At a time when Bibles sell by the millions annually and are easily found in — and, by those desperately in need of spiritual guidance, filched from — countless motel rooms, a press run of a few hundred copies might seem insignificant.
But the Bibles celebrated in an exhibit coming next month to Lourdes University’s Duns Scotus Library, with related programming planned at the Toledo Museum of Art and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's Main Library, were from no ordinary production run.
Back in 1611, after all, paper was very expensive; all printers' type was set by hand, and printing presses were operated manually, and the concept of a Bible printed in a language other than Latin was still fairly novel — though no longer heretical, as it had been less than a century before.
IF YOU GO
What: "Manifest Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible"
Where: Duns Scotus Library in St. Clare hall, Lourdes University, Sylvania.
When: Oct. 7 through Oct. 31. Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The exhibit also will be open during the lectures Oct. 7, and 21. Closed Oct. 14 and 28. Free.
"Manifold Greatness: The Creation and the Afterlife of the King James Bible," on exhibit at Duns Scotus in St. Clare Hall daily except certain Sundays from Oct. 7 through Oct. 31, recounts the development of a landmark in Biblical history: the translation that King James I commissioned during the early 17th century. It became the most common English-language version of the Bible for several centuries and remains one of the most popular and influential.
"This is really a historical piece, not just a religious piece," said Sister Sandra Rutkowski, Lourdes' library director. "It's a piece of literature."
The King James was hardly the first biblical translation in English, but its creation by four teams of translators who worked from early versions in Greek and Hebrew while consulting subsequent editions in Latin, English, and perhaps other languages produced many of the famous biblical passages quoted to this day.
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It is the Bible that U.S. presidents use during their swearing-in ceremonies, and it introduced numerous common phrases into the English language, including "old as the hills," "the blind leading the blind," and "the streets are paved with gold."
The King James' historical context, development, proliferation, and integration into popular culture are detailed in the exhibit's 14 large panels that also contain Bible excerpts and related imagery. After six years' work, the translators produced their finished product and it was published in 1611.
The total number of King James Bibles produced since then is incalculable, according to the exhibit text.
Less than a century before, in 1536, William Tyndale was tracked down in France and executed for the heresy of having translated and printed complete English versions of the New Testament and the five Old Testament books of Moses. Such publication contravened Church of England dogma of the time that scripture was intended for clergy who would then communicate it to the public.
But after the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church in the Protestant Reformation, English kings authorized the creation of English-language Bibles.
According to the exhibit, King James authorized the edition that would bear his name on the advice of John Rainolds, of Oxford, who said previous versions "that were allowed during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the Original."
Tyndale's translation would later be among those that King James' teams of translators consulted in developing their version, which King James approved as the official Bible for the Church of England. Rainolds was part of the translation teams until his 1607 death.
■ “When God (and Shakespeare) Speak Early Modern English,” opening lecture by Ralph Wilson, distinguished English professor at the University of Michigan: Oct. 7, 2 to 5 p.m., Lourdes University Franciscan Center. Call 419-517-3958 or contact Patsy Kiros at firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation (required). Free.
■ Evening Scripture reading and discussion, Peter Sibilio, assistant professor of theological studies, Lourdes University: Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m., Duns Scotus Library in St. Clare Hall. Free.
■ “The Creation of the King James Bible through the Toledo Museum of Art Collection,” Ed Hill, curatorial assistant, Toledo Museum of Art: Oct. 19 at 10 a.m., Lourdes University Franciscan Center. Free.
■ “Against the Odds: The KJV and the Promises of God,” lecture by James Dumke, instructor of theological studies, Lourdes University: Oct 21 at 2 p.m., Duns Scotus Library in St. Clare Hall. Free.
■ “Up Close with the King James Bible,” presentations by Ed Hill, curatorial assistant, Toledo Museum of Art: Sept. 28 at 7 p.m., Oct. 17 at 1 p.m., Oct. 27 at 2 p.m., Nov. 8 at 1 p.m., and Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. Print Study Room, Toledo Museum of Art. Call 419-254-5771, extension 7432, to make a reservation (required). Free
Some later production runs became known for their egregious printing errors, such as one that substituted the name of Judas for Jesus' in several key passages and another, which became known as the Wicked Bible, that omitted the word "not" from the Old Testament commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
"We will probably never know" if such errors were true mistakes or deliberate acts by the printers, Sister Sandra said.
The exhibit materials at Lourdes will not include an actual copy of the King James Bible, but from Sept. 14 through Nov. 25, the Toledo Museum of Art will have an original King James on view for the public, as it did last fall and winter during a lecture series that drew capacity crowds.
"Up-close sessions" with presentations by Ed Hill, a curatorial assistant at the art museum, will be offered on five dates in the museum's Print Study Room, with reservations required and each session limited to 12 people.
Along with the exhibit panels, Lourdes will have on display several Bibles from its rare-books collection, including an original Gutenberg and Mother Adelaide Bibles.
Mr. Hill also will speak during the second of three lectures planned at Lourdes during the exhibit, discussing how the art museum's collection represents the King James Bible's creation. That lecture will be on Oct. 19.
Other speakers in the lecture series include Ralph Wilson, a distinguished English professor at the University of Michigan, who will give an exhibit-opening presentation on Oct. 7.
While admission to it and other exhibit presentations will be free and open to the public, reservations also are required for the opening lecture so that adequate refreshments may be provided at a reception afterward, Sister Sandra said.
Antique Bibles from the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's collection will be on public display in The Blade Rare Book Room of the Main Library in downtown Toledo from Oct. 1 through Nov. 24 during regular library hours.
The traveling exhibit was developed by a consortium of the Folger Shakespeare Library, an independent research library in Washington; the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in England, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
The tour is sponsored by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lourdes is one of 40 institutions nationwide to have successfully applied for a grant to host one of three editions of the exhibit touring the United States between last year and next.
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