Engravings, King James Bible Old Testament title page (left), New Testament title page (right)
Engraving, Portrait of King James
The year 2011 marks the four-hundredth anniversary of the printing of the King James Bible. Seven years in the making, the King James Bible was the product of six teams of approximately forty-seven translators drawn from Cambridge, Oxford and Westminster Abbey who represented some of the nation’s best scholarly minds. The work was commissioned by James I of England to correct perceived errors in earlier translations and to provide an official translation in accordance with the English monarch and the Church of England. The translating committees did not, though, set out to create an entirely new translation. Earlier translations were consulted and often incorporated verbatim, with the intent that the final translation would benefit from the efforts of all previous translations.
The translation was not an immediate success and its accuracy remains subject to debate. The production of the Bible nearly bankrupted its printer and earlier translations remained popular until the reign of Charles II (1630-1685), when its political associations solidified the King James Bible as the standard English translation. From then on this was a text heard and read by all straits of society in England and its colonies. As such, its influence can be detected in a multitude of literary and creative works ranging from John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Charles Schultz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. Many phrases which had their genesis in the King James Bible have since been absorbed so fully into the lexicon that one can quote the King James Bible without even being aware of it.
The volume on display is a copy of the second printing of the King James Bible. Work on this edition began in 1611; the logistics of printing a text of this size meant that the book was not finished until 1613. The large size of the volume was meant to make it suitable for use in public readings and sermons. It would once have resided on the lectern of an English congregation.