On Thursday, February 24, a crowd of nearly 90 students, faculty, staff, and local community members gathered to celebrate the opening of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University, and to hear a talk by Dr. Bart Ehrman, New York Times bestselling author and James A. Grey Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill.
In a keynote talk titled “What Kind of a Text is the King James Bible? Manuscripts, Translation, and the Legacy of the KJV”, Dr. Ehrman introduced our community to a brief history of Bible translation and his perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the KJV as both a work of literature and a theological text. Ehrman’s conclusion? The King James Bible is indisputably one of the greatest works of English literature ever published. The rhythms of its verses and the richness of its metaphors influenced poets, writers, and speechmakers, including such Americans as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. But due to changes in the English language since 1611, the theological biases of the translators, and problems in the textual basis of the translation, Ehrman considers the KJV one of the “worst study Bibles” one could use to reflect upon the original intentions of the Bible’s authors.
After Ehrman’s provocative talk, which you can watch in full here, attendees moved out to the atrium to enjoy a beautiful reception and continue the conversation while viewing Manifold Greatness and the companion rare books and manuscripts exhibition Singular Wisdom: The King James Bible and Early Printed Bibles, which features treasures from LMU’s Department of Archives and Special Collections including copies of the Vulgate, Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible, and Erasmus’ Greek New Testament, and a second edition of the King James Bible on loan from the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLA.
A second program the following week by Dr. Stephen Shepherd, a medievalist from LMU’s Department of English, introduced attendees to the Wycliffite Bible – a predecessor of the KJV — which he placed in the context of the intellectual movement of the time that advocated the vernacularization of erudite knowledge and scholarly precision itself.
In the coming weeks, LMU is hosting two additional programs that will continue to engage our interfaith community with varying perspectives through which to consider the influence of the KJV. A gospel concert with guided commentary will celebrate the lasting influence of the KJV in the music of the Black church, and a panel presentation between LMU Theological Studies faculty from varying Christian faiths considering the KJV into a Catholic context.
Jamie Hazlitt is the Outreach Librarian at the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University.