I’m writing this from Borough High St. in Southwark (London), a few blocks from Southwark Cathedral, and in the vicinity of what used to be Winchester Palace, the London residence of the Bishop of Winchester. Lancelot Andrewes, translator of the King James Bible and perhaps supervisor of the First Westminster Company, was granted the bishopric in 1618. He is buried in Southwark Cathedral and is represented in effigy lying on top of his tomb.
London is full of reminders of the translation of the English Bible. Across London Bridge, which is just up the road and on the right, is the church of St. Magnus Martyr. Miles Coverdale, who translated the first complete English Bible (apart from the Wycliffites), is buried there, since he served for a time as rector.
William Tyndale, translator of translators, is buried in Vilvoorde in the Netherlands, where he was strangled and burned, but his sculpted head is included as a decorative architectural feature at St. Dunstan-in-the-West, where he lectured. John Donne later preached at St. Dunstan’s. A little south of St. Paul’s, where Donne was dean, stood the church of Holy Trinity the Less, destroyed in the Great Fire. John Rogers, the man responsible for Matthew’s Bible (1537), was rector there a few years earlier. He was later burned alive as a heretic at Smithfield, a 10 minute walk north, near the church of St. Bartholomew the Great. Benjamin Franklin worked briefly for a printer in the Lady Chapel of St. Bart’s.
Of course, Westminster itself, the location of two companies of the King James Bible translators, is down the Thames to the west. Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester (before Andrewes), member of the Second Cambridge Company, and one of the revisers of the final King James Bible text, is buried in Westminster Abbey, as is, of course, King James I. Archbishop Matthew Parker, who supervised the translation of the Bishops’ Bible (1568), is buried at Lambeth just across the Thames.
The celebrations of the King James Bible anniversary have died down here. There are no upcoming events listed on the website of the King James Bible Trust. And in the United States, the tour of Manifold Greatness comes to end on July 12—oddly enough, my birthday. Perhaps more appropriately, it is the date of the death of Erasmus (1536), who produced the Greek text of the New Testament that became known as the Textus Receptus, an essential resource for translators from William Tyndale to the King James Bible companies.
As I reflect on the long history of Manifold Greatness, from its inception and planning, to the years of research, to the exhibition at the Folger, to the long journey of the panel exhibitions, I wonder what lies ahead for the King James Bible in 2111. Will the 500th anniversary be celebrated as were the 400th and the 300th? Will the King James Bible still be in use in some churches? Will American presidents still be sworn in on it? Will the King James Bible have an afterlife in the 21st century? Will some lecturer refer back to the 2011 anniversary celebrations at the Folger, as I referred in my opening lecture to celebrations in New York and London in 1911? Few of us will know. As Matthew writes, “of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”
Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, was co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
You may have noticed that Hannibal Hamlin’s recent post on Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, and the King James Bible began “Happy Birthday Walter!” And with good reason. As we look back on the Manifold Greatness blog since its own birth announcement on March 15, 2011, birthdays and other anniversaries have been an enormous help to us in tracing the origins and cultural influences of the 1611 King James Bible, from its time to the present day. Many of our posts have been quite different, of course, with no anniversary connotation. But again and again, we’ve found that anniversary dates are a welcome and frequent part of the mix.
A special date, like Whitman’s birthday, not only gives a blog post an easy-to-understand reason for appearing when it does; it often means that there will be other links and resources elsewhere for readers to explore on the same day on the same topic. For our blog, paying attention to such dates has also created, in effect, a real-world immersion in the width and breadth of the King James Bible’s influence, so that we find ourselves noting the anniversary of the first Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) one day, the death date of reggae superstar Bob Marley another day, and the death of King James Bible translator John Rainolds on yet another. Others in an almost endless list of examples include the anniversaries of the reading from Genesis from Apollo 8 in lunar orbit, the death of William Blake, and the death of Elvis Presley.
Anniversary dates can be tough deadlines, too. Behind the scenes, we’ve occasionally found ourselves scrambling to create a post on or near belatedly discovered date. Steve Galbraith produced that post on the anniversary of Bob Marley’s death in a matter of hours; Helen Moore, at the Bodleian, wrote the Rainolds tribute in very short order; and, quite recently, Hannibal Hamlin marked the rarely noted anniversary of the death of Casiodoro de Reina, a crucial early Spanish Bible translator, with just a few hours’ notice. For all of which and more, many thanks to all three!
King James Bible-influenced poems, songs, movies, television shows, and other creative works have anniversaries to celebrate, too, from the release of the 1956 film version of Moby Dick to the debut of the Byrds’ Turn, Turn, Turn. Handel’s Messiah has given rise on this blog to posts on Handel’s birthday, the anniversary of the oratorio’s original Dublin premiere, and the modern custom of performing it in the days before Christmas rather than during Lent, the period before Easter. Christmas and Easter, of course, are among the annual holidays—religious and secular, fixed-date like Christmas and moveable feast like Easter—that we have marked on the blog, too, which has also included posts tied to Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving, among others.
Ultimately, the impulse to celebrate anniversaries led to the entire Manifold Greatness project, inspired by the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible, and to countless other projects around the globe in the anniversary year of 2011. But the same impulse has also inspired a modern King James Bible myth. The natural desire to link the King James Bible to a specific date, as well as to the year 1611, has led to the widespread, but false, idea that the King James Bible was first published on May 2, one of several King James Bible myths debunked on this blog over time.
King James himself, of course, is inevitably linked to several anniversary dates, including the date of his coronation. On June 19, 2011, we first wished him “Happy Birthday, King James!” You can wish him the same next Wednesday, as June 19 rolls around once more.
Since this blog began in the spring of 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, we’ve examined inscriptions from the King James Bible in several locations around Washington, DC, home of the Folger Shakespeare Library. We took a look at the Library of Congress and at biblical influences on Martin Luther King’s rhetoric, including a biblical inscription at the Martin Luther King Memorial, which we revisited recently as part of our Washington, DC, cherry blossoms entry.
On this Memorial Day weekend, Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac, seemed like a good place to look for King James Bible inscriptions. Two examples on the Arlington memorials and monuments are perhaps the best known, in addition to some private citations on individual tombstones. (Robert E. Lee’s former home, Arlington House, still stands at the highest point on the grounds; in yet another KJB connection, you can see Lee’s own King James Bible here.)
One of the two King James Bible inscriptions is on the World War I chaplains memorial, dedicated in 1926. The memorial includes a line from John, 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Located on the brow of Chaplains Hill within the cemetery, the memorial is now accompanied by memorials to Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains that include later wars; the Jewish chaplains memorial was dedicated relatively recently, in 2011.
The Confederate Memorial was unveiled in 1914, almost half a century after the end of the Civil War, in a section of the cemetery that was set aside for Confederate graves in 1900. Both the graves section and the memorial were seen as symbols of national reconciliation.
The memorial is encircled near the top with the line from Isaiah 2:4, “and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks.” Above this inscription, a female figure representing the South lifts a laurel wreath southward with one hand; she holds a pruning hook in her other hand, which she rests on a plow. The pruning hook and plow are meant to illustrate the King James Bible passage.
Learn more about the King James Bible in American history, including Confederate and Union copies of the King James Bible, in our Historic American Bibles image gallery.
Curious about the post-Civil War origins of Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day? Try this recent blog post from the Smithsonian American History Museum.
It’s May 2 today, and that makes it the anniversary of… a classic May 2, 2011, blog post by Manifold Greatness co-curator Hannibal Hamlin, explaining just why May 2 isn’t and couldn’t be the anniversary of the King James Bible’s publication date.
But the curious tradition of May 2 is not the only King James Bible myth that he’s discussed on this blog. One of our all-time most popular blog posts (with a fairly self-explanatory title, we think) remains Shakespeare did not write the King James Bible, no way, no how. Nor did the King James Bible influence Shakespeare’s plays: the timing was wrong, as explained here.
Dealing with another common misconception, King James didn’t write the King James Bible, either. See this blog post for that explanation.
Curious to learn more? These and other questions are included as Myth or Reality? FAQS on our Manifold Greatness website, too. What makes the King James Bible so subject to myths, stories, and misconceptions? Perhaps, in part, it’s just a sign of its cultural and religious importance. As for May 2, it’s an unusually prosaic “myth” about a book publication date, rarely the stuff of legend or romance. As Hannibal Hamlin suggests in his original “May 2” blog post, perhaps just having a definite date—any date—helps satisfy our perennial desire for certainty.
The Manifold Greatness project, including this blog, began in 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the 1611 King James Bible. To learn more about the origins, creation, and broad influence of the King James Bible, explore our Manifold Greatness website. To try our coloring game, select “Coloring” from the Games and Activities section of the website’s “Kids Zone.”
After a successful month of hosting specialized events, scholarly presentations, and tours, the Tuscaloosa Public Library said farewell to the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit on Friday, April 5. Bringing in over 2,500 visitors, Manifold Greatness proved to be a successful addition to the library and gave patrons a new perspective on how books influence the past, present, and future.
We wrote an earlier blog post about our Opening Reception, which included a talk on the early English Bible translator William Tyndale. Our second scholarly program, pictured here, was entitled “Books: The History and Art of Letterpress Printing.” Samford University Associate Professor Scott Fisk used the history of book arts to frame a discussion of how society often forgets the importance of books and their impact on us. Attendees discussed developments in printing and were given the opportunity to witness firsthand the process of letterpress printmaking with a miniaturized printing press made for traveling salesmen in the late 1800s. Other materials such as broadsides, antique books, and wood type were available to demonstrate the form and function of early book making.
A family-friendly craft program, using a craft organized for our Opening Reception, rounded out the month of Manifold Greatness programming. Kids and their parents were given the chance to create blackberry ink and feather quills. They were then given the chance to use their ink and quills to practice some calligraphy and create name plates for an ongoing bestiary project.
Through the Manifold Greatness exhibit and the five corresponding displays curated by library staff, the Tuscaloosa Public Library was able to present a cohesive timeline beginning with the development of writing, the invention of paper, the migration from scrolls to codices to present day books, and how these inventions have influenced the world, made the creation of the King James Version possible, and had a major impact on authors, artists, and musicians.
Susana Goldman is Reference Librarian at the Tuscaloosa Public Library in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Washington, DC, the home of the Folger Shakespeare Library, is reveling in the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20 to April 14) as the Japanese cherry trees around the Tidal Basin and elsewhere are now approaching their glorious but short-lived “peak bloom.”
We thought we’d revisit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, first discussed in this blog post by Manifold Greatness curator Hannibal Hamlin around the time of the memorial’s original (but storm-delayed) dedication in August 2011.
Martin Luther King often quoted from the Bible, including the King James Bible, in his speeches, including a line from Amos evoking a time when justice runs down “like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” You can see that quotation in the inscription here from a 1955 speech in Montgomery, Alabama. And yes, those are cherry blossoms at the top of the picture!
Over the past year and a half of the Manifold Greatness exhibit’s continuing travels, some of the Manifold Greatness host sites have included special events that touched on King’s use of the King James Bible as well as the connection between the King James Bible and the black church tradition. For more examples of the role of the King James Bible in American public life, you may want to explore the Modern Life image gallery on our Manifold Greatness website.
The King Memorial is located directly on the Tidal Basin, which is encircled by those blossoming Japanese cherry trees. King’s statue looks across the water at the Jefferson Memorial, which has its own historic associations with the King James Bible. One of Thomas Jefferson’s post-presidential projects was to assemble, from scripture, an account of Jesus’ teachings that excluded supernatural elements, producing what he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. You can see one passage in the Historic American Bibles image gallery on the Manifold Greatness website, or learn much more about it at the Smithsonian’s Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, which includes a complete online facsimile.
In between the Jefferson and King memorials along the edge of the Tidal Basin is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Unlike many American presidents, however, Roosevelt does not offer us a simple King James Bible connection through his inauguration ceremonies. Franklin Roosevelt followed the tradition of being sworn in on a Bible, and he used the same one for all four inaugurations (he had also used it when he was sworn in as governor of New York in 1928 and 1930). But it was not the King James Bible. Roosevelt was sworn in on his family’s 1686 Dutch Bible (scroll down to see photos), the oldest Bible used at any presidential inauguration to date, and the only inaugural Bible in a modern foreign language, Dutch.
The traveling exhibit Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife appears next in mid-April at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky; the Tifton Museum of Arts and Heritage in coordination with the Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia; and the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland.
This Sunday is March 24, the date in 1603 when Queen Elizabeth I died, and James VI of Scotland became king of England. When James succeeded Elizabeth to the English monarchy, he also inherited the crown of Ireland.
Although a high king of Ireland was both a legal and historical reality, the concept of an Irish crown was innovative in this period. The bardic poet Fearghal Óg Mac an Bhaird may be the first to have articulated the notion of ‘the crown of Ireland’ as part of a triple monarchy, which he did in his famous poem “Tri coróna i gcairt Shéamais” (Three crowns in James’s charter), an inaugural poem celebrating James’s accession to the triple monarchy of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
The current Folger exhibition, Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland, which I curated with Thomas Herron, Associate Professor of English at East Carolina University, includes a facsimile manuscript of Mac an Bhaird’s poem, in the original Irish language. The poem is one of several Irish-language works on display. A fundamental, and immensely interesting, part of the exhibition, these works have been a way for us to show how the Irish language itself was a powerful cultural and social force in the world of Renaissance Ireland. You can hear a spoken passage from the poem, in Irish, in this online audio stop from our exhibition audio tour (the passage from the poem begins after my spoken introduction) and see an image of the poem here as well.
The poem’s fame derives in part from its seeming curiosity: why would a Gaelic Irishman welcome a “British” king? One answer is that Gaelic intellectuals were not absolutely averse to political connection to the monarchy in London, and currying favor with the new king was simply good politics.
On a more basic level, the bardic class hoped to enjoy greater protection and rights under a Scottish king than they had under an English queen: Elizabeth may have had an interest in the Irish language, but she did next to nothing to arrest the destruction of Gaelic culture. James, by contrast, had successfully ruled Scotland for decades and had managed his Gaelic and Catholic subjects with relative tolerance. Many Irish—bards, lords, and even churchmen—held out hope that his reign would usher in better days.
Mac an Bhaird’s poem details the grounds of James’s claim for all three kingdoms. In the case of Ireland, legitimacy derived from blood (Scottish kings having been descended of Irish Gaels) rather than conquest. In traditional motif, then, Ireland was portrayed in the poem as the feminized ‘spouse’ of the rightful king, a union that would bring peace and plenty to the land.
Great hopes, however, were quickly dashed. A mere six years later, in 1609, James’s government would commence the largest and most ambitious of English/British colonial schemes in Ireland, the Plantation of Ulster, and thus the repeopling of Ireland’s northern province with English and Scottish settlers.
Brendan Kane is Associate Professor of History at the University of Connecticut, Associate Director of the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, and the curator, with Thomas Herron, of the Folger exhibition Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland, January 19 to May 19, 2013.
Because North Carolina has a strong Scottish heritage, we decided to highlight King James’s own Scottish heritage in our Manifold Greatness opening celebration at Cameron Village Regional Library in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The afternoon began with a performance of highland dancing by the Triangle Scottish Dancers, a local group that is part of the Scottish Cultural Organization of the Triangle (SCOT). Highland dancing differs from country dancing in that the latter is performed by couples who walk around each other in patterns, much like American square dancing. Highland dancing, in contrast, is performed by individuals and involves very intricate footwork. It is similar to the Irish dancing that was popularized by the “Lord of the Dance”.
Most highland dance groups are made up of girls and young women, as is the case with our group. More than one attendee remarked on how nice it was to see a group of girls performing together in such an accomplished way. Even the bagpipe player is a teenage girl.
After the dance performance in the atrium, the piper played while the dancers led the crowd upstairs to the exhibit room. There refreshments were served while North Carolina Symphony harpist Anita Burroughs–Price performed music from the Jacobean era, and told attendees about the history of the harp from its beginning as an outgrowth of the hunter’s bow to the modern harp we know today.
During the harpist’s break, SCOT member George Birrell gave a talk about kilts and read some Scottish poetry. George and Anita then collaborated on an impromptu duet, Anita playing the harp while George recited the words to “Auld Lang Syne,” a Scottish song with words by the poet Robert Burns. An earlier version of the song has been attributed to Sir John Ayton, a scholarly advisor to King James.
Eventually, the afternoon of music, food, and dance drew to a close. One of the comments left on the white board in the exhibit room summed it up: “Great display. Absolutely spiffing!”
Sue Scott is Arts and Literature Librarian at Cameron Village Regional Library, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Each library hosting the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition offers a unique set of resource for its viewers. At Eastern Mennonite University, the Hartzler Library has had on view a number of Bibles from its Menno Simons Historical Library, a special collection of Anabaptist/Mennonite materials. Manifold Greatness was on view at EMU from January 26 through February 21, 2013.We’ve selected some unique items from the Menno Simons Historical Library to share in this post. Please scroll down to see these remarkable, historic Bibles.
Also on display is this New Testament from 1527 with the text in Greek, Latin which was translated by Erasmus and the Latin Vulgate.
The collection has a number of German Bibles since many Anabaptist groups who settled in the Eastern United States spoke German.
The collection also includes a copy of an 1853 Chinese New Testament.
One newer item we made available was a facsimile St. John’s Bible, a handwritten and hand-illuminated Bible commissioned in 1998. The uniqueness of each location is seen in their resources and programing. We are happy to share these works with our community, and with the readers of the Manifold Greatness blog.
Jennifer Ulrich is a Technical Service librarian at Eastern Mennonite University.