The King James Bible exhibit at the University of Texas at Austin

I can’t believe that I’m still catching up on things from the summer! Over on my personal blog I just posted about the trip I took for work out to McDonald Observatory in July and here is my write-up of an exhibit that I visited in June.

Regular readers of the blog will remember that I was pretty excited to see that the King James Bible exhibition previously at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Bodleian at Oxford would be coming to the Harry Ransom Center at my university. You can see the Harry Ransom Center’s page for the exhibition here. I took a few photos with my cell phone camera and I decided to go ahead and post some even though they aren’t very good. Most of these are the pre-KJB items they had on display, since those are most related to Tudor history, although I included one neat English-made medieval Bible as well. I did include one photo of an original King James although there were many versions I didn’t photograph (including one of the infamous “Wicked Bible”). It was an amazing collection!

The captions below each photo are primarily taken from the information cards with each item, so I didn’t write them. I *hope* I managed to get the right info matched to the correct photo here, but there is a chance I didn’t. But given how cruddy the photos are I’m sure no one would be able to tell!

Banner outside the HRC. You can see the great fossiliferous limestone on the front of the building here too.

An English thirteenth-century manuscript Bible in Latin.

Champions of the English Bible: This was a large display board showing three excerpts from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs of persecution of three previous advocates of translating the Bible into English.

“The New Testament in English after the Greeke translation annexed wyth the translation of Erasmus in Latin” (Londini: Offincina Thomas Gaultieri, 1550)

William Tyndale (ca. 1494-1536) attended Oxford and Cambridge as a young man. He wanted to translate the Bible into English using Hebrew and Greek source texts, rather than the Latin Vulgate. When the bishop of London rebuffed Tyndate, he moved to Germany and proceeded on his own.

The first edition for Tyndale’s New Testament appeared in 1525. Tyndale introduced a number of phrases that the King James translators retained in the 1611 edition, including Matthew 9:2 “be of good cheer.”

“(Biblia?) the Byble: that is, the holy Scrypture of the Olde and New Testament, faythfully translated in Englyshe, and newly oversene & corrected” (Southwark: James Nycolson, 1537)

In 1535, shortly before William Tyndale’s death, his associate Miles Coverdale (ca. 1488-1569) completed and printed a translation of the Bible whlie exiled in Antwerp. A second edition was printed that same year in Southwark, England.

Coverdale relied heavily on Tyndale’s translation, but worked primarily from the Vulgate and from Martin Luther’s German translation. The King James translators retained many phrases from Coverdale includin “the valley of the shadowe of death” and “thou enoyntest my heade with oyle”.

Two volumes of the “Biblia Sacra Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece, & Latine [known as the Polyglot Bible] (Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1569-1573)

Plantin’s Polyglot Bible is considered the most important typographical enterprise of the sixteenth century. The printer had to obtain permission form Philip II, the Holy Roman Emperor, which was a delicate matter in the midst of the Reformation. Plantin then had to create a brilliantly functional typographical design to incorporate the five languages.

“The Bible that is, the Holy Scriptures conteined in the Olde and Newe Testament. Translated according to the Ebrewe and Greeke, and conferred with the best translations in diuers languages. With most profitable annotations vpon all the hard places, and other things of great importance as may appeare in the epistle to the reader. (London: Christopher Barker, 1576)

Protestant scholars fled to Geneva after Mary I’s ascendance to the throne in 1553. There they undertook a new English translation of the Bible, complete with extensive, heavily Calvinist interpretive notes.

The Geneva Bible (1560) introduced a number of features that would soon become standard in English printed Bibles, including the use of Roman type, numbered verses, and italics for English words not represented in the original texts. The Geneva Bible became incredibly popular among English speakers, as this 1576 English reprint attests, and is the translation most frequently quoted and paraphrased by William Shakespeare.

“The Bible. Translated according to the Ebrew and Greeke, and confermed with the best translations in diuers languages. With most profitable annotations vpon all the hard places, and other things of great importance, as may appeare in the epistle to the reader. And also a most profitable concordance for the readie finding out of any thing in the same conteined” (London: Deputies of Christopher Barker, 1588) also a “Geneva Bible”

“The New Testament of Jesus Christ, translated faithfully into English, out of the authentical Latin, according to the best corrected copies of the same, diligently conferred with the Greeke and other editions in diuers languages; with arguments of bookes and chapters, annotations, and other necessarie helpes, for the better vnderstanding of the text, and specially for the discouerie of the corruptions of divers late transtlations, and for cleering the controversies in religion, of these daies; in the English College of Rhemes” (Rheimes: John Fogny, 1582)

In 1559, when the Protestant Elizabeth I (1533-1603) succeeded Mary, Catholic scholars went into exile in Flanders. The translators used the Latin Vulgate as their source text, rather than relying on previous English translations. Named for the two cities in which it was completed, the Douay-Rheims Bible (1582/1610) also contained extensive annotations, many rebutting those of the Geneva Bible.

Additional notes on these two bibles:

Geneva and Douay-Rheimes: A Battle of Annotations

The most populdar English Bible to precede the King James Bible was the Geneva Bible, prepared by English Protestant exiles during the reign of Catholic Queen Mary I. IN 1582, the Catholic Church published its first portion of an English Bible translation, the Rheims New Testament. Comparing annotations found in Revelation 17:1-6 shows how these Protestant and Catholic translations engaged each other. The Geneva Bible contends that the figure of the Whore of Babylon represents “the Antichrist, that is, the Pope”. The Rheims New Testament responds, “The Pope can not be Antichrist.”

Hugh Broughton’s “An epistle to the learned nobilitie of England”
(Middleburgh: Richard Schilders, 1597)

Hugh Broughton (1549-1612) was as famous for his intellect, particularly as a Hebrew scholar, as he was infamous for his cantakerous personality. In this book, he argues for a new translation of the Bible, given the inadequacy of the Bishops’ Bible, and claims to have the support of Queen Elizabeth. Although he wanted a new translation, when King James was finally publshed, Broughton wrote another tract strongly criticizing it.

“The Holy Bible: conteyning the Old Testament and the Newe. Authorised and appoynted to be read in churches” (Imprinted in London: By Robert Barker, 1602) a.k.a. “The Bishops’ Bible”

King James translators were given an unbound 1602 edition of the Bishops’ Bible as a base text. The Bishop’s Bible translators had used the Great Bible as the basis for their translation, but had also taken some non-canonical material including maps, woodcuts, and annotations from the more popular Geneva Bible. Though the Bishops’ Bible was the official starting text of the King James translators, only about four percent of the King James translation comes directly from content original to the Bishops’ Bible (as opposed to earlier English translations).

The First Edition of the King James Bible

“The Holy Bible, conteyning the Old Testament, and the New: newly translated out of originall tongues (London: Robert Barker, 1611)


The King James Bible exhibit at the University of Texas at Austin — 2 Comments

  1. I recently read a book about the difficulty in translation, especially symbolic social positions. For example, a shepherd in King David’s time was apparently more of a Jedi/lawyer than a guy with some sheep. There is just no such thing as a literal, word for word, translation.

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