Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Posts tagged “Manifold Greatness

Manifold Greatness in Minnesota

This afternoon, the University of Minnesota hosts a Colloquium on the King James Bible. Viewers can watch a streaming version of the program online between 4:30 and 7:30pm, CST.

Manifold Greatness opened at the University of Minnesota in January, following an exhibit on early Bibles and religious writing entitled “The Word Made Flesh.”  Here are some of the events at UMN so far:

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

In the image above, University of Minnesota Libraries in-house designer checks the final layout for the Manifold Greatness exhibit for its January 25 opening.

Members of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Saint Paul, MN visited the University of Minnesota Wilson Library on January 27 to explore the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit, plus the local exhibit of rare Bibles, “The Word Made Flesh.”  Librarian Susan Gangl and Curator Timothy Johnson guided the group and fielded many questions.  The preference for the Geneva Bible over the King James Bible  in early America came as a surprise to some visitors.

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

Also in January, Timothy Johnson, University of Minnesota Curator of Special Collections and Rare Books, spoke about the King James Bible, and showed images from our collection of earlier Bibles and manuscripts and recent art press editions of illustrated Bibles. Tim developed “The Word Made Flesh,” an exhibit of rare Bibles, to accompany the showing of Manifold Greatness at the Wilson Library. The audience was fascinated and asked many questions! Some had already seen the exhibition, while others plan to visit in the coming weeks.

Susan Gangl is a librarian at the University of Minnesota Wilson Library.


Final Days and Beautiful Sunshine for the Folger Exhibition

It will be tough to say goodbye to the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition after this Monday (in the words of Juliet, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”)… but we hope to see you before it goes!

The Folger exhibition is open today (Saturday), Sunday, and Monday; admission is free. And we’re delighted to have started the last weekend of the exhibition with brilliant sunshine.

Some of the many “don’t miss” items now on display in the Folger exhibition include:

Bishops' Bible. 1568. Folger.

• An Anglo-Saxon manuscript from about the year 1000 that retells biblical stories in epic verse
• A rare Wycliffite Bible from the 1380s
• A 1530 fragment from William Tyndale’s contraband biblical translations, discussed by Hannibal Hamlin in this post: Tyndale was executed in 1536
• Queen Elizabeth’s 1568 Bishops’ Bible
• A Bodleian copy of a 1602 Bishops’ Bible annotated with translators’ changes
• The Folger first edition of the King James Bible
• The Prince Henry Bible, an elaborately bound copy of the King James Bible owned by James I’s older son, Prince Henry, who died in 1612
• A “Wicked” Bible (1631) in which the printer omits a key word from the commandment on adultery
• A King James Bible that came over on the Mayflower
• King James Bibles owned by Frederick Douglass and Elvis Presley
• Early family Bibles, with century-old handwritten records of births, christenings, and other events, including the Hamlin Family Bible

Earthrise. Apollo 8, December 24, 1968. NASA.

And what story does it all tell? In the words of the Washington Post from last September:

The exhibition includes fascinating mysteries, epic battles, stake burnings and other enthralling episodes in the lives of the men involved in Bible translation. It covers the events that led to the birth of the King James, as well as the book’s influence on art, literature, popular culture, music and history—from Handel’s “Messiah” to the reading of Genesis by the astronauts aboard Apollo 8, a broadcast heard by a quarter of the people on Earth at the time, making the Bible’s reach literally astronomical.

The New York Times (also in September) put it this way:

Pay close attention to the major new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library here, “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” and you will see not only manuscripts going back to the year 1000, an early translation from the 14th century, Queen Elizabeth I’s copy of the Bible, and imposingly bound versions of the King James; you will also sense the gradual birth of the modern English language and the subtle framing of a culture’s patterns of thought… you cannot survey the riches at the Folger without realizing that you are being given a glimpse of a culture’s birth.

In his recent blog post about an American Civil War POW’s King James Bible, curator Steve Galbraith noted “the long reach of the King James Bible and how much history was covered by our one exhibition.” Another reminder of those historical KJB associations comes this weekend, with the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday on Monday and Dr. King’s actual birthday on Sunday. Curator Hannibal Hamlin wrote about Martin Luther King and the King James Bible last August, and King is recognized in the Folger exhibition as well. On Monday, the exhibition’s last day, the Folger Shakespeare Library also offers a free, family-friendly event for the King holiday on the theme of protest. And once again, the King James Bible of 1611 traces its connections to the present day.


Curators’ insights: new Folger exhibition audio and video

Scene from "The Making of a Folger Exhibition." Hannibal Hamlin, Steve Galbraith, and 1611 King James Bible.

In the month and a half since the opening of the Folger exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, curators Hannibal Hamlin and Steven K. Galbraith have appeared in a number of new audio and video features about the exhibition, all of which are available online. Herewith, a quick survey:

Hannibal Hamlin’s lively half-hour speech introducing the exhibition, delivered in the Folger Elizabethan Theatre on the night of the exhibition opening, is available as a Folger audio podcast. He and Steve Galbraith also appear in a series of three short (one or two minute) original videos, available on the Manifold Greatness YouTube channel: Mistakes and Misprints, The Dangerous World of Early English Bibles, and The Literary Influence of the King James Bible. (We’ve already posted here about the five-minute video, The Making of a Folger Exhibition, which debuted the day of the opening.)

As with other Folger exhibitions, Manifold Greatness is complemented by a cell phone tour recorded primarily by the two curators and geared to highlights from the exhibition. You can listen to the exhibition Audio Tour online—or with your cell phone in the exhibition hall!

The Manifold Greatness exhibition is open through January 16 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Admission is free. See our Tips for Visitors blog post for more information. 


Going on the Road!

Photo by Lloyd Wolf.

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s King James Bible exhibition is going on the road! Forty public, university, and college libraries across the United States will host a smaller traveling version of Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible beginning right away and continuing through July 2013.

From California to Georgia and Vermont to Texas, the 14-panel exhibit will criss-cross the country bringing the story of the KJB to diverse library audiences of all ages. Tour sites have fascinating programs planned to honor the 400-year history of the King James Bible and its enduring importance in world culture—and we hope you’ll be learning about some of them here on the Manifold Greatness blog as well as the Manifold Greatness Facebook page, YouTube channel and playlist, Twitter feed, and Flickr account.

There will be films, concerts, panel discussions, writing contests, lectures, plays, and readings—all dedicated to learning more about this remarkable work. A few library sites even have copies of the original 1611 King James Bible and other rare early Bibles to show their visitors.

I and my team at the American Library Association’s program development and partnerships group in the Public Programs Office have been delighted to work with the Folger Shakespeare Library in organizing the library tour. Representatives from the forty tour sites gathered in Washington, DC, on September 22 and 23 for a working session that included the opportunity to view the major Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library and talk to the curators and designers.

And now, in the months and years to come, they will present their own King James Bible programs and displays, which are sure to attract wide attention in their communities. In fact, the first sites will debut the traveling exhibit this week!

To see if the exhibit will be coming to your area, please visit the itinerary on our ALA website or call the ALA Public Programs office for more information (312-280-5045). You can also check the locations and schedule pages on the Manifold Greatness website for the same information.

The ALA Public Programs Office is grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for making this traveling exhibition for libraries possible, and to the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, with assistance from the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin, for creating such a beautiful and informative exhibition. We expect the tour to be a huge success and a catalyst for individual learning and research across the country.

Susan Brandehoff is Director of Program Development and Partnerships at the American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office.


New video! The Making of a Folger Exhibition: Manifold Greatness

Just in time for today’s opening of the Folger exhibition, this wonderful new video, The Making of a Folger Exhibition: Manifold Greatness:

This video is a production of Alabama Public Television (APT) in partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library. Thanks to APT Executive Producers Heather Daniels and Mark Fastoso who manage a production studio at the Folger which produces original educational videos like this one.


Record attendance for Bodleian Manifold Greatness exhibition

The Bodleian’s Manifold Greatness exhibition closed its doors on Sunday 4 September, with visitors still savouring their chance to encounter its exhibits right up to the last moment. The final attendance figure was 58,024 – a record for a Bodleian exhibition – and the whole team here is delighted at the response the exhibition has drawn. Many local people have enjoyed the chance to learn more about Oxford’s connections with Bible translation – from Wyclif, to Tyndale, the KJB translators, and beyond – and early in the exhibition’s run this connection was given a slot on the prime-time local TV news. The exhibition has also been covered in the Oxford Times and on BBC Radio Oxford. Visitors have been drawn from all over the globe, and comments have been left in the visitors’ book in many different languages.  The meeting of different cultures and languages through the act of Bible translation was one of the themes of the exhibition, and so it is very apt that the exhibition itself should have become a place of so many local, national and international encounters with the story of the KJB.

Helen Moore is Fellow and Tutor in English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.  She chaired the Oxford ‘Manifold Greatness’ curatorial committee.


Making the ‘Manifold Greatness’ Bodleian App

Making of the King James Bible, Bodleian app

The Bodleian Library’s first app, ‘The Making of the King James Bible’, is now available to download for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. The narrative and content were conceived and written by the curators, with valuable input from colleagues at the Bodleian Library and others.

From the earliest days of planning, the Bodleian’s ‘Manifold Greatness’ exhibition has had a strong narrative focussing on the KJB’s links to Oxford and the material culture of the translators’ time, particularly in the form of the books connected with the translation that survive in Oxford libraries. This narrative transferred well to a digital environment, allowing us to create an app that would both enhance the experience of visitors to the Bodleian and provide a coherent and enjoyable digital encounter for those further afield.

For me as a writer, one of the most interesting aspects of this process (my first taste of app-writing), was the three-dimensional and interactive way in which a story, images, sound and information can be presented in an app. Architectural and skeletal metaphors kept occurring to me as I worked on it.

Making of the King James Bible, Bodleian app

Like chapter headings in a book, the main menu supports the whole structure, and articulates the narrative of the app in miniature. But thereafter, the structure of the app becomes much less linear, as independent narratives branch out from the spine of the ‘Manifold Greatness’ story. The important role accorded to images and sound in an app, and the way they interact with text, has been another fascinating aspect to the project.

It certainly reminded me that the interaction of text and image has always been a key element in the physical process of Bible reading.  The artist who illustrated the Old English biblical poems in MS Junius 11; the creator of the woodcuts used in the Geneva Bible; or the cartographer John Speed, whose maps of Canaan were included in the 1611 KJB, all have an important role to play in the history of biblical reception. (These images can be viewed in the app).

Helen Moore is Fellow in English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and chaired the Oxford ‘Manifold Greatness’ curatorial committee.


A Visit to Oxford

This past Friday, Folger Librarian Steve Enniss and I had the pleasure of traveling to Oxford to attend a reception celebrating the opening of the Bodleian Library’s exhibition “Manifold Greatness: Oxford and the Making of the King James Bible.” Guests gathered in Oxford’s majestic Divinity School for drinks, fellowship, and remarks from Bodley’s Librarian, Sarah Thomas, and comedian Ian Hislop, who was delightfully irreverent.

Prior to the reception, I made my way through the exhibition.  I was awestruck by the assembled artifacts.  I lingered over Anne Boleyn’s copy of the Tyndale New Testament and the Wicked Bible of 1631, with its infamous typo “Thou shalt commit adultery.” At one point I overheard someone whisper, “Have you seen the Big Three?” The “Big Three” to which she was referring are a copy of the 1602 Bishops’ Bible annotated by KJB translators, a manuscript containing working translations of the New Testament epistles, and surviving notes from translator John Bois.  “The Big Three” is a fitting title. On exhibition together for the first time, these three artifacts are primary documents recording the process behind the creation of the King James Bible.

The next day as we discussed the exhibition at the Turf Tavern, Steve noticed an ad for Manifold Greatness hung at the bottom of the tavern’s crowded wall of posters. I thought snapping a picture was in order.

We return invigorated and excited to continue work on the Folger exhibition coming this fall.

Steven Galbraith, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Books, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Shakespeare did not write the King James Bible, no way, no how.

In Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Walter “Monk” McGinn (played by Brendan Gleason, here to the right of Liam Neeson) says, “Do you know who Bill Shakespeare was, sonny? He’s the fella that wrote the King James Bible.”

The occasion of Shakespeare’s birthday—traditionally celebrated April 23, though no one knows the precise date—is a good time to offer some reflections about a persistent myth. Since the late nineteenth century, some people have suggested that Shakespeare was involved in the translation of the King James Bible. Just to be clear,

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!!

The reasons this legend developed are complex, and not entirely known, but the idea is preposterous in itself. We know the names and identities of the roughly four dozen King James Bible translators (the number is rough because over time some died or dropped out and had to be replaced). All but one of them were clergymen. The exception, Henry Savile, was included because of his prodigious learning and particularly his exceptional knowledge of Patristic Greek. Indeed, save a few political appointments, all the translators were eminent linguists, the very best scholars of ancient languages—Hebrew and Greek, but also Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic—in England. Some, like Lancelot Andrewes and, judging from the Translators’ Epistle to the Reader, Miles Smith, were also fine writers. But this was not why they were chosen. The translators were not especially interested in what we think of as literary style, and they certainly were not aiming to produce a masterpiece of English prose. Their overwhelming concern was to produce to the most accurate English translation possible of the Bible. The many years of work involved hours and hours of discussions of the most minute details of language: points of grammar, syntax, vocabulary; careful comparison of verses, clauses, and individual words in all the ancient languages, including Latin, as well as contemporary translations in European languages, and all previous English Bible (Tyndale, Coverdale’s Great Bible, Geneva, Bishops’, Rheims); also discussion of theology, ancient history, archaeology. Not very sexy, but that’s what made the KJV!

Literal accuracy was the goal, which is why the English of the KJV sometimes sounds foreign, as in using the word “to know” for having sex (Gen. 4), or Hebrew idioms like “the skin of my teeth” (Job 19) or “the apple of my eye” (Deut. 32), which make little sense in English. Shakespeare, according to Ben Jonson, had “small Latin and less Greek.” This was a little unfair. By our standards, Shakespeare’s Latin was excellent, he just wasn’t as remarkable a scholar as Jonson. There’s no evidence, though, that Shakespeare had more than a little grammar school Greek, and he likely had no Hebrew at all. He lacked the basic skills necessary for Bible translation. He was also not a clergyman; since many clergymen considered players as next-door to brothel-keepers, it’s inconceivable anyone would have considered him as a candidate for the translation team. Finally, although Shakespeare and the King James Bible have been lauded as the twin pillars of English literature since at least the Victorians, they aren’t really much alike. Shakespeare can write fine prose, but he more often writes in verse, and what sets his style apart from other playwrights is the metaphorical density of his language and his invention of words and idioms. The King James Bible is entirely in prose and generally eschews complex metaphor. The vocabulary is also extremely limited. The language of Shakespeare and the language of the KJV aren’t the same.

The one piece of evidence often hauled out in support of the “Shakespeare wrote the Bible” argument is a bit of “code” from Psalm 46. All sorts of people mention this, from Bishops to conspiracy theorists. It goes like this. In the KJV, count 46 words from the beginning of Psalm 46: “shake.” Count 46 words from the end: “spear.” Shakespeare turned 46 in 1610. Thus, so it goes, Shakespeare has encoded his signature in the psalm to mark his secret involvement in the translation. (The more committed cryptographers delve into Kabbala and further supposed number patterns, but I’ll leave this wackier stuff aside.) So many problems with this! First the second 46 count has to leave out the word “selah.” It’s not a word from the actual Psalm but an indicator of performance (no one knows quite what it means), yet it is there on the page, and if you include it “spear” is 47 words from the end, not 46. Furthermore, “shake” and “spear” are in many earlier English Bibles as well, in roughly the same places (45-47 words from beginning and end). Spears are plentiful in the Bible, because they were in ancient Palestine, and people with spears tend to shake them. No great mystery. What’s really in evidence here is an amusing coincidence, discovered by someone with codes on the brain, probably in the 1890s. No one seems to have noticed it before then, which makes it seem rather ineffective as a signature. It’s absurd that Shakespeare would have been involved in translating a Bible, but it’s even more absurd that if he had been involved he would have left his mark in so obscure and meaningless a fashion. Some compare this to medieval stonemasons who inscribed their names on stones in place no one could ever see, presumably as a declaration to God. Shakespeare was not an anonymous craftsman, however, but a popular and successful playwright, whose name appeared prominently on his published work. The more you know about Shakespeare, and the more you know about the King James Bible, the sillier this idea becomes. Imaginative writers like Rudyard Kipling and Anthony Burgess have played around with the myth in their fiction, but that’s where it belongs. In fiction, not in reality.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Bodleian Library Manifold Greatness exhibition opens today!

Copyright Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

As reported in our recent post, Manifold Greatness: Oxford and the Making of the King James Bible opens today at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford!

Helen Moore, chair of the curatorial committee, says, “The exhibition reunites some of the books and manuscripts actually used by translators and we hope that it will give a unique insight into the aims and methods of the countless committee meetings that were held in Oxford and elsewhere as the translation took shape.

“It is an enormous privilege that we are able to breathe life back into the translation process for a modern audience, by showing these books and documents in public, some of them for the first time.”

Shown here is the page from the Gospel of Luke headed “Christ is crucified, and riseth againe.” from the unique Bodleian 1602 Bishops’ Bible, on public display for the first time in this exhibition. The handwriting shows the editing comments of the King James Bible translators.

For more information on the Bodleian Manifold Greatness exhibition and the extraordinary and fascinating rare materials on display, consult this announcement.

You can see more about the marked-up 1602 Bishops’ Bible and other rare documents of the translation process (many of which are also in the Bodleian exhibition) in the video Reconstructing the Process on the Manifold Greatness website.