Thinking about the one-year anniversary of Manifold Greatness takes me back to August 2009 and a balcony overlooking the ocean at Bethany Beach, DE. Miles from the Folger, my mind was more in Margaritaville than Jacobean England, but I owed Hannibal Hamlin a phone call regarding the King James Bible. A few days earlier we had met with my Folger colleagues regarding plans for the KJV’s 400th anniversary. We agreed to co-curate a Folger exhibition in 2011, but as ideas flew around the room, the scope of the exhibition grew and grew. There was talk of partnerships, grants, websites, and traveling exhibitions.
In some ways this is the most exciting moment in the life of an exhibition: the moment when you think as creatively as you can, without yet worrying about what might not be possible. The KJV anniversary was clearly going to be a bigger project than we had first imagined. I think that I can speak for both Hannibal and myself in admitting that although it was exciting, it was also pretty overwhelming. We agreed to talk everything through in a few days. I left the library for the beach.
Fast forward to this past fall. Like Hannibal, who recently shared his reflections on the one-year anniversary of the exhibition, I was inspired by our meeting last fall with representatives from the exhibition’s host sites. As I stood before this amazing group of people and heard their plans for their exhibitions, it really dawned on me that the exhibition on which we all had been working was really about to launch. With the Folger Shakespeare Library, the NEH, and all of these dynamic librarians, curators, and educators putting their efforts behind the exhibition, I knew things could only go well.
A year in and I am thrilled by the reach of Manifold Greatness. So far the exhibition has traveled to eighteen sites (counting the larger exhibitions at the Folger, the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin). The Folger exhibition broke previous attendance records and the turnout at the exhibition sites has been very impressive. We are so thankful for all the support. The blog itself has been visited 30,948 times. Thank you for reading!
I couldn’t have seen any of this three years ago from my perch looking out over the ocean. When I did phone Hannibal we talked at length about how fun it was going to be to work together and agreed that we wouldn’t let things get too overwhelming. We were right on one count! But from my vantage point the future looked pretty promising.
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.
Last week, Dr. Robert Alter, a professor of Hebrew language and comparative literature, spoke at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas on translating scripture and the influence of the King James Bible. This interview originally appeared on the Harry Ransom Center’s Cultural Compass blog.
In several interviews you have stated that you appreciate the King James Version. You have also created your own translations of many books of the Hebrew Bible. Are your goals in translating different from the King James Version translators’?
For me, the power of the Hebrew Bible is inseparable from its stylistic virtuosity—its strong, compact rhythms; its expressive use of syntax; the subtlety and liveliness of its dialogue; the fine precision of its word-choices; the purposeful shifts of levels of diction. Though the King James Version often has its own stylistic beauty (though not as consistently as people tend to remember), the 1611 translators paid attention to none of these considerations and probably were unaware of most of them. Their goal was to provide as exact an equivalent as they could, according to their own understanding, of each word in the original. I share their commitment to a certain literalism but as part of a tight weave of stylistic effects in the Hebrew.
In your book Pen of Iron you examine the influence of the King James Bible on famous American writers such as William Faulkner and Herman Melville. Do you see the same influence in the work of any contemporary American writers?
Fewer American writers now, for rather obvious cultural reasons, are drawing on the King James Version, but its influence has far from disappeared. Two contemporary novelists I discuss in Pen of Iron who reflect the language of the King James Bible are Marilynne Robinson and Cormac McCarthy. Another is the late Barry Hannah.
With so many new translations available, is the King James Version still important and relevant today?
Translations that cast the Bible in up-to-the-minute American English are definitely cutting into the constituency of the King James Version because they are easier to read and seem more “accessible.” My own sense is that such translations lack any literary grace and distort the feeling and the meaning of the Bible. Though we are distanced from the 1611 version now because of its archaic language, its beauty is undiminished, and I think it will always have readers as a great literary achievement that altered the course of the English language.
Kelsey McKinney is an undergraduate intern at the Harry Ransom Center and a regular contributor to the Cultural Compass blog. The King James Bible: Its History and Influence, a companion exhibition to Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, is on view at the Ransom Center until July 29, 2012.
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.
Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible is currently on view at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS; the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/St.Paul; and the University of Texas at Brownsville in Brownsville, TX. Later this month, the exhibition opens at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Both William Carey University and the University of Minnesota have shared photos from events related to the Manifold Greatness exhibition. The University of Minnesota hosted two events over the weekend, including a “Manifold Greatness Colloquium” on Friday. Over 70 people gathered to see the traveling exhibit, as well as a local exhibition entitled “The Word Made Flesh” which showcased rare Bibles. The colloquium included presentations by scholars from the University of Minnesota, Bethel University and Luther Seminary, as well as a reception with music, tea, and scones!
On February 5, a “Share Your Bible” workshop for adults and children encouraged participants to share family Bibles and memories. William Carey University is also showcasing family Bibles, and has photographs of many of these heirlooms on display along with the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition.
To view photos of events at William Carey University and the University of Minnesota, please visit Flickr.
Amy Arden is a communications associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Folger partnered with the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, to produce Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible.
With 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, now firmly in the history books itself—and with the world now turning its attention to Charles Dickens’s 200th anniversary—you might think that Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible would be wrapping up, too.
Not so! Although Manifold Greatness was created to mark the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible in 2011, the project continues throughout 2012 and into 2013. And, of course, we hope the Manifold Greatness website and Manifold Greatness publication continue to provide helpful resources to online visitors and readers even longer.
A quick overview of what’s on right now… and what lies ahead:
- The Folger Shakespeare Library’s Manifold Greatness exhibition remains on view in Washington, DC, every day through its final day on January 16. By happy coincidence, January 16 is also the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., whose rhetorical use of biblical passages and cadences is noted in the Manifold Greatness exhibition itself, as well as our online Modern Life gallery, and curator Hannibal Hamlin’s blog post on Washington’s new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
- After closing at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the exhibition travels to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where it will be on view from February 28 to July 29, 2012, incorporating rare works from the Ransom Center collection as well.
- In Claremont, California, the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition may be found at Claremont Graduate University through January 6 (see CGU’s Manifold Greatness web page for visitor info, video links, and photos); until just before the recent holiday break, it was also displayed at Arizona State University (ASU Manifold Greatness web pages, student reporter video) and Rhodes College in Memphis (Rhodes 1611 web page with many links, our earlier blog post).
- In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Manifold Greatness programs will begin well in advance of the traveling exhibition opening on January 19, with two film screenings this Thursday—and a family Bibles consultation and workshop next Thursday—at Hattiesburg Library; the traveling exhibition itself opens at William Carey University on the evening of January 19, with more free, public programs to follow, including talks, panel discussion programs, a book discussion of Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries (on the King James Bible translators), and a final film screening.
- Two other complete traveling exhibitions will also be on view by mid- to late January at the University of Minnesota (opening January 25), which is hosting a February 3 colloquium, its own exhibition “The Word Made Flesh,” and other public programs, and the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.
And that’s not all! During 2012 and 2013, the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition will be displayed at another 31 libraries around the United States, each of which—like all of the host institutions so far—plans multiple public programs. Many are exhibiting rare works from their own collections as well. Try our traveling exhibition schedule to follow the travels of the panel exhibition in the months and years ahead.