Back in 2009, when we first started working on Manifold Greatness, we identified a number of themes we wanted the exhibition to touch on, and one of those was the nature of translation. In our grant proposal, we talk about how translation is a true literary act, one that requires choices in tone, style, vocabulary, and emphasis, and how translation is a process of culture adapting, changing, and potentially growing. On our main website, we note that the translation of the KJB was, above all, a collaboration.
The Manifold Greatness traveling panel show is now on the way to its final location, the Conyers-Rockdale Library System in Conyers, Georgia, where it will appear, with much related programming, from May 29 to July 12. And as this touring phase comes to a close, I’ve been looking back at our own process, and thinking about the way in which exhibitions themselves are a process of translation. Of course we collaborate—anyone who has worked on an exhibition can tell you that it is one of the most collaborative undertakings they have experienced. But because we tend to think of translation as a text moving from one language into another, it’s not immediately obvious that the work we do in exhibition is also a process of translation. And yet, on many levels, I think it is.
We begin with an idea, and shape it into a narrative: here is our story; here is what can be said about the history of the King James Bible. But as scholars, our curators have a certain language, a way of packaging their knowledge. This does not always (ahem) translate well to an audience which may be made up of everyone from schoolchildren and educators to tourists or subject specialists. We need a way of speaking, and of writing, that provides information accurately and succinctly, and in accessible nuggets for a broad range of audiences.
For Manifold Greatness, we did this twice: once for the artifact-based exhibition in Washington, DC, and again for the panel exhibition that traveled the country. For these, we needed two different “languages.” The Washington, DC, show was in the language of artifacts, showing the here and now, and revealing KJB stories through what could be seen on the open pages before a visitor. The traveling show retracted the lens a little further, and gave weight to story over object. We covered the same material, but we translated the content in slightly different ways in order to best serve the format of the shows.
I like to think that the KJB translators would have appreciated our process. Our translation process was, like theirs, concerned first and foremost with accuracy. Every word needed to be true; each idea needed to be formed and informative. We were not reading Hebrew, Greek, and Latin—but remember, of course, that the King James Bible was not the first English Bible, and the translators drew liberally from the English translations that came before. Although they produced a masterpiece of English literature, their concern was not for lyricism or rhetorical power; they aimed for accuracy as they translated both from ancient languages and from previous English versions.
Have a look at the website to compare translations, and see for yourself how the KJB translators ended up creating a new version at once lyrical and accurate. One of my favorites is the passage from Ecclesiastes (1:2), in which the translators don’t really change the meaning or emphasis from the previous English translation, but they manage to create a verse that is poetic, song-like, and memorable—and also just that much more true to the original Hebrew:
Great Bible (1539)
All is but vanity (saith the Preacher) all is but plain vanity.
King James Bible (1611)
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
Would that our exhibit text was as memorable as that! Perhaps it is indeed vanity to compare our process to that of the King James Bible translators. But as we near the end of this commemorative exhibition, I’m very pleased to have been part of such a process, to understand it, and to see the many thousands of people we have reached through the work that we did to turn ideas into language, and to use language to deliver the right information.
Caryn Lazzuri is the Exhibitions Manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
As part of the Manifold Greatness exhibit, the staff at The Grace Doherty Library and the Religion Program at Centre College designed a program which included seven speakers, hoping to appeal to a broad range of college and community patrons. Our program began in February and ran through April 30, involving nationally known scholars, Centre College faculty, and local genealogists.
Dr. Margaret Mitchell, Shailer Mathews Professor and Dean of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, visited our campus on February 25 to deliver “Bible and Media Revolutions: A Select History.” Dr. Mitchell spoke to a crowd of approximately 375 students, faculty, staff, and community members.
Dr. Bart Ehrman, James A. Gray Professor, University of North Carolina, Chapel, spoke to more than 700 students, faculty, and community patrons on April 17, to deliver the paper, “Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Changed the Scriptures and Readers Who May Never Know.” Dr. Ehrman’s address prompted a furious letter in the local newspaper from an irate reader who, although he admitted he had not attended the lecture nor had he read any of Dr. Ehrman’s books, was convinced that Dr. Ehrman was an agent of the devil.
Earlier in the term, on March 27, Dr. Phillip White, Associate Professor of English, Centre College, led a more intimate conversation with a group of 30 students, faculty, and community members in the library’s reading room with his presentation, “A Miracle of Style: Some Ways the King James Bible Affected Later Writers and Writing.” Dr. White discussed Lincoln’s use of the King James Bible phrasing in both the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural. He also discussed Hebrew idioms from the KJB that have been assimilated as English idioms, such as:
To fall flat on one’s face
To pour out one’s heart
The land of the living
The skin of one’s teeth
Like a lamb to the slaughter
A drop in the bucket
To give up the ghost
On April 18, Dr. Amos Tubb, Gordon B. Davidson Associate Professor of History, Centre College, led a similar discussion group in the library’s reading room in his presentation, “The History of Publishing in England and the King James Translation,” walking the group through the complex and sometimes baffling history of the publication of the KJB.
Dr. Eugene March, Arnold B. Rhodes Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, also led a discussion group through “The ‘Birthing’ of the King James Version of the Bible: Two Hundred Years of Labor Pains,” describing the initial resistance to the new translation and the many printing errors that plagued the early editions.
Finally, on April 30, Reverend Mark Davis, Pastor-Theologian, First Presbyterian Church of Lexington, Kentucky, spoke to group of 175 students and community members with his presentation, “Authenticity and Authority: The King is Dead, Long Live the King.”
Also, Boyle County Public Library developed an exhibit of family Bibles to accompany Carolyn Crabtree, genealogist and researcher, and her program, “Family Bibles as Sources for Legal Documents and Historical Research,” on April 25.
Clearly, the integration of the exhibit Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible with our English, History, and Religion programs was of great benefit. In addition, the collaboration with the Boyle County Public Library further strengthened the bond between Centre College and the community at large. Overall, the exhibit and the accompanying program were of real significance.
Stan Campbell is Director of Library Services at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.
The Manifold Greatness exhibition officially opened at Harford Community College (Bel Air, Maryland) on April 22, 2013, with a reception, a lecture, and theatrical readings.
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion Gary Owens lectured on “Catholicism, Protestantism, Blood, Guts, Ink and the King James Bible” to a room filled with community members, students, and faculty. Nearly every seat was taken.
In his lecture, Dr. Owens described in depth some of the earlier efforts to translate the Bible into English (and into other languages than Latin), as well as placing the work of translation in context and explaining the risks—and in many cases, the consequences—of this work. The bountiful and compelling slides that illustrated his narrative, as well as his lively presentation style, brought this history to life for all participants. The audience stayed well past the planned 75-minute lecture and discussion to ask questions and learn more about this history.
The reception was scheduled from 3 to 7 p.m. and attracted many viewers over the course of four hours. During the last hour of the reception, HCC Associate Professor of Theater Ben Fisler spoke about the explosion in the development of the English language that was taking place at the time that Shakespeare wrote and during the period of the translation of the King James Bible.
Two HCC students performed monologues from Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night, and Mike Brown (in the person of the great Shakespearean actor, Junius Brutus Booth) gave a dramatic reading of Psalm 46 from the King James Bible.
The Booth family home, Tudor Hall, is located just a couple of miles from the college, and Tudor Hall is a partner in HCC’s presentation of Manifold Greatness.
A more extended version of the readings and talk is scheduled for May 9 from 6 to 9 p.m., under the title ‘A Great Feast of Languages’: The Language of Shakespeare and of the King James Bible.
Carol Allen is the Library Director of Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland.
A post about the Book of Common Prayer—the source of such familiar phrases as “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”—recently appeared on the Folger Shakespeare Library blog, “The Collation,” and we wanted to share a short excerpt here. First produced in 1549 (see this web page for details), the Book of Common Prayer has gone through different editions over time. In 1649, Charles I was beheaded. After his son, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660, a new edition was published in 1662. Whitney Trettien has been studying an intriguing Folger copy of a 1664 Book of Common Prayer with numerous added images; you can read her full blog post (with a wealth of other images) on the Collation blog:
In Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones (1749), Partridge and his friends go to see a play. As they watch a man light the upper candles of the playhouse, the predictably inane Partridge cries out, “Look, look, madam, the very picture of the man in the end of the common-prayer book before the gunpowder treason service!”
The picture Partridge refers to is most likely the one at left, a widely circulated and often reproduced image of Guy Fawkes sneaking toward the House of Lords, matches and lantern in hand. It’s easy to read Partridge’s bumbling analogy as a comedic misinterpretation of the seriousness of the Gunpowder Plot—after all, he seems to see no difference between a flame intended to ignite barrels of gunpowder and one used to light candles in a playhouse (!).
There’s a second level to his comedy, though, lost to most modern readers: namely, that by the eighteenth century this iconic depiction of Fawkes simply was as common as lit chandeliers. Found interleaved in many (if not most) extant post-1662 copies of the Book of Common Prayer, this image, along with another showing Charles I’s execution and a third celebrating Charles II’s return, iconically punctuated the state services added to the end of the restored Prayer Book.
While the Folger holds many fine examples of extra-illustrated Prayer Books, I’ve been researching a copy that makes particularly interesting use of the practice of interleaving liturgical texts with images. Like many others compiled in the seventeenth century, this Prayer Book is bound within a collected volume that includes several religious texts, including a Bible, a copy of Sternhold and Hopkins’s Psalms, an Apocrypha, John Speed’s genealogical tables, and John Downame’s concordance.
Unlike other composite volumes, however, this book—really, an aggregate of multiple printed books bound together—is heavily interleaved with loose prints, diagrams, maps, illustrations extracted from other texts, contemporaneous portraits of religious and political figures, even an elaborate (and as-yet unidentified) manuscript monogram.
In fact, most of the leaves of the Bible in this copy have been removed and replaced with images culled from different sources, including William Slatyer’s illustrations of Genesis (a set of 40 plates published in the 1660s) and an unidentified German book, possibly some form of illustrated Bible that includes scriptural passages in both German and Latin. In short, the owner(s) of this volume went far beyond the standard practice of interleaving one’s Prayer Book with a few ready-made prints of Guy Fawkes!
If (returning to Tom Jones) Partridge’s offhand remark satirizes how common images of the Gunpowder Plot had become, then the volume at the Folger indicates how uncommonly such images could be used. Through a highly material process of cut-and-paste composition, the owners of this book transformed a set of mass-reproduced religious texts into a wholly new document that uniquely reflects—or perhaps carefully projects—their political and religious affiliations.
Whitney Anne Trettien is a PhD candidate in English at Duke University, where she is writing her dissertation on the Little Gidding Harmonies. She works on a variety of projects related to book history, digital humanities, and early modern material culture. As noted above, you can read the rest of her blog post here.
To learn more about extra-illustrated books, you may want to explore the online content for a past Folger exhibition, Extending the Book: The Art of Extra-Illustration, which includes this volume. You can learn more about the November 1605 Gunpowder Plot here.
It’s May 2 today, and that makes it the anniversary of… a classic May 2, 2011, blog post by Manifold Greatness co-curator Hannibal Hamlin, explaining just why May 2 isn’t and couldn’t be the anniversary of the King James Bible’s publication date.
But the curious tradition of May 2 is not the only King James Bible myth that he’s discussed on this blog. One of our all-time most popular blog posts (with a fairly self-explanatory title, we think) remains Shakespeare did not write the King James Bible, no way, no how. Nor did the King James Bible influence Shakespeare’s plays: the timing was wrong, as explained here.
Dealing with another common misconception, King James didn’t write the King James Bible, either. See this blog post for that explanation.
Curious to learn more? These and other questions are included as Myth or Reality? FAQS on our Manifold Greatness website, too. What makes the King James Bible so subject to myths, stories, and misconceptions? Perhaps, in part, it’s just a sign of its cultural and religious importance. As for May 2, it’s an unusually prosaic “myth” about a book publication date, rarely the stuff of legend or romance. As Hannibal Hamlin suggests in his original “May 2” blog post, perhaps just having a definite date—any date—helps satisfy our perennial desire for certainty.
The Manifold Greatness project, including this blog, began in 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the 1611 King James Bible. To learn more about the origins, creation, and broad influence of the King James Bible, explore our Manifold Greatness website. To try our coloring game, select “Coloring” from the Games and Activities section of the website’s “Kids Zone.”
Modern book making is a highly mechanized business. In the most common case, sheets of paper are piled together into a block, the spine edge might be sanded or notched, glue is applied, and a cover attached. There is little handcraft in the process, and when you consider the adage, “Good, cheap, and fast—you get to choose two,” modern glue binding is mostly cheap and fast.
On April 25, some Tifton-Tift County library patrons got an opportunity to see how book production might have occurred in 1611. Jerry Walker, a retired educator with a lifelong interest in the arts and a highly skilled crafter, led a workshop that we titled “Let’s Make a Quarto: a type of book made in the Renaissance era.” The workshop was held in the museum that houses the Manifold Greatness exhibit, so anyone who had not seen the exhibit got the opportunity to see it then, as well as make their own little book.
The basic idea behind a quarto is that a large sheet of paper is folded to make four smaller pages (hence the “quarto”). It was a very common way of producing books during the time of the King James Bible, allowing eight pages to be printed with only two trips through the press and using only one sheet of paper.
Some of our participants found out the hard way what this folding does to the orientation and the numbering of the pages. We suggested folding the paper, marking the page numbers and the bottom of the pages with a pencil, and then unfolding the page before decorating the pages with a story, stamps, stencils, pictures, and other decorations. (There was no glitter—we had used it all at the Renaissance Faire.) We got some great little stories and pictures. Some of them were upside down and in the wrong order, but we decided that you learn from mistakes, too.
Our amateur bookbinders learned how pages were made into “gathers” and then sewn together to make a finished book, ready to be bound. On the 16th of May, Tracy Iwaskow will be coming from Emory University’s Theology Library and will be bringing some selections from their special collections. Many of the participants are looking forward to seeing examples of the professional bookbinder’s craft.
Vickie Horst is the Manager of Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia.
You can find additional information about Making a Quarto, including a video, on the Manifold Greatness website.
What do you do when you have an exhibit celebrating the 400th anniversary of the printing of the King James Bible? What do you do to get a small, rural community in south Georgia in the right mindset for an exhibit and an onslaught of information on the politics and history surrounding a book that most people know very well, but probably have never thought seriously about? Well, in Tifton, Georgia, we put on a Renaissance Faire and partied like it was 1611!
This event gave a lot of people an opportunity to get in touch with their inner RenRat. Attendees were encouraged to attend in costume and were given handouts instructing them on how to speak “The King’s English.” The library staff and our amazing volunteers lavished endless attention on costumes and pavilions. Jesse Carpenter, one of our student workers, was recruited to produce cutouts that included King James himself. Members of the Literacy Volunteers and the Rotary Club were cajoled into selling era-appropriate food to our visitors. One of the interesting facts we discovered while researching the time is that gingerbread men were invented during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I!
A children’s tent was dedicated to the production of quill pens, swords, shields, and crowns. It is hard to know how long the street will be glittered. We also had a volunteer that taught a steady stream of people how to play Nine Man Morris, a game that we discovered was popular during the time. Wagering on outcomes was not encouraged during our faire.
One of the highlights of the faire was the participation of the Society for Creative Anachronism. These talented individuals came and set up tents and demonstrated blacksmithing, illumination, dancing, sewing techniques, and FIGHTING! Knights fought for the honor of fair maidens picked from the audience and to advance their status in their shires. It was loud and exciting and very, very popular with our visitors. Cameras were encouraged and the fighters were probably the most photographed characters on Faire day.
Why did we open the exhibit this way? It was important for us to have a strong kickoff event for the exhibit. We were looking for something that would appeal to a large number of people, people who might not have thought to come to the exhibit, but might come to the Faire, eat a smoked turkey leg, and then decide to go and see what was happening with the exhibit. We believe that the Faire did this for us. The exhibit had a very strong opening day and we hope that, because we were able to promote the rest of the programming surrounding the exhibit more personally with the Faire-goers, we have good turnouts for what is to come.
Vickie Horst is the Manager of Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia.
On Wednesday, April 17, the Manifold Greatness display arrived at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. To kick off the exhibit, the college hosted a talk by Professor Bart D. Ehrman, entitled “Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Changed the Scriptures and Readers Who May Never Know.” The talk was a great success, attended by an estimated audience of 700 people, and students and community members began to observe the exhibit in Centre’s Grace Doherty Library.
The exhibit also offers many teaching moments in the life of the college. My religion course, entitled “Biblical History and Ideas,” explored the exhibit. The course examines the historical context surrounding the composition and reception of the Bible, and the translation of the King James Version directly relates to elements in the course.
After studying elements of the original Hebrew text that were “lost in translation,” such as Jerome’s translation in his Vulgate of Exodus 34:29, the radiant face of Moses (cornuta esset facies), the students were able to witness the legacy of such translations on the original title page of the King James Version, featuring a Moses with “horns.” The exhibit is able to visually express details involving biblical translation in a vibrant and memorable way.
Lee Jefferson is Assistant Professor of Religion at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.