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Audio Tour Transcript

200: Welcome, with Steve Enniss

Hi, I’m Steve Ennis, Eric Weinmann Librarian here at the Folger Shakespeare Library and it is my pleasure to welcome you to Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible. This exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Folger and Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, a site of one of the original teams of King James Bible translators. Generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities has made it possible for us to share the exhibition more widely through the accompanying website, and to travel a version of the exhibition to 40 communities around the United States. I invite you to enjoy the exhibition in each of these forms. Welcome to Manifold Greatness.

201: Case 1, Item 1, Tyndale Fragments, with Steve Galbraith

Hello, I’m Steve Galbraith, co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition

One of the most important people in the story of King James Bible is William Tyndale who lived and died almost a century before the King James Bible was printed. In his day, William Tyndale translated much of the Bible into English, though it was heresy to do so. Rather than risk his life in England, he fled to Continental Europe to work on an English translation of the Bible and spent most of the later part of his life on the run. The first fruits of his labors, an English translation of the New Testament, were printed in Worms, Germany in 1526. In 1530 he printed an English translation of the Pentateuch or the five books of Moses. Because Tyndale’s translations were banned in England they were smuggled into the country. Many copies were destroyed, thus very few survive. These leaves from Tyndale’s Pentateuch were found inside the boards or covers of another unrelated book, suggesting they ended up as scrap paper in a bookbinder’s shop. While Tyndale never did finish a complete English translation of the Bible, his work was a major influence on most 16th and 17th century English Bibles, including the King James Bible.

202: Vitrine 1, Items 1 & 2, Geneva and Rheims dueling marginal notes, with Hannibal Hamlin

Hello and welcome to Manifold Greatness. This is Hannibal Hamlin, Associate Professor of English at The Ohio State University and co-curator of the exhibition.

What you’re looking at in this vitrine is a full-scale battle of biblical interpretation taking place in the margins of two sixteenth-century Bible translations. The Geneva Bible was famous for its copious marginal notes, guiding the reader with alternative translations, cross-references to other relevant passages, and interpretations. It was really the first English Study Bible. Most of the notes were uncontroversial, but a few reflect the radical Calvinism of the translators. The Book of Revelation, for instance, was often interpreted by Protestants as a prophecy of the evils of the Catholic Church. This was made easier by the coincidence that the “Rome” condemned in Revelation (the Roman Empire of the first century) was the same city as the later “Rome” of the Pope and the Vatican. So the beast with seven heads signified the seven hills of Rome, whether in the first century or the sixteenth. Given the harshly anti-Catholic notes in the Geneva Bible, it’s not surprising that when English Catholics published their own Bible, their interpretive notes fired back against the Protestants. Here you see marginal notes in sharp argument with each other, debating the identity of the Whore of Babylon.

203: Case 3, Item 1, Elizabeth’s Bishops Bible, with Steve Galbraith

Hello, this is Steven Galbraith again.

In a letter dated September 12, 1568, Archbishop Matthew Parker asks Queen Elizabeth William Cecil, Lord Burghley to present to Queen Elizabeth I “a specially-bound copy” of the English Bible that he and his Bishops had just completed. The Bible bound in scarlet velvet that you see in the case before is likely that Bible. If you look closely at the silver diamond in the middle, you will see Elizabeth’s royal arms and the initials “EL” and “RE” for “Elizabetha Regina, Latin for “Queen Elizabeth.” Also look for the Tudor roses found on each of the silver bosses. Because this Bible was likely owned by Queen Elizabeth I, it is truly one of the Folger Library’s greatest treasures. This translation of the Bible, known as the Bishops’ Bible, is also of great importance to the King James Bible, because each translator working on King James Bible was given a 1602 edition of the Bishops Bible to use as their copy text. Further on in this exhibition you will see a 1602 edition that has been annotated by King James Bible translators.

204: Above Case 5, John Rainolds’ Portrait, with Steve Galbraith

Hello, this is exhibition co-curator Steve Galbraith.

This portrait is of John Rainolds, a central figure in the creation of the King James Bible. President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford and a leader of the Puritan movement in England, Rainolds was one of those advocating for religious reforms at the Hampton Court Conference. It was Rainolds who in the closing minutes of the second day of the conference proposed to King James the idea of a new English translation of the Bible. Although his health began to fail, in the years that followed he worked unfailingly with the First Oxford company on the translation of the Old Testament prophets. Weekly meetings were held in his Corpus Christi lodgings and it is said that when his health severely weakened his colleagues would carry Rainolds from his bed to the meeting room. He died on May 21, 1607. Although he did not live to see the publication of the King James Bible in 1611, Rainold’s legacy as a religious leader and Bible translator continues to be celebrated, particularly in the anniversary year of the Bible translation that he initiated.

205: Vitrine after Case 5, Annotated Bishops Bible, with Hannibal Hamlin

The annotated copy of the Bishops Bible in front of you is one of only three original documents that survive from the translation process of the King James Bible. Manifold Greatness is the first exhibition ever to bring all three together in one place. Every translator was given an unbound copy of the Bishops’ Bible to use as their base text. Even though the Geneva Bible was more popular, the Bishops’ Bible was the official translation of the Church of England from 1568 until 1611. The copy you see here is the only one of the four dozen to survive, though it may consist of parts of several. Since the original copies were unbound, pages from different copies may have gotten mixed together. One of the original translators recorded the decisions of his company directly on the page, crossing some words out, inserting others. It may seem surprising that so few records of the translation process survive, but the translators probably never thought their Bible would last so long or become such a cultural icon. They certainly wouldn’t have thought anyone would be interested in their labors, just in the product of it, the Bible itself.

206: Case 7, Item 2, Wicked Bible, with Steve Galbraith

Hello, Steve Galbraith again.

To err is human, and printing in the seventeenth century was a very human process that often produced very human mistakes. Most were simple misprints that most readers would overlook. But when a misprint catches the eye of the King himself, you know you’ve severely erred. Such was the case with the so-called “Wicked Bible” of 1631. This edition of the King James Bible contains the infamous misprint, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” The mistake of omitting one small word is a relatively simple one to make, though, in this case, the result was wicked enough to earn the printers Robert Parker and Martin Lucas a 300 pound fine, a pretty major sum for the time. This manuscript court document from the Acts of High Commission shows King Charles I showing some forgiveness by remitting the fine in exchange for Barker and Lucas printing Greek texts being translated by the King’s librarian, Patrick Young. Thus the printers survived to print another day, though I imagine their compositors took greater care in setting type.

207: Case 8, Item 2, Isham Bible, with Steve Galbraith

Hello, Steve Galbraith again.

I must admit that this book is my favorite in the exhibition. Books have stories to tell beyond the texts they contain. This pocket-sized copy of the third part of the Bible is a perfect example. A manuscript note in the front of the book reads “This was ye [the] only booke I carried in my pockett when I travelld beyond ye [the] seas ye [the] 22d year of my Age; & many years after.” The inscription is signed, “Just. Isha[m].” While many book owners from the early modern period inscribed their names into their books and perhaps even supplied a date, very few provided such personal details. “Just. Isha[m]” is Sir Justinian Isham, who lived from 1611to 1675) As the inscription suggests, in 1633 he travelled to the Netherlands at the age of twenty-two.

208: Case 10, Item 1, Psalm 46 myth, with Hannibal Hamlin

Some time around the turn of the twentieth century, someone with codes on the brain and too much spare time discovered that Psalm 46 in the King James Bible contained the secret “signature” of Shakespeare. The myth that Shakespeare was involved in translating the King James Bible lingers on but is only a myth. There is no real evidence for it, just the imaginative “code” breaking, and it makes no sense historically. It probably grows out of a couple of cultural beliefs that have been widespread since the nineteenth century. The first is that the King James Bible is the greatest achievement of English prose writing. The second is that Shakespeare is the greatest writer in English literature. From these assumptions grew the idea that, as England’s greatest writer, Shakespeare must have been consulted in the creation of the great writing of the King James Bible. This is misguided. The translators of the King James Bible were not at all concerned with literary style, just with making their translation as literally accurate as possible. Whatever style the translation has is an accidental by-product. Furthermore, all but one of the translators were clergymen, and all of them were exceptionally knowledgeable about ancient languages. Shakespeare had no place among them, and they would have found the idea of consulting him ridiculous, if they’d even heard of him at all.

209: Case 11, Douglass Bible, with Hannibal Hamlin

This is a King James Bible owned by the freed slave and abolitionist statesman Frederick Douglass. As Abraham Lincoln observed, the King James Bible was carried into battle by both North and South in the American Civil War. Books like Josiah Priest’s Bible Defence of Slavery argued that slavery was instituted by God’s curse on Noah’s son Ham, and was practiced throughout the Old Testament. Slave owners read to their slaves Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians 6:5, “Slaves be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.” Abolitionists, on the other hand, cited Paul in Galatians: “there is neither bond nor free . . . for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” And African Americans quickly made the Bible their own, seeing in the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt the promise of their own emancipation. Frederick Douglass distinguished between the “Slaveholding Religion” and the “Christianity of Christ,” and countered the arguments about Ham by pointing out that many slaves were descended from white owners as well as other slaves.

210: Case 12, Item 4, Moby-Dick, with Hannibal Hamlin

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, which you see here in an edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent, is one of countless novels, plays, and poems in English influenced by the King James Bible. This influence is most obvious in the titles of novels like William Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Henry James’s The Golden Bowl. But other literary works borrow characters, plots, themes, and even the language of the King James Bible. Moby-Dick is Melville’s dark struggle with the traditional Christian God and the values he represents. In the Old Testament, when Job challenged God to justify his innocent suffering, God replied with a series of questions that showed Job he was unworthy to ask his question. “Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook?” God asked. On a symbolic level, Captain Ahab, named after the wicked Old Testament king, aims to set Job’s God straight, drawing out one Leviathan––the white whale Moby Dick––with a harpoon. Melville’s novel is full of biblical allusions, especially to the Book of Jonah, the story of the reluctant prophet swallowed by a great fish. The illustration open here is of Father Mapple preaching a sermon on Jonah in the whaler’s chapel in Nantuckett.

211: Case 13, Item 1, Handel’s Messiah, with Steve Galbraith

Hello this is Steve Galbraith. From hymns and African American Spirituals, to Pete Seeger’s “Turn Turn Turn” to Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Chant,” the King James Bible has had profound influence on music. One of the most famous works inspired by the King James Bible is Handel’s Messiah, which takes most of its libretto directly from the translation of the book of revelation found in the King James Bible. The clip you are about to hear is the Messiah’s “Hallelujah” chorus performed in 1991 by the Choir of Oxford’s Magdalen College and the Folger Consort, a collaboration that nicely mirrors the exhibition collaboration between the Folger and Oxford.


Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.

The Kingdom of this World is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ;

and he shall reign for ever and ever, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.


Adapted from the King James Bible:

Revelation 19:6, Revelation 11:15, and Revelation 19:16

212: Case 13, Item 6 – Apollo 8 astronauts, with Hannibal Hamlin

The King James Bible is the only translation ever read from space, with fully a quarter of the people on earth watching on TV.

Lunar Module Pilot William Anders

We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Command Module Pilot James Lovell

“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Commander Frank Borman

“And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear’: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.

213: Case 14, Many Bibles, with Steve Galbraith

Hello is Steve Galbraith again.

While working on this exhibition I often wondered how surprised the King James Bible translators would be to learn that their work has endured in such a profound way over the course of four centuries. English Bibles are now accessible in a way they and other earlier translators such s William Tyndale probably could never have imaged, though I imagine they’d be pleased. The Bibles presented in this final case demonstrate how universal English translations of the Bible have become. Today there is truly a democracy of Bibles, an edition for nearly every type of person.

On behalf of Hannibal Hamlin and myself, I would like to thank you for visiting our exhibition. We hope you enjoy related Folger public programs and visit our exhibition website, www.manifoldgreatness.org.

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