhythms of its verses and the richness of its metaphors influenced poets, writers, and speechmakers, including such Americans as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. But due to changes in the English language since 1611, the theological biases of the translators, and problems in the textual basis of the translation, Ehrman considers the KJV one of the “worst study Bibles” one could use to reflect upon the original intentions of the Bible’s authors.

Opening reception for Manifold Greatness at Loyola Marymount University. Photo courtesy Loyola Marymount University.

Opening reception for Manifold Greatness at Loyola Marymount University. Photo courtesy Loyola Marymount University.

After Ehrman’s provocative talk, which you can watch in full here,  attendees moved out to the atrium to enjoy a beautiful reception and continue the conversation while viewing Manifold Greatness and the companion rare books and manuscripts exhibition Singular Wisdom: The King James Bible and Early Printed Bibles, which features treasures from LMU’s Department of Archives and Special Collections including copies of the Vulgate, Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible, and Erasmus’ Greek New Testament, and a second edition of the King James Bible on loan from the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLA.

A second program the following week by Dr. Stephen Shepherd, a medievalist from LMU’s Department of English, introduced attendees to the Wycliffite Bible – a predecessor of the KJV — which he placed in the context of the intellectual movement of the time that advocated the vernacularization of erudite knowledge and scholarly precision itself.

In the coming weeks, LMU is hosting two additional programs that will continue to engage our interfaith community with varying perspectives through which to consider the influence of the KJV. A gospel concert with guided commentary will celebrate the lasting influence of the KJV in the music of the Black church, and a panel presentation between LMU Theological Studies faculty from varying Christian faiths considering the KJV into a Catholic context.

Jamie Hazlitt is the Outreach Librarian at the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University.


King James and His Bible

Thomas Trevelyon. Miscellany. Manuscript, 1608. Shelfmark V.b.232. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Thomas Trevelyon. Miscellany. Manuscript, 1608. Shelfmark V.b.232. Folger Shakespeare Library.

King James I, the royal sponsor of the Bible that bears his name, grew up as a king. After Queen Elizabeth I executed his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, when he was just one year old, he became King of Scotland and the heir to the English throne after Elizabeth’s death. He was raised by a team of Scottish Presbyterian ministers under the control of his regent, but upon his ascension to the English crown in 1603, he seemed more attuned to English religious politics.

Less than a year after his arrival in England, James officially launched the translation project that would become the King James Bible at a conference in Hampton Court Palace. The complex’s status as a favorite dwelling of King Henry the VIII, the founder of the English church, would not have been lost on the attendees.

The new translation was intended to be a unifying factor, not between Scotland and England, but between the warring factions of the Church of England. In the oversight of the project, James favored the establishment bishops, but a third or more of the 48 “Translators” (as they were known) had Puritan beliefs. Most were connected with Cambridge University, a hot-bed of Puritan theology.

The most popular Bible among English Christians at the time was the Geneva Bible, which Puritan scholars had composed in Geneva during their exile from the persecution of Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”) in the 1550s. Its popularity had soared at the end of the sixteenth century because the Bishops Bible of 1568, the Church’s official Bible, had met with derision, As Adam Nicholson observes, it was “pompous, obscure and often laughable.” Instead of the well-known phrase “Caste thy bread upon the waters,” for instance, it gave “Lay thy bread upon wet faces.”

But James could not simply follow the people’s choice, for the Geneva Bible contained extensive interpretive footnotes, many of which were anti-monarchical, denying that kings and queens had the right to rule. Given that in 1598 James had written a ringing defense of the “divine right of kings” to govern in his “True Law of Free Monarchies,” this was an anathema.

The new Bible translation would draw upon the best of these two works, while going back to the best Hebrew and Greek manuscripts then available. It would undergo several stages of review to ensure both accuracy and understandability. It would be both a pulpit Bible and a people’s Bible: pleasant to read aloud and to oneself.

The new translation did not immediately gain acceptance when it was published in 1611. Like the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate and many modern translations, people preferred the versions with which they were familiar. But within a few decades it had replaced the Bishops Bible and surpassed the Geneva Bible. It was brought across the Atlantic and became America’s Bible, both for English churches that came here and the churches that originated here, such as the Mormons.

The King James Version was the dominant English-language Bible for 350 years and had no significant rivals until the Revised Standard Version appeared in the 1950s. Since then, many new translations have been published, but the KJV remains the most popular book in the English language.

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the KJV, the University of Wyoming is hosting an exhibit and series of six lectures during October. It will open on Sunday afternoon, October 7th, with a talk by Dr. Philip Stine, a former translator and executive of the United Bible Societies, who will discuss the origins and impact of the KJV.

The exhibit is called “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” and is located in Coe Library. It was created by the Folger Shakespeare Library , in partnership with the University of Oxford and the Harry Ransom Center, and with support from the National Endowment of the Humanities and the American Library Association.

To accompany this, the Toppan Library of the American Heritage Center is exhibiting Bibles from its rare books collection, and the Albany Country Public Library is hosting a display of Bible translations through the ages. For more information, go to https://uwlibblogs.uwyo.edu/dustyshelves/manifold-greatness-the-creation-and-afterlife-of-the-king-james-bible/.

Note: This post drew from Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, and Philip C. Stine, Four Hundred Years on the Best Seller List.

Paul V.M. Flesher, Ph.D. is the Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wyoming. The Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition is on view at UW from October 7-31, 2012.


Q&A: Churches That Exclusively Use the KJB

A King James Bible only church in Alabama. Photo by Richard David Ramsey (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons”.

Jason Hentschel is in University of Dayton’s doctoral program in theology. Here, Jason discusses the King James Only movement, in which certain churches use the King James Bible translation exclusively, believing that it is the most accurate and doctrinally correct translation available. This topic arose during one one of the programs offered in conjunction with the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition here at University of Dayton.

 Q: Why do certain churches choose the King James translation?

The churches themselves tend to explain their exclusive use of the King James in terms of an appeal to the only perfect and pure—we might say inerrant—Bible.  All other translations—be they RSV, NIV, NASB, The Message, etc.—are understood to be ultimately misleading at points, usually on account of the fact that they are translated from the modern critical text and not the Received Text. In other words, King James Only (KJO) churches see other translations as corrupting the Bible, particularly the doctrine of Christ, and so they only read from the King James because they believe that it perfectly preserves the true biblical text and thus the true doctrines of the faith.  This does not include churches that prefer the King James translation for “merely” literary or stylistic reasons.

 Q: What do you think the KJB-only movement accomplishes for congregations?

 The movement provides a measure of certainty often questioned in the face of opposition. The KJO pastors around Dayton, OH whom I visited often directed me to one or another author—Samuel Gipp, Edward Hills, Wilbur Pickering, to name a few—whom these pastors found authoritative. Not only can these churches champion the King James Bible, they can champion these defenders of the King James Bible. There is nothing new about appealing to scholarship, of course, but in a group of evangelicals that is more often than not willing to reject such appeals in favor of either emphasizing the priesthood of every believer or the perspicuity of the text, this authoritative claim is significant.

Q: What surprised you about the churches here in Dayton?

Most surprising was their diversity. Whereas one of the churches I visited maintained a hard, polemical stance in its assertion of the King James’ Bible sole validity, another church argued for the validity of other professing believers’ perspectives on the translation debate. The three churches I visited did not see themselves as still in a battle for the Bible. That was a thing of the past. This translated into a rather nonchalant attitude toward visitors and members who resisted the churches’ exclusive use of the King James Bible. Hence, while the pastors I spoke with expressed without fail the importance of the King James Bible over and against the modern translations, that concern failed to translate to the congregation. This raises the question: About what are these churches truly concerned?

Jason Hentschel earned his M.Div. at Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary and is currently working on his doctorate in historical theology at the University of Dayton. Besides the theological and cultural foundations of local KJV-only congregations, his research interests lie in American Cold War evangelicalism.

 Katy Kelly is communications and outreach librarian at University of Dayton Libraries and project director for the University of Dayton Manifold Greatness exhibit.


Going Global

Dr. Scott Munger. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

Dr. Scott Munger is culturally adventuresome Biblical translator who has overseen Bible translation work in some 40 languages around the world. That international experience helps provide a unique perspective on American religious, social, and political life. Scott is currently Vice President of Biblica, the producer of The Holy Bible: The New International Version. He and his family—wife, children, and grandchildren—now live in Colorado.

Here is an interview that Pikes Peak Library District, currently hosting the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition,  recently conducted with Dr. Munger about Bible translation.

Question: How do you feel about the King James Version of the Bible? 
Answer: I treasure and revere it like I would a famous ancestor—but one who lived in a different age and time.

Question: Biblica has created the NIV translation of the Hebrew Bible. How did the Biblica processes differ from the processes of King James Version translators’?
Answer:  The processes are remarkably similar. Both began with the call for a fresh translation, both were supported by dedicated people from various Christian denominations, and both were undertaken as a group project.

Question: Did that involve translating from the original languages of the Bible?
Answer: Yes, the KJV and the NIV are each done from the languages of the original biblical texts: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Likewise, translators of both versions considered history and tradition (e.g., the KJV relied a great deal upon the work of William Tyndale, killed in 1536), but they also considered present and future needs. And most important, the translators of the KJV and NIV tried to represent the Word of God in the language of their day, that is, with vocabulary and style that would speak to the hearts of their contemporaries.

Question: We know that 48 translators worked on the King James Bible of 1611.  How many translators did it take to come to the NIV version that Biblica publishes now?
Answer: The Committee on Bible Translation is an independent group of 15 scholars from many Christian denominations. The CBT determines the NIV text. But their work builds upon the efforts of over 100 original contributors. Unlike the KJV, the NIV is a “green” text. During the half century since its original conception, thousands of helpful suggestions from readers and scholars worldwide have made the NIV translation what it is today.

Question: What goals did the Biblica translators have while translating the Bible?
Answer: The NIV’s goal, similar to that sought by the KJV, is to create a balance, designed for “the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning” (www.niv-cbt.org).

Question: With its soaring language, the King James Bible is very poetic. Do you think that some of the translations today lose the beauty of that poetic edge?
Answer: Beauty is hard to define, and is often in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to language, beauty of both form and content must be considered. A skillfully worded poem about the glories of a microwave meal will never win a Pulitzer. The real, inner beauty of the KJV comes from its content. Note the last two verses of Psalm 23, below, the first from the KJV and the second from the NIV.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (KJV)

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (NIV)

Modern people are often charmed by older forms of language. The KJV’s “… est” and “… eth” caress our ears. But we need to consider that what sounds quaint to us was common to people in 16th and 17th century England.

Question: With so many new translations available, is the King James Version still important and relevant today?
Answer: The KJV endures as a testimony and example not only of great Bible translation and great English, but of great thought. The former is due to the heart of those who undertook the translation. But the thoughts they conveyed are those of the original authors, men and women—inspired, I believe, by a gracious God—all of them now considered world-renowned prophets, rulers, poets, and reformers.

Rachel Stovall is a Community Relations Specialist at Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, CO.


Special Collections Take Center Stage at Saint Michael’s College

Rare Bibles from the collections of Middlebury College Special Collections, the University of Vermont Special Collections and Saint Michael’s College.  Clockwise from Top left: King James Version 1629; first Bible printed in state of Vermont 1812; Luther Bible 1696; incunable Bible 1477-78, Geneva Bible 1596-97; Geneva Bible 1644.

Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, VT.

The exhibition of Manifold Greatness at Saint Michael’s College’s Durick Library is off to a great start.  We actually kicked of the events before the exhibit even arrived in Vermont! In March, the University of Vermont Special Collections opened up with an exhibit of their rare Bibles, including their 1613 KJB.  A bit later in the month, they hosted a panel discussion entitled “Authorized Versions: Perspectives on the King James Bible.”  In this panel discussion, three UVM faculty members offered theological, historical, and literary perspectives on the coming of the King James Bible and its place in the early modern world.  Anne Clark spoke on “Before the King James: Medieval Bibles and Their Users”; Charles F. Briggs spoke on “The Problematic Publishing Background of the Bible in English, from Wyclif through the Mid-Sixteenth Century”; and Andrew Barnaby added a bit of drama to the mix, speaking on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and the King James Bible.  This well-attended session was an excellent introduction to the King James Bible, and had us anxiously awaiting the official opening of the Manifold Greatness exhibition!  

Instead of simply hanging around waiting for the panels to arrive, we got working on the complementary exhibits we had planned.  Library staff put together several displays from our circulating collections—one featuring scholarship related to the King James Version, another focused on the Catholic Reformation and Counter Reformation,  and a third featuring some of the more interesting contemporary Bibles in our collection.  

Rare Bibles from the collections of Middlebury College Special Collections, the University of Vermont Special Collections and Saint Michael’s College. Clockwise from Top left: King James Version 1629; first Bible printed in state of Vermont 1812; Luther Bible 1696; incunable Bible 1477-78, Geneva Bible 1596-97; Geneva Bible 1644. Courtesy of Saint Michael’s College.

In our rare book cases, we have complementary exhibits of rare books from our collections and with donations from the University of Vermont Special Collections and Middlebury College.  Their wonderful additions to the display included a Rheims New Testament from 1582, a 1629 King James Version, an incunable Bible printed by Nicolaus Gotz in 1477-78, and the first Holy Bible published in the state of Vermont, published in 1812 in Windsor, VT.  Among our own collection of Catholic Reformation and Counter Reformation works, we have on display Tridentine Catechisms and a lovely Missale Romanum, a Graduale Romanum for the Tridentine Mass, that are fine examples of two of the major reforms of the Council of Trent.  One of the more interesting titles on display is Locorum Catholicorum tum sacrae scripturae, tum etiam antiquorum patrum, por orthodoxa, et vetere fide retinenda, septem, by Francisco Horantio (Orantes) printed in Venice in 1564.  This text discusses the importance of seven Deutero-canonical (or Apocryphal) books of the Bible and includes an “ardent” refutation of John Calvin’s arguments against the veneration of the Saints. 

By the time the panels themselves arrived in the library the day after Easter, the other exhibits were in place.  Saint Michael’s students were away for the long Easter weekend, so they did not have to watch us dismantle some of the most favored group study spots in the library!  Although it is a significant change from the study tables, the exhibit panels fills in the space quite nicely.  It will be sad to see Manifold Greatness close next week.

Elizabeth B. Scott is an Archivist at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, VT.


Literature and Art and Pop Culture…Oh My!

Lancelot Andrewes. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

Lancelot Andrewes. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

On Monday,  Whitworth University hosted a panel of speakers who each discussed the Bible’s influence within the context of his or her discipline. Whitworth Professor of English Leonard Oakland traced the events that led to the primacy of the King James Bible as an influencer of literature, incorporating excerpts from Milton, Matthew Arnold, Denise Levertov, and T.S. Eliot. In the opening lines of “The Journey of the Magi,” Eliot quotes Lancelot Andrewes, a member of the KJB translation team:

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”

This passage comes from one of Andrewes’s most famous Nativity sermons (which may have been a sermon in which King James was present), as Andrewes describes the journey of the Magi to visit the infant Jesus. 

Whitworth Assistant Professor of Art Meredith Shimizu demonstrated the ways in which art is used in the Bible, and how the Bible is used in art. She indicated that while many older texts used art primarily for decorative purposes, art in modern Bibles becomes an important addition to the meaning of the text itself. Gonzaga University Professor of Religious Studies Linda Schearing discussed the ways Bible publishers use elements of popular culture to market their products, and the ways in which popular culture co-opts biblical elements – particularly the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve – in advertising and humor.

Speaking of Adam and Eve, the Pacific Northwest Inlander, a local independent newspaper, ran a story discussing the cultural impact of the King James Bible and mentioned Whitworth University’s Manifold Greatness exhibit and events. The author of the article listed some examples of pervasive Biblical images in popular culture, including an adult retail chain called Adam and Eve.  The article has the potential to reach a very different audience using unconventional methods.

Amy C. Rice is an Instructor/ Coordinator of Technical Services & Systems at Harriet Cheney Cowles Memorial Library at Whitworth University.


Handel’s Messiah Reigneth

Charles Jennens. Messiah. An oratorio. London, 1749? Folger Shakespeare Library.

On April 13, 1742, a new oratorio by the famous composer George Frideric Handel made its debut in Dublin, Ireland.

The performance was held to benefit three local charities:  prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary.  The Dublin News-Letter provided an early critique on the work, praising the oratorio as “…far surpass[ing] anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom”.

Handel’s Messiah has continued to be performed ever since. Its librettist, Charles Jennens, drew from the King James Bible for his text, with one exception: lines from the psalms are taken from Miles Coverdale’s earlier translations in the Book of Common Prayer.

 To hear excerpts from Messiah, with information on their KJB connections, please enjoy the Handel’s Messiah interactive feature on the Manifold Greatness website. More information on Handel himself appears in this previous post.

 

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


Happy Birthday, Handel!

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, Toronto, Canada. Photo by Gary Beechey.

Composer George Frideric Handel was born today in 1685. Famous for the “Hallelujah Chorus” and Messiah, Handel nevertheless had a prolific career as a opera composer and drew on a wide range of musical influences from German, French, Italian, and English traditions.

In addition to his distinguished musical career, which included 42 operas, as well as many shorter compositions and oratorios, Handel actively supported various charitable institutions. In fact, the first performance of Messiah was held to benefit individuals  imprisoned for debt and hospitals.  On April 13, 1742, concertgoers crowded into the Great Music Hall on Fishamble Street in Dublin; to accommodate the largest audience possible,  gentlemen were asked not to wear swords, and ladies were discouraged from wearing hoops in their dresses. The performance earned rave reviews, and a second concert was given in Dublin in June.

When Messiah made its London premiere on March 23 1743, responses were less than enthusiastic. Some felt that the venue, Covent Garden, did not suit the sacred nature of the music. Almost the entirety of the libretto is drawn from the text of the King James Bible; the sole exception is the Psalms, which are based on Miles Coverdale’s translation.  Messiah eventually became a standard part of London’s musical repertoire; in fact, Handel attended a performance on April 6 1759, just days before he died.

To hear excerpts from Messiah and learn more about its connections to the King James Bible, please visit the Handel’s Messiah interactive feature on the Manifold Greatness website.

More facts about George Frideric Handel:

1. George Frideric Handel was made a British citizen by an Act of Parliament.

2. He gave several benefit concerts in support of London’s Foundling Hospital, which provided care for abandoned and unwanted children. The hospital, now the Founding Museum, holds a large collection of Handel memorabilia.

3. Handel’s father discouraged his son’s interest in music and wanted Handel to be a lawyer instead; according to one biographer, Handel hid a clavichord in an upstairs room and practiced in secret.

4. Although Messiah is now associated with the Christmas season, it was originally performed during Lent.

5. George Frideric Handel has a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

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


Manifold Greatness in Minnesota

This afternoon, the University of Minnesota hosts a Colloquium on the King James Bible. Viewers can watch a streaming version of the program online between 4:30 and 7:30pm, CST.

Manifold Greatness opened at the University of Minnesota in January, following an exhibit on early Bibles and religious writing entitled “The Word Made Flesh.”  Here are some of the events at UMN so far:

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

In the image above, University of Minnesota Libraries in-house designer checks the final layout for the Manifold Greatness exhibit for its January 25 opening.

Members of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Saint Paul, MN visited the University of Minnesota Wilson Library on January 27 to explore the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit, plus the local exhibit of rare Bibles, “The Word Made Flesh.”  Librarian Susan Gangl and Curator Timothy Johnson guided the group and fielded many questions.  The preference for the Geneva Bible over the King James Bible  in early America came as a surprise to some visitors.

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

Also in January, Timothy Johnson, University of Minnesota Curator of Special Collections and Rare Books, spoke about the King James Bible, and showed images from our collection of earlier Bibles and manuscripts and recent art press editions of illustrated Bibles. Tim developed “The Word Made Flesh,” an exhibit of rare Bibles, to accompany the showing of Manifold Greatness at the Wilson Library. The audience was fascinated and asked many questions! Some had already seen the exhibition, while others plan to visit in the coming weeks.

Susan Gangl is a librarian at the University of Minnesota Wilson Library.


Kennesaw State University Welcomes Manifold Greatness

The Kennesaw State University Department of Museums, Archives & Rare Books is delighted to be a part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s traveling exhibition, Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the American Library Association (ALA). As one of the first institutions to host the exhibit, we are looking forward to the educational events, lectures, and hands-on workshops we have planned for the month of October.

Tony Howell, Exhibit Specialist, installing the Manifold Greatness panels.

The Department of Museums, Archives & Rare Books is housed in the Horace Sturgis Library at Kennesaw State University (KSU) in Kennesaw, GA. We are composed of many different divisions including the Bentley Rare Book Gallery, the University Archives and Special Collections, the Museum of History & Holocaust Education, and the Arts Collection. Manifold Greatness will be displayed in the Athenaeum Gallery of the Sturgis Library alongside our own exhibition commemorating the 400th anniversary, How God Became English: The Making of the King James Bible. If you’re interested in learning more about our exhibit, visit www.kennesaw.edu/kingjamesbible.

Under the direction of Dr. Catherine Lewis (Executive Director, Museums, Archives & Rare Books) and Dr. Tamara Livingston (Associate Director), our team of faculty, staff, and students has been working around the clock to put the finishing touches on the exhibit space in preparation for the opening date of October 4, 2011. We are thrilled to be able to showcase Manifold Greatness simultaneously with our own exhibit and are excited about the prospect that our visitors will be able to learn from both in the coming month. Our opening lecture, “The History and Language of the King James Bible,” will feature a faculty panel presentation exploring the importance and complicated history of one of the most influential books in history.

These two exhibits reflect the kind of engaged scholarship that Kennesaw State University has become known for, and the Department of Museums, Archives & Rare Books is proud to be a part of the dynamic community of academic and community libraries hosting Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible.

To learn more about our Department or upcoming events, please contact Anna Tucker at atucke20@kennesaw.edu or 770-420-4699.


Sing unto him a new song

Cathedra, the chamber vocal ensemble of Washington National Cathedral

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s resident early music ensemble, the Folger Consort, presents A New Song: Music Inspired by the King James Bible this week from Friday, September 30, through Sunday, October 2, with period strings, organ, and Washington National Cathedral’s chamber vocal ensemble Cathedra, Michael McCarthy, director.

An early music seminar will be held this evening, September 28, to discuss the program, and there is an audience discussion period prior to the Friday concert.

The following text is excerpted from notes by one of the Folger Consort’s artistic directors, Robert Eisenstein.

 

“Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.”
Psalms 33:3, King James Bible

The Folger Consort’s A New Song is part of a worldwide—and, with the current exhibition, Folger-wide—celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. We have decided to center our musical offering on settings of biblical texts from the reigns of King James I and King James II. In the case of the former, we will mostly be presenting anthems based on English translations that preceded the King James Version, many of which were important sources for the committees of scholars who translated the King James Bible.

It is difficult to find 17th-century musical settings of the King James Bible version of the Psalms because Coverdale’s beautiful prose from his 1535 Bible made its way into the Book of Common Prayer, which was still in use throughout our chosen period. By the time of the Restoration, however, most English settings of biblical texts other than the Psalms were taken, sometimes with a bit of variation for musical reasons, from the King James Version, and this will be apparent in our selections of anthems by Henry Purcell, Pelham Humfrey, and John Blow. All of this music will be performed with the forces most commonly used for anthems in the 17th century—a small choir supported by organ and often by strings that accompany the verses and provide an opening symphony and instrumental interludes. We have also included some wonderful representative instrumental music from the time.

(L-R) Folger Consort artistic directors Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall. Credit: Mig Dooley

We begin with an anthem by Thomas Tomkins written for the coronation of James I. Other composers represented in the program include Giovanni Coprario (tradition has it that he taught music to James I’s children); Orlando Gibbons, who was, with Coprario, a member of the household of James I’s son, Prince Charles; Henry Purcell, one of the greatest composers of the Baroque and certainly one of the greatest English composers of any era; and two other wonderful English Restoration composers, Pelham Humfrey and John Blow.

We conclude with an anthem for the next rulers of England after James II. Purcell’s Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem was composed for the coronation festivities for William and Mary at Westminster Abbey in 1689.

 

Robert Eisenstein is, with Christopher Kendall, one of two artistic directors of the Folger Consort, the resident early music ensemble of the Folger Shakespeare Library.


T.S. Eliot and the King James Bible

Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot. 1938. (c) By kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust   (a registered charity).

The Nobel Prize winning poet and playwright Thomas Stearns Eliot was born 123 years ago today, on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. Eliot grew up in St. Louis and went to college at Harvard. After graduate studies at Harvard, the Sorbonne, and Merton College, Oxford, he ultimately settled in England. In 1927, he became a British citizen and converted to the Anglican Church. T.S. Eliot died in England in January 1965.

Many of T.S. Eliot’s poems, including The Waste Land (1922), draw on the King James Bible, but his later works, including Ash Wednesday (1930) and The Four Quartets (1945) are especially rich in biblical language and ideas.

Learn more about Eliot and the King James Bible (as well as the KJB’s influence on eleven more writers, from John Milton to Marilynne Robinson) through the Literary Influences timeline on the Manifold Greatness website. In the case of Eliot, the timeline uses Ash Wednesday as an example of the ways in which Eliot’s language is enriched by, and sometimes borrows from, the King James Bible, citing particular passages from the poem and the Bible, as well as the Book of Common Prayer.


The Aitken Bible: Preventing Fatal Confusion and Alarming Injuries

Aitken Bible. Library of Congress.

The year was 1781. The war between the colonies and the crown had been dragging on for years. America was still six years from adopting a constitution. Robert Aitkin, a Scottish immigrant, sensed a religious need—and a commercial niche. The Revolutionary War had choked off the supply of Bibles to the colonies. He petitioned the “United States in Congress” for permission to publish an authorized edition of the King James Bible to prevent “fatal confusion that would arise, and the alarming Injuries the Christian faith might suffer.” Such evils might occur, he said, because of “Spurious and erroneous Editions of Divine Revelation.”

Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado holds a replica of the 1611 King James Bible. A panel version of the Manifold Greatness exhibition will travel to East Library in Colorado Springs in 2012. R. David/ National Endowment for the Humanities.

A year passed before Aitkin’s prayers were answered when Congress’s two chaplains endorsed his undertaking. Within days, the Continental Congress resolved to “recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.” The grateful publisher printed 10,000 copies of the King James translation, placing an abstract of the congressional testimonial in the preface of his Bibles.

Aitkin’s King James Bibles were produced singly and in two volume sets. About fifty remain in existence, including one the Library of Congress has lent to the Folger Shakespeare Library for its exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible.

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

The exhibition, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, has also been turned into a traveling exhibit to be displayed and discussed in forty libraries across the country over the next two years. The Folger also produced a rich website full of material for a wide range of audiences of all ages.

NEH hosted a preview reception on September 21 for Members of Congress to showcase the results of its 2010 grant. (See photos)

NEH Chairman Jim Leach and Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey discuss the King James Bible. R. David/ National Endowment for the Humanities.

Alas for Aitkin, the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 reopened trade between the new United States and Europe. Aitkin’s version of the King James Bible, despite being the only Bible ever recommended by Congress (the First Amendment to the Constitution, which said that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” wasn’t ratified until 1791), couldn’t compete.

Practicality triumphed over ideology. The Aitkin Bible, with pages only 3 1/8 inches wide, almost no margins, and inferior paper, was undersold by higher-quality foreign imports. Americans bought the English version, whether the product of their colonial overlords or not. No act of any Congress could convince them otherwise.

Judy Havemann is the communications director for the National Endowment for the Humanities and is grateful for the research published on the website of the Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum and Paul C. Gutjahr’s An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880.


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.


Behind the Scenes: Exhibition Transformations

Folger conservators install materials for a Manifold Greatness case. Photo by Caryn Lazzuri.

This post about Folger exhibitions and Manifold Greatness first appeared on the Folger Shakespeare Library blog, “The Collation” and we wanted to share some excerpts here, too. Exhibitions manager Caryn Lazzuri, who wrote it and took numerous photos, describes her job as “a post that includes everything from editing label text to searching the Internet for fresh violets in January.” In addition to her background in museum exhibitions, she holds an MFA in poetry. (See the full Collation blog post for more fascinating information (what ARE all those noises during installation?) and many more Caryn Lazzuri photos!)

It’s that time of year again: for two weeks every four months or so, the Folger’s Great Hall locks its doors and transforms from one exhibition into the next. Or, perhaps that’s how it seems to Folger visitors and readers and staff who are barred from the space and have to wait to see the next show. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind those closed, locked doors, let me give you a little glimpse…

The old exhibition, the one that’s coming off view—we take that down on the very first day. Then the work begins. Conservation comes down from the lab armed with hammers and nail guns, drills, magnets, and lots of tiny triangles of plastic vivak. We move rare materials into their new homes—Case 2, Case 8, the pilaster before Case 5—and we work off the plans we drew up months ago, during Case Layouts, to arrange each case into a neat array of rare materials on view. Once everything is in place, the lighting must be fixed, and small adjustments made here or there. Each label has to be just-so, of course.

Installation underway! Photo by Caryn Lazzuri.

At that midway point, loans from other institutions arrive. Each lender’s contract is different, but many require a courier to accompany the loan material and supervise installation. We measure light levels, temperature, and humidity, and when those levels meet the approval of the lender and everything is where it needs to be, we close and seal the case with the courier present, and—in many cases—we don’t open it again until the installation comes down and the courier is present once again.

For Manifold Greatness, 14 institutions or individuals have lent material to be on display, with several more contributing facsimiles. Each loan, each facsimile, each Folger artifact, each panel on the wall has a specific place in the show, and directing that choreography is one of the most gratifying parts of my job as Exhibitions Manager. A result of two years of work by curators, conservators, designers, and editors, this exhibition finally materializes into something tangible in a two-week flurry of constant activity.

Bishops Bible. Folger.

I love the “curtain-up” moment when we sweep up the dust, roll the rugs back out, turn on the lights, and open the doors. I hope you’ll come by and see the show, which opens to the public on September 23. We’ve got some amazing stuff to see: early biblical manuscripts, a Bishops’ Bible that probably belonged to Elizabeth I, a “Wicked” Bible with a misprinted commandment, association Bibles from people as disparate as a seventeenth-century traveler and Elvis Presley, and even a stake for burning heretics.

Manifold Greatness will be on exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library from September 23 through January 16. From February 28 through June 2, the exhibit will be at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. You can learn more about the King James Bible on the exhibition website. A traveling exhibition produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library in partnership with the American Library Association (ALA) has also been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Caryn Lazzuri is Exhibitions Manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library. A full version of her blog post appears on the Folger Shakespeare Library blog, The Collation.


My Favorite Exhibition Item?

William Tyndale, Hertford College Chapel, Oxford, photo (c) Tim Rawle

What is my favorite item in the exhibition (which opens, of course, later this week)? There are so many to choose from, and the scope of our exhibition is so broad, but here are a couple of items I’m particularly fond of.

First, the fragments of William Tyndale’s 1530 translation of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) are truly remarkable. That they survive is nearly miraculous in itself. There is only one complete copy of this book known to exist, in the collection of the British Library. These few leaves of another copy, lent for the Folger exhibition from The Ohio State University, were discovered in an entirely different book, where they had been used as binding waste (scrap paper used by printers for book covers, spine linings, or endpapers). Tyndale’s translation was printed cheaply and designed for practical use by eager Protestant readers. The fact that so little survives of this book suggests that it was simply read to dust. Yet what an enormously important little book!

Tyndale. Bible. Old Testament (fragment). 1530. The Ohio State University.

Tyndale is the real hero of English Bible translation. A remarkable linguist, Tyndale must have learned Hebrew, in order to translate the Old Testament, somewhere in continental Europe, since few in England knew the language. He worked under extreme duress, in hiding and on the run from authorities, and yet his translation proved so powerful that it shaped all other English Bibles for the next four hundred years. Statistics that claim that 85% (or other figures) of the King James Bible is pure Tyndale are misleading in their mathematical precision, but anyone who reads the two translations side by side can see that they represent a genuine truth. For all the praise heaped on the literary magnificence of the style of the King James Bible, it is Tyndale who largely created this style. In his own way, Tyndale was a writer of the rank of Shakespeare, Milton, and Bunyan. His influence on the English language may be greater than all these. For his great pains, Tyndale was publicly strangled, and his status as a writer has suffered because of our modern prejudice against translation in favor of “original” literary works. I hope our exhibition does something to increase awareness of this remarkable man and his literary achievements.

My other favorite (among many others) is Linus reading the Nativity story from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Linus and Charlie Brown in an earlier scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). CBS/Photofest.

Despite the fact that the show is an animated short based on a popular comic strip, Linus’s attempt to explain to Charlie Brown the “meaning of Christmas” is deeply serious, cutting through the crass commercialism that has enveloped the holiday (and in 1965!! imagine what Charlie Brown would think in 2011). I’ve watched this show dozens of times, and I still love it. Culturally, and speaking for myself, it’s as important a part of Christmas as Handel’s Messiah, Christmas carols, or a Christmas Eve service. I’ve heard and read Luke’s Nativity narrative more times than I can count, but I always hear Linus’s sweet, slightly lisping voice in the back of my head. I’m glad we could include it in Manifold Greatness.

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


Discovering a “Judas Bible”

Bible. English. Authorized. 1613. Folger.

Although I’ve been involved with my share of exhibitions, I’m always somehow surprised by how much work goes into them, from the planning stages through to the installation and de-installation.  Indeed, as I write this blog entry, I’m reminded that my colleagues at the Folger are hard at work with the installation, which happens to be one of the most intense parts of the process.  Hannibal Hamlin and I are deeply grateful for all of their efforts.

I think the most exciting part of the exhibition planning process is searching for artifacts to illustrate the exhibition’s narrative. Once there is an exhibition outline, it’s time to search the library catalog and hunt through the library vaults. The process is always one of discovery, through which you find amazing items that you may never have known about. Finding such incredible artifacts is always a thrilling moment.

Hannibal and I had a memorable “Ah-Ha!” moment while researching the so-called “Judas Bible.”  We had read that some copies of the 1613 folio edition of the King James Bible had a misprint in which “Jesus” was mistakenly set as “Judas” in Matthew 26:36. This misprint read: “Then commeth Judas with them unto a place called Gethsemane.” Substituting Judas for Jesus at this moment in the New Testament was clearly a significant mistake, though considering the similarity in the spelling of their names, one can understand how such a mistake was made.

When Hannibal and I pulled the Folger’s copy of the 1613 edition and opened it to Matthew 26:36, we saw “Then commeth Jesus.” At first glance, anyway.  To our great delight a second glance revealed that “Jesus” was actually printed onto a cancel slip that was glued over “Judas.” This was a fairly common way of making corrections in early modern books.  Hannibal and I were looking at a “Judas Bible.”  If you look closely at the image above, you can see the “J” of “Judas” peeking out from behind the “J” of “Jesus.”

The Folger’s “Judas Bible” will appear in the Folger’s Manifold Greatness exhibition alongside the “Wicked Bible” in a case called “Misprints and Misfortunes: Printing the King James Bible.”

Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


The KJB at a Folger Neighbor

Robert Reid, Understanding. Library of Congress. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith.

Last weekend’s blog post about the Martin Luther King Memorial highlighted the newest addition to the list of Washington monuments, memorials, and official spaces which include at least one inscription from the King James Bible—and inspired us to think of some others.

Religious images and references to God are fairly common in “white-marble Washington,” but written texts from the King James Bible can be harder to find. One place to look is just across the street from the Folger Shakespeare Library, in the magnificent Great Hall of the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building. (The Folger Shakespeare Library, unlike the Library of Congress, is a private, nongovernmental research library. Henry and Emily Folger placed it on Capitol Hill next to the Library of Congress, which has always been a Folger neighbor.)

The image shown here, depicting Understanding, is from a group of four paintings by the artist Robert Reid on the north wall of the Great Hall’s second floor. Below Reid’s painting is a verse from Proverbs 4:7, in the words of the King James Bible: “Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

The Great Hall at the Library of Congress also famously exhibits the Giant Bible of Mainz (1452-53), one of the last great handwritten Bibles, and the Gutenberg Bible (about 1455), the first book printed in movable metal type in western Europe.

The quotations in the Great Hall are both numerous and varied, reflecting the nineteenth century’s fascination with science and engineering as well as art, literature, philosophy, religion, and more. For additional information, see librarian and historian John Y. Cole’s On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Library of Congress. Cole is also director of the library’s Center for the Book.


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.


KJB on the go! The Bodleian’s new mobile app

The Making of the King James Bible (Toura), Bodleian Libraries app

It’s hard to envision what the original King James Bible translators would have made of it, or exactly how one would even begin to explain it to one of them if a time machine were available, but the Bodleian Libraries have just released their first mobile app: “The Making of the King James Bible,” available for iPhone, iPad, and Android-based devices.

To quote the Bodleian’s own press release: “The app is being launched to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the Bible’s publication and the Bodleian’s summer exhibition, Manifold Greatness: Oxford and the Making of the King James Bible (until 4 September).” Like the exhibition, the app “brings together, for the first time, many of the books and documents that lay behind the King James Bible translation.”

Among numerous highlights, including images of many items from the exhibition, the app includes comments from the Oxford curators, readings from the King James Bible translation, and Evensong performed by the choir at Corpus Christi College.


Remembering William Blake (1757-1827)

Blake, Marriage of Heaven and Hell, c 1790-93. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Bridgman Art Library.

William Blake, who died on August 12 in 1827, was one of English literature’s most eccentric poets. Even the word “poet” doesn’t fit him very well, since he was also a painter, an engraver, and a printer, and many of his works were really multimedia productions, with words, images, and designs all working together to one aesthetic effect. Blake was also a radical in politics and religion, resisting hierarchy, authority, and inequality wherever he perceived it, in the State, the Church, or the Book of Genesis. Blake was a religious poet who strove to overturn traditional religion, a biblical writer who rewrote the Bible. The God of Genesis, for Blake, was an authoritarian tyrant, and Satan’s rebellion against him was not sinful but heroic. For Blake, who considered himself a Christian, Christianity was about forgiveness, not morality. And forgiveness did not depend upon God or the Church but was to be exercised by everyone. True divinity was within every individual.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a page of which is shown here, is an early work (c.1790-93) that shows how deeply Blake was indebted to both the ideas of the Bible and the language of the King James Bible translation. In this section, “Proverbs of Hell,” Blake imitates the style and diction of the Old Testament Proverbs, but resists biblical ideas of wisdom and morality; Blake’s “Hell” is really his view of Heaven, an inversion of the traditional Christian one. Thus, for Blake, “The nakedness of woman is the work of God,” and “Prison are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.” However radical his ideas, Blake’s parallelistic rhetoric is traditionally biblical. Also like the biblical Proverbs, Blake’s are sometimes gnomic or riddling, suggesting mysteries that need puzzling out: “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.”

Blake’s use of what today we would call prose poetry, borrowed from the lines of Isaiah and Jeremiah in the King James Bible, influenced the similar styles (if different thinking) of later American poets Walt Whitman and Alan Ginsberg. In fact, Blake’s reputation as poet and artist is considerably higher in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than it was in his own day, perhaps partly because his rare, hand-printed and -colored works can now be widely reproduced.

Read more about the influence of the King James Bible on a variety of literary works in the Literary Influences timeline on the Manifold Greatness website.

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


Curt Wittig: In Appreciation

Messiah. London, 1749(?), Folger.

We were saddened to learn of the death of recording engineer Curt Wittig, who contributed in a very significant way to the Handel’s Messiah portion of our Manifold Greatness website. Composer James Primosch has this tribute on his blog, with additional links.

Soon after starting work on the Manifold Greatness website, we discovered that Handel’s Messiah—which, as we have previously noted, takes most of its text from the King James Bible—had been performed in 1991 by the Choir of Oxford’s Magdalen College and the Folger Consort, the resident early music ensemble of the Folger Shakespeare Library. The 1991 Folger-Oxford performance was a nice parallel to Manifold Greatness, a joint project of the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford, with assistance from the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas.

Recordings of the three 1991 performances were thus a natural source for audio clips to be included in the Handel’s Messiah portion of the website. Archival recordings of multiple concerts in a public space cannot simply be used as-is, however. Curt, the long-standing audio engineer for the Folger Consort, came to the rescue. Having made the original recordings of the 1991 concerts, he worked closely with us last year to edit clips from the multiple performances, while also suggesting the best segments of the work to use from an audio perspective. His meticulous and thoughtful edits now make it possible for website visitors to hear how Handel and his librettist Charles Jennens set the words of the King James Bible to music, producing a work that has become so widely performed that it may well be the primary way in which many people hear the language of the King James Bible today.

You can hear Curt’s audio excerpts from the Messiah here.

 


The Wicked Bible


Folger exhibitions draw primarily on Folger collections, but are often supplemented with items loaned from other libraries and museums. Most of the time the process goes smoothly, but every exhibition has its challenges. Manifold Greatness has had a few challenges, ranging from chasing down Bibles belonging to presidents and reggae musicians, to finding a pulpit and pew to put in the Great Hall.  Then there’s the Wicked Bible…

Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) edition of the King James Bible is an edition from 1631 that has come to be known as the “Wicked Bible” due to a rather outrageous typo in the ten commandments. Instead of having “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” the Wicked Bible has “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Quite a difference!  Even the King, Charles I, took notice and saw to it that the book’s printers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, were severely fined. Copies of the book were recalled and thus very few survive.

That very few copies survive made it a challenge for us to find one for the Folger exhibition. Finding a Wicked Bible turned out to be a rather wicked endeavor. After a few failed attempts, we finally found a copy with a willing lender: our partner in Manifold Greatness, the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford!

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


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