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 “Geneva Bible

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.


From Geneva to Mobile

1583 Geneva Bible owned by Robert S. Edington.  Also known as the "Breeches Bible," in reference to the Genesis iii:7 passage regarding Adam and Eve clothing themselves in "breeches" made from fig leaves.   Photo courtesy of Mobile Public Library.

As part of the Mobile Public Library’s recent showing of the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition, local residents and universities lent rare Bibles that were included in the display.

Mobile resident Robert S. Edington provided a 1583 Geneva Bible, which is also known as the “Breeches Bible.”  “Breeches Bible” is a book collector’s term for the Geneva Bible, which was first printed 1560. The term derives from the reference in Genesis iii: 7 to Adam and Eve clothing themselves in “breeches” made from fig leaves.

The Geneva Bible was one of the results of the persecution under infamous Queen Mary I, popularly known as “Bloody Mary” (1553-1558). Several of the Protestant reformers had fled to Geneva, Switzerland, to escape persectuion in England.  Geneva was a free city, politically and religiously, dominated by Calvinism, the “cradle of the Reformed Faith” and a haven for religious reformists.

1583 Geneva Bible owned by Robert S. Edington. Also known as the "Breeches Bible," in reference to the Genesis iii:7 passage regarding Adam and Eve clothing themselves in "breeches" made from fig leaves. Photo courtesy of Mobile Public Library.

The Geneva Bible offered the first new English translation of the Bible in nearly 20 years. Many of the previous translations also had their inceptions  under duress, such as William Tyndale’s work producing the New Testament at a time when English translations of the Bible were prohibited. Tyndale suffered execution as a result.  For more information on the volatile history of English translations of the Bible, visit The Crown and the Bible on the Manifold Greatness website.

Spring Hill College contributed several Bibles to the exhibition, including a Gutenberg Bible facsimile that was produced in 1961. The Gutenberg Bible, known also as the Mazarin Bible and the 42-Line Bible, is a Latin edition of the Bible, printed at Mainz, Germany, sometime between 1450 and 1456. Although German bibliographers claim that it was printed by the German printer Johann Gutenberg, the edition may have been finished and perfected by Johann Fust, a wealthy financier who gained Gutenberg’s share of the business in a lawsuit; and Peter Schöffer, Gutenberg’s assistant. The book is the first volume known to have been printed with movable metal type.

1512 Vulgate Bible and 1871 Luther Bible on loan by Spring Hill College. Photo courtesy of Mobile Public Library.

The College also provided a 1512 Vulgate Bible, a 1546 Hebraica Biblica (Hebrew-Latin Bible), and a 1871 Luther Bible.  The Vulgate is a early translation of the Bible into Latin, originally undertaken in the 4th century. It remained the standard translation of the Bible for centuries, and was widely used throughout the middle ages. The Luther Bible is based on a translation by Martin Luther and was first published in 1534. Over 300 years later, his translation remained important enough for an edition to be printed in 1871.  

In addition, the University of Mobile lent several Bibles.  Local residents Clyde and Ira Jenkins displayed their 1949 New Standard Reference Bible, and Robert Hyde showed his grandmother’s 1869 American Bible Society version.

A family Bible owned by Clyde and Ira Jenkins. 1949 New Standard Reference Edition. Photo courtesy of Mobile Public Library.

Amber Guy is a public relations officer at Mobile Public Library, which hosted the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition from February 29 to March 30, 2012.


Shakespeare and the King James Bible: Ships Passing in the Night

Shakespeare. Double-sided enamel. 1769. Folger.

Since at least the great Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769, Shakespeare and the King James Bible have been yoked together as the twin pillars of English culture. Dozens of books in the nineteenth century printed extracts from Shakespeare and the KJV, often on facing pages, showing that they were morally and spiritually equivalent on matters such as the Sabbath, the World’s Dissolution, Fears, Adultery, and Wisdom.

The association of these two works (and neither of them really is “a work”—they’re both anthologies) encouraged the idea that there must be a stronger link between them. I’ve written before about the nutty notion that Shakespeare was a KJV translator. But even the idea that Shakespeare read and was influenced by the KJV is mistaken.

Shakespeare did read the Bible, and he heard it in church. We can tell this because of the hundreds of biblical allusions and references in his plays and poems. In fact, there is no work that Shakespeare alludes to more often than the Bible. Bottom garbles Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen…”); Richard II compares his tormentors to Judas and the Pharisees; Shylock cites the story of Jacob and Laban from Genesis; King Lear alludes (unconsciously) to the Book of Job. Shakespeare makes these allusions, counting on his audience to recognize and interpret them, and so add deeper meaning to the play.

King Lear. Unknown artist. 1874. Folger.

The KJV was published only in 1611 (possibly even in early 1612, since England was still on the old calendar with New Year’s in March), and while parishes in London and some other dioceses did acquire copies of the new Bible fairly quickly, it was not immediate. Up until this time, Shakespeare, like everyone else, had known other English Bible translations. The Bishops’ Bible (first published in 1568) was the official translation read in most English churches. The Geneva Bible (1560) was by far the most popular, though, and Shakespeare obviously had a copy that he read from, since most of the biblical allusions in his works that are identifiable with a specific translation are to the Geneva.

The KJV simply arrived too late for Shakespeare to know it. Even if he did see a copy or hear it in church, it didn’t supplant the Geneva from his ear and memory. Moreover, by this time Shakespeare had only a few more plays to write before he died: perhaps only the Fletcher collaborations, Henry VIII, Two Noble Kinsmen, and the lost Cardenio. It’s probably unreasonable to put too much emphasis on one Bible translation or another, however, since most of the translators (KJV companies included) saw themselves as revisers, and the succession of translations from Tyndale and Coverdale on as just stages in the development of the English Bible. Shakespeare knew the English Bible intimately—just not in the revision known as the KJV.

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 First King James Bible in America?

The John Alden Bible. 1620. (c) The Pilgrim Society. Pilgrim Hall Museum.

As we approach Thanksgiving, perhaps thinking of those Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower and feasted with the Indians, we might think about the English Bibles they brought with them. (We ought to note, though, that despite the popular myth about the Pilgrims founding Thanksgiving, it was actually Abraham Lincoln who fixed the official November date after the Civil War. The Pilgrims had a feast of “thanksgiving” in 1621, but it was hardly the state holiday we know today.)

As the hotter, more godly variety of Protestants, the Pilgrims used the Geneva Bible. It was far the most popular English Bible until the mid-seventeenth century, but especially so among those termed Puritans, given its associations with Calvinist Geneva. John Alden, however, brought a copy of the King James Bible printed in 1620. Though Alden became a prominent member of the Plymouth Colony, he wasn’t originally a member of the Pilgrims, but rather the ship’s carpenter on the Mayflower. This may explain why he carried the KJV.

Virginia before Jamestown. Thomas Hariot. A briefe and true report. 1590. Folger.

Alden’s 1620 KJV may be the first copy of this translation on American soil, but it’s impossible to be certain. The Roanoke Colony was settled long before the KJV and the colonists had disappeared by 1590. Jamestown was founded in 1607, again too early for the KJV. The first colonists probably brought Geneva or Bishops’ Bibles.

The question is, were copies of the KJV brought to Jamestown between its first printing in 1611 and the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620? Alden Vaughan, professor emeritus at Columbia University, informs me that there was considerable traffic across the Atlantic in those years, and it might yet be possible to determine whether Bibles were part of the cargo.

On the other hand, as Kenneth Fincham pointed out at the Folger Institute conference in September, English churches did not immediately purchase that KJV when it was hot off the presses. Within a few years most London churches acquired copies, but in other dioceses churches were using the Bishops’ Bible, the Geneva, or even the Great Bible, well into the 1630s and 40s. It all depended on whether presiding bishops were keen on the idea.

So who knows what happened in Jamestown? That’s a story waiting to be told, if we can ever find out enough to tell it! For now, we’ll remember the King James Bible John Alden brought over on the Mayflower, which is now on display in the Great Hall at the Folger, and which after January will return to its permanent home at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth.

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 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 KJB Sea to Sea


Institutions around the world have been celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, and this spring the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLA, which houses substantial rare book holdings, hosted an exhibition highlighting the history, context, and ongoing influence of the KJB.

The Clark Library was the lucky recipient of a recent gift of early English books. We used many of these in the exhibition, including the Greek to Latin translation of the New Testament by Erasmus in 1516, the “Wycliffite” version (unpublished until 1731), Cranmer’s 1541 version of the Great Bible, and the large folio edition of the Geneva Bible, printed in 1583. These antecedents helped contextualize the desire to publish a new English translation of the Bible during the reign of King James I, a translation that fit the politics of seventeenth-century Protestant England. The Clark borrowed the first issue of the first edition, or the Great “He” Bible of 1611 (so called because of a typo in the Book of Ruth), which was displayed with the library’s own “corrected” edition printed in 1613.

Later versions of the KJB, including the magnificent Baskerville Bible printed in 1763 using the “Baskerville” typeface created by British printer John Baskerville, an engraved 18th-century miniature of the New Testament done completely in shorthand, and quarto and octavo editions in elaborately tooled bindings, speak to the book’s popularity. We know the initial reception of this new translation wasn’t all roses and there is a fiery essay by Hugh Broughton, a noted clergyman and contemporary of many of the translators, which sharply criticises the King James Bible. But there is no denying that the King James Bible influenced scores of writers, artists, scholars, and even composers.

On online version of the exhibition can be seen here.

Nina Schneider is a guest contributor to the Manifold Greatness blog and Head Cataloger/Interim Head Librarian at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLA.


Happy Birthday King James I!!

James I. Miniature, ca. 1620. Folger.

Happy Birthday King James! James I of England, whose birthday is this Sunday, June 19, is the “King James” of the King James Bible. He became King James VI of Scotland at the age of one in 1567, after his mother, Mary (Queen of Scots) was forced to abdicate. Mary was implicated in the death of her second husband (and cousin), Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, James’s father. As retold in novels, plays, opera, and films, Mary herself was imprisoned, and eventually beheaded, by her cousin (once removed), Elizabeth I of England. When Elizabeth died in 1603, James inherited her throne. One weirdness in this succession is that James inherited the crown from the queen who executed his mother, but since Mary was likely involved in the murder of his father, he probably had mixed feelings about her death.

When James came down from Scotland, his new English subjects were naturally concerned about their new king’s religious views and the future of church organization and worship in England. To settle matters, James convened a conference in January of 1604 at the palace of Hampton Court. Though it was not on the agenda, the project for a new translation of the Bible originated in these discussions.

Despite popular misconceptions, James himself had little to do with the translation, apart from setting it in motion,and providing it with royal sanction. (The translators prominently dedicated it to him, too.) He was a learned monarch, deeply engaged with theological questions, and he wrote a number of metrical versions of Psalms. But his learning was not up to the level of the translators.

Map of Christian's journey from Pilgrim's Progress

His one area of contribution to the translation was in shaping the guiding principles for the translators (written by Archbishop Richard Bancroft), especially in the decision to avoid marginal interpretative notes. Such notes had been a popular feature of the Geneva Bible, but a number of these, written by Protestant exiles during the reign of Queen Mary, were sharply critical of monarchs. The King James Bible, as it came to be known, was to be free of such a radical taint. Little did James know that the Bible he sponsored would become the Bible of the radicals John Milton, John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress, right), and William Blake, as well as of America, the British colonies that threw off their king to become a democratic republic.

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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