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.
Less than a year after becoming king of England, James I met with clergy from the Church of England on January 14, 16, and 18, 1604 at Hampton Court Palace. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the state of the Church itself. While the Church of England was the established church, initiated by Henry VIII in 1533 after he broke from the Roman Catholic Church, religious practice was not uniform throughout James’ kingdom. James believed that getting all of his subjects on the same page, religiously speaking, would support his own authority.
Although some of the clergymen present at the conference hoped to succeed in further reforming aspects of the Church of England, such as removing the Book of Common Prayer and arguing against church hierarchy that privileged bishops over lower-ranking clergy. To their disappointment, King James had no desire to support a reformist agenda. He did enjoy theological debate, however, and vigorously participated in discussions with the conference attendees. In this regard, James was very unlike his predecessor Queen Elizabeth I, who famously declared, “There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith. All else is a dispute over trifles,” and generally avoided prolonged discussion of religious issues.
On the second day of the conference, John Rainolds, a leading theologian and President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, directly addressed the king. Unlike the majority of clergy present at the conference, Rainolds had Puritan sympathies. He hoped to convince King James to reform what the Puritans perceived as abuses within the Church of England. James did not grant these requests. In fact, at one point, the king grew so angry with Rainolds that he left the room. It was from these less than auspicious beginnings that the King James Bible translation was conceived.
Although King James rejected many of the requests made by John Rainolds and the other Puritans, he did agree to one of Rainold’s suggestions; specifically, a new translation of the Bible in English. James believed that the project would unite the various factions of clergymen by giving them a common project to work on. He was also convinced that a new Bible translation, free from commentary that supported either Catholic or Puritan dogma, would bolster the authority of the monarchy and create greater religious harmony among his subjects.
While King James did not play a personal role in creating the translation that bears his name, John Rainolds did. A group of translators met in Rainold’s rooms in Oxford, and Rainolds remained deeply involved in the project until his death in 1607. After years of work by dozen of men in three different locations, the King James Bible was printed in 1611. The rest, as they say, is history.
Click here to watch a short video about the process of creating the King James Bible.
Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website and Family Guide. She is a Communications Associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.
John Rainolds, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford from 1598 to 1607, was the leader of the Puritan delegation to the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. It was at this conference that Rainolds suggested to King James I that there should be a new translation of the Bible.
Rainolds was born on September 29, 1549, in Pinhoe in Devon. His father was a farmer, and his five brothers all studied at Oxford University. In 1572 Rainolds became reader in Greek at Corpus Christi, where he had studied as an undergraduate, and in 1588 he moved to the Queen’s College, where he lectured in theology. Amongst his surviving papers in Oxford are his lecture notes on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and notes he made concerning the study and interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures.
Rainolds was a member of the First Oxford company that translated the Old Testament prophets for the King James Bible. This company met weekly in Rainolds’s lodgings in Corpus. Despite being afflicted by failing eyesight and gout, Rainolds continued the work of translation to the last, even being carried into the meeting room. He died on Thursday 21 May 1607, and was remembered as a leading figure of reformed theology, an accomplished Hebraist, and a man of remarkable learning. Rainolds is buried in the chapel of Corpus Christi.
Helen Moore is Fellow and Tutor in English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and chair of the curatorial committee for the ‘Manifold Greatness’ exhibition at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.