The King's English: The 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible

Leaves poster2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. Rauner Special Collections Library owns one leaf from the original 1611 edition and many other distinctive examples of Bibles published both before and after 1611.

The exhibit was curated by Anne Peale '11 and Eric Esau and will be on display in the Class of 1965 Galleries from September 2 to October 31, 2011.

You may download a small, 8x10 version of the poster: KingsEnglish.jpg. You may also download a handlist of the items in this exhibition: KingJames.

Materials Included in the Exhibition

Case. 1. An Authorized Bible

In 1604, King James I of England commissioned a new translation of the Bible with the intent to create a single, unified text which would mediate between the divergent religious views of Puritans and Anglicans. Forty-seven scholars worked for seven years to produce the translation, souring Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin texts as well as earlier versions. The resulting Bible was a truly authoritative English translation.

  1. The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Testament, and the New. Newly Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Maiesties Speciall Comandement. London: Robert Barker, 1611. Rare Book BS185 1611 .L6
    1. This leaf, containing verses from the books of Joshua and Judges, comes from the first printing of the King James Bible. James' Bible became the standard text of the Anglican church until the mid-twentieth century. The beauty and grandeur of its prose has influenced four centuries of English writers.
  2. The Holy Bible, conteyning the Old Testament, and the New: Newly translated out to the originall tongues: and with the former translations diligently compared and reuised by his Majesties speciall commandement. Appointed to be read in churches. London: Robert Barker, 1613. Rare Book BS185 1613 L6
    1. A second editions of the King James Bible was published just two years after the first. The format is almost identical to that of the first edition, but this edition contains a famous printing error. "Judas" is substituted for "Jesus" in Matthew 26:36. A reader has made an emphatic correction. 
  3. The workes of the most high and mightie prince, Iames, by the grace of God, king of Great Britaine, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, &c. London: Robert Barker and John Bill, 1616. Rare Book DA391 .A13 1616
    1. James was a scholar and author as well as a king. This volume includes in his 1598 work The True Law of Free Monarchies, in which he declares the divine right of kings. His portrait shows the sword of justice, justitia, and his Bible, Verbum dei, at his right hand.
  4. The Holy Bible, containing the Old Testament, and the New. Newly translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesties command. London: The Companie of Stationers, 1647. Bindings 199
    1. Not all early editions of the King James Bible were grand volumes meant for church lecterns and wealthy noblemen. This pocked-sized copy, printed in the mid-17th century, was clearly treasured by its owner, who delicately embroidered the binding with portraits, probably of herself and her husband, on the front and back covers.


Case 2. The Bible Before the King James Version

The King James Bible declares on its title page to be "translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised." James' translators consulted many texts from the great wealth of biblical scholarship available to them. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the active development of both the printing press and Protestantism provided the impetus for the production of many new editions of the Bible.

  1. The Byble in Englyshe. London: Rychard Grafton & Edward Whitchurch, 1539. Val RCBAG 1539 
    1. The "Great Bible" was the first Authorized edition in English, commissioned by the Henry VIII as the official scripture of his newly formed Church of England. The Bible's frontispiece shows Henry VIII passing the Bible to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Sir Thomas Cromwell. The image shows Henry's intent to consolidate his religious and secular authority.
  2. Biblia Sacra Hebraicae, Chaldaice, Graece & Latine ... Philippi II. Reg. Catalo. pieta, & studio ad sacrosanctae ecclesiae usum. Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1569-1572. Rare Book BS1 1569 (5 volumes)
    1. Renaissance scholars reexamined the source texts of the Bible in an effort to clarify and purify the scripture. A polyglot Bible such as this one would have been used by James' translators. This text from Genesis provides Latin, Hebrew, and Greek texts side-by-side.


Case 3. Four Centuries of the King James Bible

In print for four years, the King James Bible has appeared in many difficult physical forms. James's Bible was conceived as a large volume intended for public worship, but its many editions have demonstrated its adaptability to a variety of purposes. Each edition reflects something about the lives of the individuals who produced and used the King James Bible.

  1. The Holy Bible: A Facsimile in a reduced size of the Authorized Version published in the year 1611. London: Henry Frowde, 1911. Depository RCBAO 1911 [not available in Rauner]
    1. This facsimile edition of the King James Version was published in 1911 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Bible's first printing. The rhetoric of this "privilege page" links James's royal authority with God's majesty. The French "Dieu et mon droit" in the royal coat of arms refers to the divine right of kings to govern, while the text beneath grants permission for the book's publication.
  2. The English Bible. Hammersmith: The Doves Press, 1903-1905. Hickmott 94 and Presses D751b
    1. The Doves Bible, an edition of the King James Version printed between 1903 and 1905, is a masterpiece of early 20th century fine press printing. T. J. Cobden Sanderson and Emery Walker chose for their text not a modern translation but one imbued with the dignity and linguistic power of three centuries. The austere beauty and simplicity of the design makes the Doves Bible, in the opinion of many, one of the most beautiful books ever printed.
  3. The Dartmouth Bible; an abridgement of the King James version, with aids to its understanding as history and literature, and as a source of religious experience. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950. Alumni C3567b
    1. The Dartmouth Bible, an "updated" version of the King James Bible, was published in 1950. The editors were Roy Bullard Chamberlin, Minister of Dartmouth College Church and later a professor of English, and Herman Feldman, a professor at the Tuck School. They eliminated approximately half of the original text and rearranged many chapters and verses in an odd attempt to clarify the text and reduce repetition.