By Susan Gangl, Library Liaison for Religious Studies
One of the best-selling books of all time is still making an impact on society in ways we often do not often realize. Quoted by pop singers and presidents, featured on Facebook, read in churches for centuries and, more recently, viewed on YouTube, the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is now enjoying its 400th anniversary. The occasion is being marked around the world, and the University of Minnesota Libraries recently sponsored several exhibits and a scholarly forum on campus, plus events at area institutions to mark the occasion throughout the Twin Cities.
The University of Minnesota Libraries hosted the NEH-funded traveling exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the American Library Association. The traveling exhibit arrived January 25, 2012 for a month-long showing in Wilson Library. The panels combined original text with images of rare books, manuscripts, and art.
In honor of the 400th anniversary of its publication, the King James Bible is the subject of Manifold Greatness exhibitions at Oxford's Bodleian Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and at www.manifoldgreatness.org. The traveling display shares the core features of those exhibitions through 14 specially designed graphic panels printed on seven double-sided freestanding banners.
Details on the Exhibits in Wilson Library
The story behind the King James Bible remains surprisingly little known, despite the book's enormous fame. Translated over several years by six committees of England's top scholars, the King James Bible became the most influential English translation of the Bible and one of the most widely read books in the world. For many years, it was the predominant English-language Bible in the United States, where it is still widely read today. Even many of those whose lives have been affected by the King James Bible may not realize that less than a century before it was produced, the very idea of the Bible translated into English was considered dangerous and even criminal.
Equally compelling is the story of the book's afterlife--its reception in the years, decades, and centuries that followed its first printing, and how it came to be so ubiquitous. Essential to this story is the profound influence that it has had on personal lives and local communities--for example, the Bible became a place for many families to record births, deaths, marriages, and other important events in their history. The afterlife of the King James Bible is also reflected in its broad literary influence in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Local Events and Exhibits
The King James Bible and American History & Culture, an exhibit inspired by an article written by Professor Bernard M. Levinson. This three panel display was created and designed by Susan Gangl and Rafael Tarrago of the University Libraries, in consultation with Professor Kirsten Fischer. This exhibit was on display in Wilson basement through December 2011, and the three posters from this exhibit were redesigned to accompany the January 2012 show. Professor Levinson spoke at a scholarly forum held in Wilson Library on February 3, 2012.
The Word Made Flesh exhibit was developed by Professor Michael Hancher and Tim Johnson, curator of the University Libraries Special Collections and Rare Books, and ran from November 28, 2011 - February 24, 2012. Focusing on the history of several important Bibles, their printings, and translations in the University Libraries' collection, The Word Made Flesh coincided with the traveling exhibit. The University of Minnesota Libraries has a keen interest in the social, cultural, literary, and religious importance of the King James Bible--the show remained open to the public during the Manifold Greatness exhibit. Professor Hancher and Mr. Johnson spoke at the February 3 forum in Wilson.
In addition to popular press articles, you can find scholarly examinations of many aspects of the King James Version of the Bible in articles, books, and websites, many of which were published this year. A list of recent works and selected websites is posted on the Religious Studies Librarian blog.
A course on the King James Bible as literature is being offered fall semester 2012 by Professor David Haley (English). Professor Haley was a featured speaker at the scholarly forum in early February.