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.

The KJB in History

Talking About “The Book That Changed the World”

The Rev. Dr. Charles Sumners. Image courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, CO planned an ambitious month of programming to celebrate Manifold Greatness. Our events were varied, including a concert, lectures, public discussions, and several film screenings built around KJB: The Book That Changed the WorldThis dramatized documentary by actor John Rhys-Davies retraces the history of the King James Bible.  

The first screening brought so many people that we couldn’t fit them in our largest community room. We quickly realized that the demand for this programming was higher than we had anticipated. We asked our local city-run senior center and faith-based organizations to lend us space and technical assistance for additional screenings, which we ran through the month of June.  

Some of our Manifold Greatness scholars hit the road with us and facilitated lively public talks directly following each screening.  The Reverend Dr. Charles A. Summers (retired) led two programs that featured films and discussions about the King James Bible.

“Even though the KJB is specifically part of my heritage as an Anglican/Episcopal priest, I was glad we could utilize resources from other faith groups to understand its history,” he commented.

Audiences actively participated in programming around KJB – the Book that Changed the World, including a recitation from memory of the King James Bible version of the Twenty-third Psalm while it was read aloud.

“They were surprised that they could do it but then commented that it was almost subliminal,” Sumners said.

Other interactive activities included discussions about the process of Bible translation in general, and the process of creating a documentary about the Bible.  

The Reverend Dr. Charles A. Summers received his B.A. from Davidson College, earned his Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary in Kentucky, and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Presbyterian Seminary in Atlanta, GA. He did post-graduate work in Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  Rev. Sumners is also an accomplished producer of Christian and secular documentaries for over 35 years.  

 Dr. Scott Munger also offered a humanities perspective on the King James Bible. He was the topic of an earlier post.

We are sharing our experiences in the hope that other communities hosting Manifold Greatness can use it to enhance their celebrations while the exhibit is on display in their cities.

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


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.


Pioneering Spirits

Bible. Holman’s Edition, published by M.C. Lilley & Co. in Columbus, OH.
On loan from the Winfield Masonic Lodge #110 the Free and Accepted Masons of Kansas. Image courtesy of Winfield Public Library.

The Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Winfield Public Library displayed two rarely-seen pulpit Bibles, and these items drew considerable attention over the course of the exhibition. The Bibles are associated with two prominent men—Colonel Henry C. Loomis and John Peter “J.P.” Baden—who shaped the early history of Winfield, KS.

Bible. Holman’s Edition, published by M.C. Lilley & Co. in Columbus, OH.
On loan from the Winfield Masonic Lodge #110 the Free and Accepted Masons of Kansas. Image courtesy of Winfield Public Library.

Soldier, Pioneer, and Gentleman: Colonel Henry C. Loomis 

Born in Cattaraugus County, NY in 1834, Henry Loomis grew up in a farming family and inherited an interest in military life from his grandfather, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Loomis served in Company C., 64th N.Y. Infantry and was commissioned as a first lieutenant.  At the Battle of Fair Oaks in June 1862, Lt. Loomis received severe wounds while leading his company in a charge against Confederates soldiers.

Loomis was ordered home to convalesce, and during his recovery, he helped recruit and organize the 154th N.Y. Infantry. He eventually received a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel before leaving the Army and heading West.

As he traveled westward in search of new opportunities, Loomis heard of a perspective opening of the Osage Indian Reservation in the new state of Kansas. Loomis found the valley near the Walnut River near present-day Winfield attractive, and paid the Osage chief $5.00 to stay on his squatter’s claim of 160 acres. Winfield now occupies 100 acres out of the original 160 settled by Henry Loomis.

As one of the founders of the town, Loomis has been first and foremost in every enterprise that would build up and improve Winfield.  Loomis helped organize the county, served as its first county clerk, became a member of the first board of trade, helped secure railroad lines through Cowley County, and served two terms as mayor in 1896. Loomis was made a Master Mason in 1862 and remained a member for forty-three years, advancing to the thirty-third or highest degree.   He died in Winfield and is buried in the town’s Union-Graham Cemetery. His copy of the King James Bible, along with a photograph of Loomis in his Templar uniform, was displayed.

J.P. Baden Memorial Bible. Levant morocco- bound pulpit King James Bible presented to J.P. Baden Memorial Lutheran Church as a memorial to J. P Baden by his wife on January 28, 1906. On loan from Trinity Lutheran church in Winfield, KS. Image courtesy Winfield Public Library.

Enterprising Industrialist and Founder of St. Johns College: J.P. Baden

John Peter Baden was born 1851 in Elsdorf, Germany.  At the age of 15, he sailed on the Richard Reihe and landed in New York City in 1866.  He went to live with his brother in Hannibal, MO to learn the English language and to become a United States citizen.  After working and saving money, J.P., as he came to be know, traveled to Kansas and opened a business in Winfield in 1879.

As a young entrepreneur, Baden operated a packing plant that became one of the largest in the West and handled the bulk of poultry, game, eggs, butter and produce of southern Kansas, Oklahoma, and what was then a part of the Indian Territory. He also owned an ice plant and cold storage facility, and a roller mill and elevator for processing grain. His business ventures proved very successful, as Baden possessed notable talent in making money while simultaneously leading a modest lifestyle.  He poured his profits back into trade, stimulating business and giving work to the unemployed.

J.P. Baden and his wife, Adelaide, brought the first Lutheran church services to Winfield and also established St. John’s College.  The college was founded in 1893 and was the first Evangelical Lutheran College of higher education to admit women. It operated for over a century before closing in 1986. The City of Winfield later purchased the St. John’s College site and renamed it Baden Square.  The Winfield Public Library now occupies one of the buildings on Baden Square, and it seems fitting to display a Bible owned by the college’s founder on the very site that he played such a role in creating.

Sue Birney is the Adult Special Services Librarian at Winfield Public Library in Winfield, KS.


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.


Manifold Greatness On the Road: One Year On

A family Bible from a workshop hosted at the University of Minnesota. Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

A family Bible displayed at a workshop hosted at the University of Minnesota. Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

Hard to believe the panel exhibition of Manifold Greatness has been traveling across America for a year! Like you, I’ve followed its progress, reading reports from Whitworth University (Spokane, WA), Winfield Public Library (Winfield, KS), Mobile Public Library (Mobile, AL), and Hope College (Holland, MI). And these are only the posts on the blog’s first page! I remember when Steve Galbraith and I, as co-curators of Manifold Greatness, met with representatives of all the host sites.

In September, 2011, the American Library Association hosted a daylong workshop, where Steve and I talked about the genesis and realization of the exhibition, and about what we saw as its most compelling stories. It was fascinating and moving to hear then from all the representatives, as they described the diverse array of events with which they would surround the Manifold Greatness panels. So many of these have now come to pass: lectures and colloquia on the translation of the Bible, on the influence of the King James Bible on American writers, on family Bibles, on rare book preservation, and much more. Through the wonders of communication technology, we’ve been able not only to read about these celebrations but to see photographs, and even watch a live stream of the colloquium at the University of Minnesota. It’s as if the conversation we started at the Folger is ongoing, being joined and carried on by other communities across the country.

In a way this reminds me of the spread of the King James Bible itself. I wrote in the exhibition book about Parson Weems, the almost legendary Bible salesman of the Philadelphia printer Matthew Carey. Weems hawked Bibles in the 1790s and early nineteenth century in Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia, and his native Virginia. But he sold Bibles to Northerners, too. From New York he wrote to Collins that their publishing plans had “knock’d up just such a dust here among the Printers as would a stone if thrown smack into the center of a Hornet’s nest.” As an interesting aside, Weems was also the author of The Life of Washington , a collection of stories about America’s first president and the origin of the famous (but untrue!) anecdote of young George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree.

Weems was the Johnny Appleseed of Bibles, planting them wherever he and his horse rode. Weems’s efforts were later eclipsed by those of the American Bible Society, whose goal was to put a Bible (King James Version) in every household. By mid-19th century they were printing and distributing a million Bibles a year. In the twentieth century, the Gideons took on the task of putting a Bible in every hotel room. The huge dissemination of the King James Bible in America ensured its influence on American literature and culture. The influence of Manifold Greatness will be more modest, I’m sure, but like the book it explores, it will have a wide reach. The panels have already traveled to 14 states, and they will reach 13 more before they reach the end of their road in 2013.

Happy trails!

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


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.


The Bible or Shakespeare?

Portrait of Shakespeare. Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Watercolor, c. 1865. Folger Shakespeare Library.

William Shakespeare and the King James Bible have both contributed many noteworthy expressions to the English language. In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday, traditionally believed to be on April 23, readers are challenged to decide whether the following phrases come from William Shakespeare’s works or the King James Bible. Some people believe that Shakespeare himself had a role in creating the King James Bible translation. Scholar Hannibal Hamlin refutes this rumor with a resounding “No!” in his post, “Shakespeare did not write the King James Bible, no way, no how.”

And now for the challenge, “The Bible or Shakespeare?”  Answers will be posted tomorrow.

 A. salt of the earth
B. in a pickle
C. the blind lead the blind
D. apple of his eye
E. not a mouse stirring
F. at their wit’s end
G. the skin of my teeth
H. budge an inch
I. turn the other cheeck
J. many are called, but few are chosen
K. a tower of strength
L. for goodness’ sake
M. your own flesh and blood
N. one fell swoop.

Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website, particularly the content and activities in the “For Kids” section. She is a communications associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Weathering the Storm

Foreign-Language Bibles

Bibles in German, Spanish, French, Navajo, Aymara, and Lao are on display with Manifold Greatness at Winfield Public Library. Courtesy Winfield Public Library.

The Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit opened on April 11 at the Winfield Public Library in Winfield, KS and will be on view through May 11. This will be the only stop in Kansas for this exhibit.  

Since its opening, Manifold Greatness has attracted a steady stream of visitors, despite the library’s brief closure while while more than 100 tornadoes passed over Kansas! The town of  Winfield escaped unscathed, and Manifold Greatness opened to a wonderful reception on April 16 hosted by the Friends of the Library.

Dr. Phil Schmidt, Professor of History at Southwestern College, opened the library’s five-part program series with a lecture entitled “The Historical Role of the King James Bible and English Power Politics, 1517 to 1692.” His witty and engaging approach encouraged audience participation. Dr. Schmidt shared information on the political, theological, and dynastic power struggles which engulfed the people of England in the 1500’s and 1600’s, both before and after the publishing of the King James Bible. The speech was well received by a packed house; more programs are planned, and www.wpl.org  has a complete listing of upcoming events and programs for Manifold Greatness while it is in Kansas.

Several organizations loaned historic Bibles that are displayed with the Manifold Greatness exhibit. These include Bibles written in  German, Spanish, French, Navajo, Aymara, and Lao; several of the Bibles on display are treasured family Bibles that traveled to Kansas with settlers or were distributed by early missionaries. The Navajo Bible was used by a missionary in Arizona before making  its way to Kansas. The Lao Bible was brought from Thailand around 30 years ago and is printed on rice paper.  The French Bible has traveled with its family from Switzerland to other countries around the world before finally arriving in Kansas, while the German Bible is an heirloom passed down through generations. Bibles are on loan from the Cowley County Historical Society, The Cherokee Strip Museum, The Winfield Masonic Lodge #110 and family Bibles from the community.  More information on family Bibles is available on the Manifold Greatness website.

Sue Birney is the Adult Special Services Librarian at Winfield Public Library in Winfield, KS.


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.


Bibles in Battle

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Truth Shall Set You Free

The Main Building at the University of Texas, Austin with the inscription “Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free.” Photo by Marsha Miller.

This week the Manifold Greatness exhibition is once again on the road, traveling to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin; Hope College in  Holland, MI; Mid-Columbia Library District, in Kennewick, WA ; and Mobile Public Library in Mobile, AL.  

Danielle Brune Sigler of the Harry Ransom Center is co-curator of “The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” a variation of the Manifold Greatness exhibition.  This week, she blogs on common phrases from the King James Bible and how the book has influenced contemporary culture, from the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Robert De Niro’s tattoos in the film Cape Fear.

“The King James translation has left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of English-speaking people throughout the world,” she writes.

Read her complete blog post here.

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.


Looking Back

Rockwell Kent. Plattsburgh State Art Museum. Bequest of Sally Kent Gorton. Copyright 1930, R.R. Connelley & Sons, Inc and the Plattsburgh College Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Well, as I write this, Manifold Greatness is coming down, making way in the Folger’s Great Hall for the next exhibition. I’m in Columbus, but I can imagine the Bibles and books being carefully carried back down to their usual resting places in the Folger vaults. The couriers are sealing up loan items to transport them back to their homes at the Library of Congress, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Graceland (Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.), the Bodleian Library, Lambeth Palace, and elsewhere. The Hamlin Family Bible will find its way back to me. The ever-resourceful Caryn Lazzuri will no doubt find a storage space for the antique radio she scrounged up for the exhibition, and the pulpit and pew we borrowed from the Lutheran Church of the Reformation will be returned.

It’s been a remarkable experience planning, making, mounting, and writing and talking about Manifold Greatness. Thinking back on how much it involved is almost dizzying. And I’ve learned so much. I remember coming (online) upon the John Alden Bible at Pilgrim Hall, for instance, and how exciting it was to think that this might have been the first King James Bible in America. We almost got a Bible owned by Bob Marley, a photo of which we did use on the traveling panel exhibition. That loan, like some others, didn’t work out, but Elvis’s King James Bible was a fine addition. It was fun to see this loan, and Manifold Greatness, advertised at Graceland, which I visited in November. We borrowed Bibles and other books from around the world; the Library of Congress and the Bodleian were especially generous. Steve Galbraith, Caryn, and I sat down with Mark Dimunation, the Library of Congress’s Chief of Rare Books and Special Collections, and he showed us some gems: the Massachusett Bible of John Eliot, the first Bible printed in America, and Robert Aitken’s “Revolutionary” Bible, America’s first homegrown KJV. We made a pitch for the KJV Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on, but it had been traveling too much and needed a rest from exhibitions. A happy alternative was the George Washington Family Bible, which we found at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, across the Potomac in Alexandria, Virginia.

John Bois’ manuscript notes of the proceedings. Courtesy of Corpus Cristi College, University of Oxford.

Especially momentous was the loan of the “Big Three,” the only surviving manuscripts from the KJV process itself. Manifold Greatness brought these together for the first time; they’re normally at the Bodleian Library, Corpus Christi (Oxford), and Lambeth Palace (London). They met first in Oxford’s exhibition and then travelled to the Folger, their first visit to America as well. I was fascinated, as visitors were, by the Bishops’ Bible with the inscriptions of one of the KJV translators, deleting a word here, adding one there, noting changes in the margin. I gave at least half a dozen tours of the exhibition, and it was a treat to be able to read aloud from this document, showing how the specific language of this most influential of books actually came into being.

My memories stay with me, but I’ll miss the physical experience of the exhibition. I loved the contrast between  the massive and luxurious Bishops’ Bible of Queen Elizabeth I and the tiny, spare Bible brought to sea by Justinian Isham. The case of Literary Influences (also viewable as an interactive timeline on the exhibition website) was another favorite. I hadn’t realized until they were all in place what a radical bunch of biblical writers we’d assembled: John Milton, John Bunyan, William Blake, Herman Melville, Allan Ginsberg. You could practically hear their rebellious roaring through the glass! Finally, being able to walk from the case with the fragile little leaves from Tyndale’s 1530 Pentateuch across to the 1968 photo of Earthrise, listening on cellphone to the Apollo 8 astronauts reading Genesis from outer space—that was an amazing leap across the centuries. Manifold Greatness indeed.

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


Final Days and Beautiful Sunshine for the Folger Exhibition

It will be tough to say goodbye to the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition after this Monday (in the words of Juliet, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”)… but we hope to see you before it goes!

The Folger exhibition is open today (Saturday), Sunday, and Monday; admission is free. And we’re delighted to have started the last weekend of the exhibition with brilliant sunshine.

Some of the many “don’t miss” items now on display in the Folger exhibition include:

Bishops' Bible. 1568. Folger.

• An Anglo-Saxon manuscript from about the year 1000 that retells biblical stories in epic verse
• A rare Wycliffite Bible from the 1380s
• A 1530 fragment from William Tyndale’s contraband biblical translations, discussed by Hannibal Hamlin in this post: Tyndale was executed in 1536
• Queen Elizabeth’s 1568 Bishops’ Bible
• A Bodleian copy of a 1602 Bishops’ Bible annotated with translators’ changes
• 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, including the Hamlin Family Bible

Earthrise. Apollo 8, December 24, 1968. NASA.

And what story does it all tell? In the words of the Washington Post from last September:

The exhibition includes fascinating mysteries, epic battles, stake burnings and other enthralling episodes in the lives of the men involved in Bible translation. It covers the events that led to the birth of the King James, as well as the book’s influence on art, literature, popular culture, music and history—from Handel’s “Messiah” to the reading of Genesis by the astronauts aboard Apollo 8, a broadcast heard by a quarter of the people on Earth at the time, making the Bible’s reach literally astronomical.

The New York Times (also in September) put it this way:

Pay close attention to the major new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library here, “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” and you will see not only manuscripts going back to the year 1000, an early translation from the 14th century, Queen Elizabeth I’s copy of the Bible, and imposingly bound versions of the King James; you will also sense the gradual birth of the modern English language and the subtle framing of a culture’s patterns of thought… you cannot survey the riches at the Folger without realizing that you are being given a glimpse of a culture’s birth.

In his recent blog post about an American Civil War POW’s King James Bible, curator Steve Galbraith noted “the long reach of the King James Bible and how much history was covered by our one exhibition.” Another reminder of those historical KJB associations comes this weekend, with the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday on Monday and Dr. King’s actual birthday on Sunday. Curator Hannibal Hamlin wrote about Martin Luther King and the King James Bible last August, and King is recognized in the Folger exhibition as well. On Monday, the exhibition’s last day, the Folger Shakespeare Library also offers a free, family-friendly event for the King holiday on the theme of protest. And once again, the King James Bible of 1611 traces its connections to the present day.


Update from Rhodes: The Lingering Presence

Circulating Manifold Greatness bookshelf. Rhodes College.

The Manifold Greatness panels were packed up and shipped from Rhodes College on Monday this past week. But their presence lingers, in part through the exhibition of Rhodes archival holdings that it helped inspire.

Last September, when I attended the ALA/NEH workshop at the Folger Shakespeare Library in preparation for our hosting these panels, I recall a moment that was almost Norman Rockwell-esque in its poignancy. We had been invited to introduce ourselves and our home institutions. One by one, forty different people stood up and expressed their eagerness for “Manifold Greatness” to visit their libraries. But what was most moving were the accounts everyone spontaneously gave of how they planned to augment the panels with local resources. Someone mentioned a copy of a Native American Bible translation that they planned to display; another person described with pride the venue in which the panels would be exhibited, a converted church sanctuary; many others detailed the extraordinary range of documents, events, and people who would be connected to this traveling exhibition. It seemed ‘American’ in all the best ways: regional riches strengthened in conjunction with federal resources.

ABS facsimile pages, with Manifold Greatness panels in background. Rhodes College.

Here at Rhodes, the arrival of Manifold Greatness occasioned some delightful discoveries. The more we sought biblically related materials, the more we found. We gathered dozens of critical studies related to the biblical translation into one nearby shelf, so that visitors could read further into this cultural history.

Based on a suggestion made by another Manifold Greatness host (Stan Campbell, at Centre College), our archivists Bill Short and Elizabeth Gates realized that we hold copies of a series of facsimile reproductions of leaves from early English Bibles, produced in 1935 by the American Bible Society.

We already knew of our copies of a Geneva Bible (1582), Fulke’s contentious refutation of the Rheims New Testament (1589), and an early reissue of the 1611 Bible by the King’s printer (1617). All three of these items from our Special Collections enriched the panels’ narrative considerably—many visitors commented gratefully that these volumes helped them appreciate the scale of the portable Geneva or the dauntingly large KJV.

But what was a marvel to encounter was the discovery that we had, decades ago, acquired an extraordinary collection of mounted pages from various biblical translations. These include a manuscript (1121) of the Bible in Armenian; a Paris Bible (c. 1240); the new edition of the Greek New Testament and accompanying Latin translation by Desiderius Erasmus; the complete Douai-Rheims Bible (1609-10); the London Polyglot (1657), edited by Brian Walton; John Eliot’s Algonquin Bible (2nd edition, 1665); and The Works [Opera] of St. Cyprian (1563).

Geneva Bible, Fulke's refutation of the Rheims New Testament, King James Bible. Rhodes College.

Our colleague Michael Leslie was teaching a seminar on the pre-history of the 1611 translation, and eagerly provided explanatory commentary, further enriching the collective exhibition.

While the panels have departed our library for their next host institution, the circulating bookshelf, the facsimiles, the original volumes, and the mounted pages will all remain on display for another month. This is a tribute to the generative quality of Manifold Greatness itself and the ways in which it inspires local libraries to recognize their own great and manifold holdings.

Scott Newstok is associate professor of English at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, which hosted the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition in November and December of 2011. For more about the traveling exhibition at Rhodes College and the related symposium and programs, see Hannibal Hamlin’s previous blog post, Manifold Greatness at Rhodes.


Thomas P. Meyer Prisoner of war

Inscription. New Testament. New York: American Bible Society, 1863.

With each new post I write for the Manifold Greatness blog, I am struck anew by the long reach of the King James Bible and how much history was covered by just our one exhibition. Take, for example, the 1863 King James New Testament loaned by the American Bible Society for the Folger exhibition. When images of the Bible first arrived at the Folger, we were all struck by the book’s inscription:

Presented by the Sanitary
Commission, through
the rebel authorities at
Richmond, Feb. – 1864
Belle Island
Richmond, Va.
Thomas P. Meyer
Prisoner of war

This extraordinary copy dates back to the American Civil War, when it was given to a Union prisoner of war named Meyer “through the rebel authorities” by the United States Sanitary Commission, an organization that provided relief to Union soldiers. Wanting to learn more, I began reading about the prison on Belle Isle and ended up on a website that had a transcription of the diary of Zelotes A. Musgrave, a Union prisoner of war from Ohio, who spent about five months in the prison. Spare, though compelling, daily entries such as “Belle Island. The body lice are fat.” provide a captivating glimpse of the harsh conditions at Belle Isle. At one point Musgrave receives a blanket from “our government, as rather the Christian Commission,” a moment of comfort reminiscent of the Sanitary Commission’s gift of the New Testament to Thomas P. Meyer.

Reading through Musgrave’s diary also brought back memories of what I had learned about the Civil War history of my own hometown. I grew up in Elmira, New York, which was the site of a rather brutal Union prison. I thought about how the words of the King James translation have brought relief to many in need. A Confederate prisoner of war in Elmira likely read the same Biblical passages as a Union prisoner of war at Belle Isle (see Hannibal Hamlin’s earlier post on the Civil War)—just as a young man sailing “beyond the seas” sought comfort in the Psalms and Martin Luther King inspired millions with verses such as Amos 5:24.

In the planning stages of the Manifold Greatness exhibition, Hannibal and I agreed that we wanted to show the human side of the history of the King James Bible. Meyer’s Civil War New Testament is a powerful example and we are thankful to the American Bible Society for allowing it to be a part of our exhibition.

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, open through Monday, January 16.


Myths Debunked: King James and the King James Bible

Trevelyon Miscellany. 1608. Folger.

OK, more myths to bust. King James I did not translate the King James Bible, and he was also no saint! I’ve seen at least one recent book (a collection of KJV excerpts) entitled King James’s Bible. The implicit claim of this title is true, to the extent that the KJV was commissioned by King James, and it was presumably the Bible he himself used from 1611 until his death in 1625. But, in this last sense, it was pretty much everybody else’s Bible, too.

James certainly did not do any of the translating of the KJV. He was a very scholarly king, interested in theology and the Bible. Among other works, he wrote a book on demonology (1597) and a learned exposition on several chapters of Revelation. He also translated some of the Psalms into meter, but this practice tended to involve turning English prose versions into verse, rather than rendering the original Hebrew into English. Lots of people wrote metrical Psalms at this period, and most didn’t know Hebrew.

James set the KJV ball rolling, but once it was in motion he more or less left it alone. The eminent scholars worked away on the project for years, without any involvement from the monarch. The dedicatory Epistle to King James at the front of the KJV refers to the king as the “principle mover and author of this work.” However, the word “author” in this case doesn’t mean what it does in a phrase like “the author of Shakespeare’s works is William Shakespeare.” It’s closer to our word “authority,” or really someone who authorizes or instigates (as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it).

James I at the hunt (standing, right). Gascoigne, The noble art of venerie or hunting. 1611. Folger.

It’s interesting that the British tend to refer to the KJV as the “Authorized Version,” while Americans prefer the “King James Bible.” The term “Authorized Version” dates from only the nineteenth century, while as early as 1723, according to one writer, it was “commonly called King James’s Bible.” In the seventeenth century, most people just referred to it as the new or latest translation. For the first American edition of the KJV, the “Revolutionary Bible” of 1782, the printer Robert Aitken carefully removed any reference to King James.

I’ve also occasionally heard the KJV described as the “St. James Bible.” Maybe people have the “St. James Infirmary Blues” going through their heads, or they’re thinking of the many churches dedicated to St. James (there are actually several saints by this name, including St. James the Great, St. James the Less, and St. James the Just). I don’t know. But the only James associated with the KJV is King James I, and he was never canonized. Not only was he less than saintly in his behavior (a bit of a party animal), but he was not a Catholic, which seems a fairly basic requirement for sainthood.

We can keep calling it the King James Bible, but we shouldn’t let that nickname mislead us into giving James more credit than he’s due.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, on view through January 16, 2012.


Apollo 8 and the King James Bible

Earthrise. NASA.

Forty three years ago today, on December 24, 1968, a global radio and television audience estimated at half a billion people listened to a live broadcast from lunar orbit by the Apollo 8 astronauts. Their spacecraft was the first manned vehicle in history to reach the Moon and the first to go into orbit around it; hours earlier, they had photographed the planet Earth above the lunar surface in a famous image now known as “Earthrise.”

As the Christmas Eve broadcast came to an end, Lunar Module Pilot William Anders began to read from the book of Genesis, using the words of the King James Bible translation, produced more than three and a half centuries earlier. (Genesis, in particular, was translated by the First Westminster Company, one of six companies of translators who worked at Oxford, Cambridge, or Westminster.) Using a copy of the text on a fireproof page, prepared in advance of the mission and kept at the back of the flight plan, Anders started with the familiar words, “In the beginning…”

Command Module Pilot James Lovell continued the Genesis passage, followed by Commander Frank Borman, who had chosen the reading. Borman then brought the broadcast to an end with the words: “And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good earth.”

Listen to the original audio of the Apollo 8 crew’s reading from Genesis (with transcript) on our Manifold Greatness website. The Apoll0 8 recording is also included in the  audio guide to the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.


From Graceland to Shakespeare’s Globe, Our Top 10 Blog Posts of 2011

Shakespeare's Globe

Succumbing to an irresistible urge, we’ve put together this list of the most-viewed posts from our Manifold Greatness blog to date this year. Seasoned online observers may not be surprised that mentions of Elvis Presley, debunked myths, and Bible printing errors earned high viewing statistics.

1) Manifold Greatness at Rhodes College. Folger exhibition curator Hannibal Hamlin reports in this blog post on the recent 1611 Symposium at Rhodes College in Memphis, which also hosted the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition. As he notes, the trip included a keynote address by scholar and Bible translator Robert Alter—and a tour of Graceland, which lent Elvis Presley’s King James Bible to the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.

2) Taking the Stage at Shakespeare’s Glove (and beyond!). The 400th anniversary year of 2011 included countless full-length readings of the 1611 King James Bible, most famously for a full week on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe, described here. We later shared a great eyewitness report from Folger Education festivals project coordinator Carol Kelly, who was there on Easter Sunday.

3) Shakespeare Did Not Write the King James Bible, No Way, No How. Curator Hannibal Hamlin debunks the common, but mistaken, belief that Shakespeare contributed to the King James Bible. In other posts, he’s taken on the idea that the King James Bible influenced Shakespeare’s plays (earlier English Bibles did, the KJB didn’t), and the notion that May 2 is the KJB’s publication date (it isn’t).

Elvis Presley King James Bible. Courtesy Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

4) The King and the King James Bible. Folger exhibition curator Steve Galbraith writes on the King James Bible owned by Elvis Presley (and now displayed at the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition, as noted above) and Presley’s love of gospel music. Other “association copies” on view include a King James Bible owned by Frederick Douglass and one made for King James’s older son Prince Henry, as well as Bibles linked to Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Anne.

5) The Wicked Bible. The commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” just isn’t the same without the word “not”! This famous printing error is the subject of another post by curator Steve Galbraith on what may have caused it, the consequences for the Bible printer, and the “wicked” challenge of locating this rare edition.

6) Hallelujah! Handel’s Messiah and the King James Bible. The words of the King James Bible may well be most familiar to audiences today from performances of this familiar oratorio, first noted in this blog post from the April 13 anniversary of its Dublin premiere. Folger Consort artistic director Bob Eisenstein recently shared this fascinating, fresh look at the Messiah, which one early admirer said was worth riding “40 miles in the wind and rain” to hear.

7) Gregory Peck Moby Dick Released Today — 1956. One of many literary works (and subsequent movies) deeply influenced by the King James Bible is Melville’s Moby-Dick, represented in this blog post by the classic film.

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

8) The First King James Bible in America? This Thanksgiving week post considers the King James Bible that came over on the Mayflower (this Bible, on loan from Pilgrim Hall,is in the Folger exhibition, too!)… and the open question of Bibles in Jamestown.

9) The Bible and Othello. This fall, Folger Theatre produced Othello, first performed in 1604, the year that work began on the King James Bible; scholars believe Shakespeare wrote Othello in 1603 or 1604. Curator Hannibal Hamlin writes about biblical (though not KJB-specific) connections to the play.

10) Discovering a “Judas Bible.” Curator Steve Galbraith writes on about another classic early King James Bible printing mistake—and on making a discovery within the Folger collection as the current exhibition was prepared.

Our thanks to everyone who contributed to the Manifold Greatness blog this year (see this full list of blog consultants and contributors) and to all of you who read our blog and created these rankings, one view at a time!  Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible  will be open to the public, free of charge, at the Folger Shakespeare Library through January 16. (Holiday hours: The Folger exhibition will be closed on December 24 through 26, but will be open as usual on December 31, January 1, and January 2.) 


The Hamlin Family Bible

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

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

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

Campaign banner. 1860. Library of Congress.

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

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

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

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


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.


Touchstone Moments for the Folger Exhibition

Parlor radio, mid-20th century. Photo: Julie Ainsworth. Folger.

You might think that exhibitions at the Folger Shakespeare Library are all about books and manuscripts and art—and you’d be right. But precisely because these types of paper-based artifacts can be challenging to display in new and engaging ways, I encourage curators to look for other types of objects to reflect the content and themes of each exhibition. For Manifold Greatness, we were presented with a rich and interesting topic, but one that was explicitly about a single book. One of the goals was to make this 400-year-old book come alive with human stories about its creation and its afterlife, so curators Steve Galbraith and Hannibal Hamlin began brainstorming with me about how to do that with a series of “touchstone moments” around the Great Hall.

Hannibal wanted a scene all about the sounds of the King James Bible, and for this, we borrowed a pew and lectern from the Lutheran Church of the Reformation. With a nineteenth-century Bible on the lectern, and a listening station with an interactive feature from the website, exhibition-goers can hear short, familiar passages read aloud by actors, as well as commentary from Hannibal and Steve.

Across the hall is a family Bible scene that brings to mind nineteenth-century households where the King James Bible was a fixture in the lives of many American and English families. Here, a nineteenth-century Bible sits open on a table, with candlesticks for light, and a pair of reading glasses. Touring the exhibition recently, a colleague said to me, “The spectacles really make this one come alive.”

A mid-twentieth-century parlor radio (photo, above) and a postcard from the Moody Bible Institute comprise a third touchstone. The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, which began broadcasting Moody Radio in the 1920s, remains one of the largest Christian radio stations in the country. Its greatest popularity was in the 1950s and 60s, and we included it as an example of the more contemporary influences of the King James Bible in American culture.

Detail of Tyndale's execution. Foxe. Actes and Monumentes. 1570. Folger.

Perhaps the most challenging touchstone in Manifold Greatness is the very first one. Our case on martyrs and heretics explores early English Bible translators like John Wyclif, William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale, and John Rogers. A wall panel displays woodcuts from John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments that depict the grisly fates some of these translators met. Tyndale and Rogers were both burned at the stake, and Wyclif’s bones were exhumed and burned in the late fifteenth century.

When Steve Galbraith walked into my office and suggested it would really make a statement to have our own stake at this point in the exhibition, I wasn’t sure what to think—or how we’d manage it. But with a small tree, a few bundles of twigs, a friend at the Smithsonian who gave us access to a large freezer (to make sure nothing was alive in that small tree or those bundles of twigs), a handy technical director in the Folger Theatre, and some creative camouflage painting by our Folger conservators, we built a modest stake right there in the Great Hall.

While we don’t intend to burn anyone at our touchstone stake, we hope these vignettes make the exhibition come alive for visitors, and draw them into its unique world. Come see for yourself!

The Manifold Greatness exhibition is open through January 16 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Admission is free. See our Tips for Visitors blog post for more information. 

Caryn Lazzuri is exhibitions manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library and has previously written about previewing the traveling exhibit at the ALA annual meeting in New Orleans and installing the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.


Bibles for Two Queens

Elizabeth dei gratia... 17th century(?). Folger.

Joseph Nutting. Anna d. gratia... Folger.

Elizabeth I, last of the Tudors, reigned from 1558 to 1603. Anne, last of the Stuarts, reigned from 1702 to 1714. The ghosts of these two queens hover across the Folger’s exhibition hall in the form of their great Bibles, on display together for the first time as part of the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.

I had long known about the Folger copy of the Bishops’ Bible bound for Elizabeth I, but not about the King James Version bound for Queen Anne. There they are, facing each other, in all their weighty red and blue splendor.

Bishops' Bible. 1568. Folger.

Two years after Elizabeth came to the throne, English Protestants on the Continent published the Geneva Bible. Although it was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, her bishops didn’t much like the numerous marginal annotations, so Matthew Parker, Elizabeth’s Archbishop of Canterbury, organized a new translation. This is usually called the Bishops’ Bible because it was mostly translated by bishops from the Church of England. (For more details about early English Bibles, see The Road to Hampton Court on the Manifold Greatness website.)

The copy on display, published in 1568, was designed as a presentation copy from Archbishop Parker to Elizabeth, whose youthful portrait graces the title page. Bound in red velvet with silver-gilt bosses decorated with Tudor roses, and a central bosse featuring a crown and the initials EL RE for Elizabeth Regina, it also features hand-colored woodcuts of Elizabeth’s chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and of her favorite courtier, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. Elizabeth liked a little “color” in her private chapel—she kept a silver cross and two candlesticks on the altar and preferred her priests to serve in proper vestments—so this Bible would have fit in perfectly.

Queen Anne's Bible. 1701. Folger.

Fast forward about 130 years. The 1611 translation of the Bible commissioned by Elizabeth’s successor (and Anne’s great-grandfather) King James I was still the “official” version of the Church of England. A copy of the 1701 edition of this massive volume was bound especially for Queen Anne around 1705, not long after her accession. The binder was Robert Steel, and he did the queen proud—dark blue goatskin blind-stamped with a floral design, with the queen’s arms in gold on front and back and two large blue silk ties trimmed with gold tassels.

Like her distant cousin, Elizabeth, Anne survived religious tumult. Though her father, mother, and stepmother were all Catholics, Anne was raised in the Church of England at the behest of her uncle, King Charles II. When her father, James II, lost the throne in the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 because of his Catholic leanings, Anne had only to wait her turn to succeed her sister and brother-in-law, the Protestant Mary and William. After Anne’s reign, the Church of England was firmly established, and these two massive and ornate Bibles help to tell its story.

Georgianna Ziegler is the Louis B. Thalheimer head of reference at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


A royal copy of the King James Bible

Prince Henry Bible. Washington National Cathedral. Photo: Julie Ainsworth.

When planning an exhibition a curator expects to find a few discoveries and surprises. In earlier posts I’ve written about discoveries such as the Isham Bible and the surprise of finding a “Judas Bible” in the Folger collection. But there is one artifact in the Manifold Greatness exhibition that we would never have imagined: a copy of the 1611 “He” Bible that was bound for King James’s son Henry Frederick, prince of Wales. This treasure is undoubtedly one of the most exciting surviving editions of the King James Bible and, as good luck would have it, it was residing just a few miles from the Folger Shakespeare Library at the Washington National Cathedral.

As you can see from the photograph, this book is bound beautifully in red Morocco leather with intricate ornamental gilt tooling that provides clues identifying both the owner and binder. Prince Henry’s arms are stamped onto the front and back boards, along with royal symbols such as the crowned thistles on the corners of the binding and Tudor roses sprinkled around the border.

If you look closely at the detail below, you’ll see two little squirrels perched on each side of the crown found on Henry’s arms.  There was only one binder during this period who decorated his bindings with such squirrels. We do not know the binder’s name, but modern scholars have taken to calling him the “Squirrel Binder.” Active from c.1610 to 1635, the “Squirrel Binder” appears to have worked for many English nobles and several members of the royal court, including James I, Charles I, and Prince Henry.

Detail, Prince Henry Bible. Washington National Cathedral. Photo: Julie Ainsworth.

The book’s engraved title page held another surprise. The signature of the engraver, Cornelis Boel, usually appears engraved at the bottom left center “C. Boel fecit [he made it]”  On the title page to Prince Henry’s copy, Boel’s name is not engraved, but signed!

This extraordinary copy of the “He” Bible is the greatest treasure of the Washington National Cathedral’s impressive rare book library.  I know that I speak for Hannibal and the rest of the Manifold Greatness team when I say how grateful we are to our friends at the Cathedral for loaning us this remarkable book.

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.


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