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.
On March 8, the City of Tuscaloosa welcomed the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit to the Tuscaloosa Public Library, a highly anticipated event in a region that lies in the heart of the Bible Belt.
Five displays, which were curated by the library, are scattered throughout the building to enhance the Manifold Greatness experience. These displays offer visitors the chance to experience physical representations of the topics discussed within the Manifold Greatness exhibit, such as the history of books, papermaking, bookmaking, the literary influence of the King James Bible, and what the Bible has become today.
Our family-friendly opening reception was held Sunday, March 10. Attendees were given the chance to peruse the exhibit while enjoying the classical music of Handel’s Messiah and partaking of light refreshments. The keynote speaker, Dr. L. Jeffrey Weddle, Associate Professor at the University of Alabama, introduced the history of the first English Bibles through William Tyndale’s version during his presentation, entitled “William Tyndale: How His Bible Translation Changed the Reformation and Led to the King James Version.”
As an added bonus, the Children’s Department gave patrons a guided tour through the history of bookmaking, starting with a discussion of early bookmaking and the various materials that have been used to make books, followed by a feather quill making activity. After reading the story The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C.M. Millen, participants saw a demonstration of making blackberry ink and were able to use their new quills to sign their names.
From there, they were offered the opportunity to hear from Christopher Davenport and Laura Rowley, students from the University of Alabama Book Arts Department, with lessons and hands-on activities on letterpress printing, bookmaking, and papermaking.
In the coming weeks, the library is looking forward to the many special groups scheduled to attend the exhibit and will be hosting two additional programs geared towards engaging our community in the history and influence that the creation of the King James Version had on the world.
Susana Goldman is Reference Librarian at the Tuscaloosa Public Library in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.