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.

MLK Jr., Rap Music, and More in South Carolina

Members of Cornerstone Baptist Church, winner of the King James Bible Quiz. Image courtesy of Sumter County Library.

The traveling exhibition for Manifold Greatness is still on view in Sumter, SC, and many exciting events have taken place since our last blog post. The Sumter County Library held a King James Bible quiz on Saturday, July 21st. Three teams competed to see who could name the Book, Chapter and Verse of popular, everyday phrases that originated from the King James Bible. At the end, the team from Cornerstone Baptist Church won the quiz and received copies of the King James Bibles as their prize. In fact, all three teams won Bibles!

On Tuesday, July 24th, Dr. Harry Singleton of Benedict College discussed the influence of the King James Bible and other scholarly works upon Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights beliefs. While the King James Bible was the foundation upon which King preached and believed, other texts affected King deeply, including Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disenchanted, Paul Tillech’s Systematic Theology and Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”. “Civil Disobedience” declared one must shame the person you are confronting by passivity. Dr. King believed that being arrested and sent to jail would eventually shame those persecuting the oppressed.

In addition to important theological and philosophical texts, Dr. King deeply believed in the poetry of the King James Bible. During slavery, slave owners used the Bible to legitimize that institution. Dr. King rejected that view, instead seeing Biblical figures such as Amos, Paul and Jesus as leaders of social transformation. Amos believed ritualistic religion is not positive, but justice and social transformation is something for which we all should strive. Paul and Jesus claimed man must suffer for God in order to change what is wrong around him.

Dr. Singleton used the term “zeitgeist” to summarize Dr. King’s beliefs and actions during his lifetime. “Zeitgeist” means “spirit of the times.” Dr. King believed the time was always right for social justice and transformation. While most humans do not want change, the Bible, through its messages of hope and justice, calls for a righteous path to free all people from oppression.

On Monday, July 30th, Dr. Valinda Littlefield of the University of South Carolina – Columbia discussed the use of the King James Bible within the context of rap music. To begin the lecture, Dr. Littlefield played two music videos; “E Pluribus Unum” by the Last Poets, and “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio. Dr. Littlefield examined the poetic beauty of the King James Bible. Rap music is a form of poetry, and rappers use the King James Bible to espouse their competing views of life.

The Last Poets were the earliest influence of hip-hop in the late 1960s to the 1970s. Common themes in “E Pluribus Unum” include life, truth and the light. The Last Poets used many biblical references including “living the lie leads to sin” and John 14:6 which states “Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.”

Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” discusses how the “gangsta” life is a lie. Dr. Littlefield believes Coolio’s issue is not living a life in the presence of God. Coolio directly lifts Psalm 23:4 which states “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” In “Gangsta’s Paradise”, Coolio raps “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothin’ left”. Dr. Littlefield also stated in the song Coolio raps “how nobody is here to teach me”. In the Bible, David had God beside him to lead the way, but those stuck in the “Gangsta’s Paradise” do not. The lack of hope in street life is the opposite of the King James Bible, where hope is found.

The Sumter County Library will continue to host events into early August, includng hosts events through the beginning of August, including a King James Bible Choir Concert, an “Expressions” Art Show, and the Closing Reception featuring Dr. Patrick Scott. Dr. Scott will display a King James Bible dating back to the 1600’s.

Please visit our Manifold Greatness webpage, YouTube, and Photobucket channels for more information, video and pictures of events at Sumter County Library.

Ford Simmons is the Reference and Information Services Coordinator/Webmaster at Sumter County Library.

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