1611 and All That: Biblical exhibition in the Library

Posted by mjs76 at Apr 11, 2011 10:26 AM |
The current exhibition in the University Library celebrates four hundred years of the King James Bible.

In 1611 King James I (James VI of Scotland) ordered the publication of a new English translation of The Bible, which has consequently become known as the ‘King James Version’ or ‘KJV’ (sometimes called the ‘Authorised Version’). If you visit the basement of the David Wilson Library this spring you can see some first editions of the KJV from the Library’s Special Collections as well as Bibles which pre- and post-date this important volume.

Ruth 3:14-18 from a first edition King James Bible. The underlined word in verse 15 identifies this as the 'He' Bible variant.

The first Bible in English was William Tyndale’s version in 1526; we don’t have a first edition of this but we do have a 1536 edition along with first editions of the 1539 ‘Great Bible’ and the 1568 ‘Bishop’s Bible’. All three of these, together with other 16th century translations, were used as source material for the KJV which was mostly an amalgamation of the best bits of existing Bibles rather than a new translation from scratch.

There were actually two variants of the KJV in 1611: the First Folio or ‘He’ Bible and the Second Folio or ‘She’ Bible, named after a minuscule text variation in Ruth 3:15. We have two ‘He’ Bibles on display, one of which has a magnificent velvet-covered, wire-framed, 3D cover bearing the badge of the Prince of Wales. We also have a ‘She’ Bible where Ruth’s gender has been corrected but some damnfool typesetter has misprinted ‘Jesus’ in Matthew 26:36 as ‘Judas’ – which is quite an important distinction

Gustave Doré's engraving of the Magi, one of 241 images created for a French Bible in 1865. From a 19th century English Bible in the University's collection.

There are numerous other antique editions in the display, along with other books related to the great seven-year scheme to compile the King James Version. There are miniature Bibles only a couple of inches tall; an 1861 Bible with an amazing 3D bronze cover; a 19th century Bible with fabulous engravings by Gustave Doré; and an 18th century score for Handel’s Messiah, which drew most of its libretto from the KJV.

But the real star of the show is an unassuming little edition from 1631. It’s open at the Book of Exodus Chapter 20. You’ll need to squint a bit, but there it is. Verse 14. Arguably the most infamous typo in the history of printing, in one of only a handful of surviving copies of the ‘Wicked Bible’.

Thou shalt commit adultery.”

Professor Gordon Campbell in our School of English has spent a lot of time poring over ancient Bibles in recent years, researching his acclaimed book Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011. He is spending much of this year travelling around to talks and conferences and you may also spot him on TV or hear him on the radio. You can find out more about Gordon’s book on our King James Version website or these previous Newsblog stories:

The Bible display will be on public view until the end of June. If you would like to view the display but do not have a University Library Card, please ask at Library reception for access to the basement.

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