Rare Book & Manuscript Library Exhibit

Translation Necessarie: The King James Bible at 400


Luke, detail of title page
St. Luke, the Evangelist
Title page, detail [A1r]

The 1611 English translation of the Bibleknown as the King James Bible or Authorized Versionwas unlike any that had come before it in both the scale of its production and the breadth of its influence. Nearly ten years in the making, the undertaking was discussed as early as 1601, although it was not until the year after James ascended the English throne (1604) that a conference was held at Hampton Court authorizing the project. Six teams of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew scholar-translators were appointed to work in Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster; they drew upon their own expertise as well as a body of prior translations beginning with William Tyndale's.

Their impressive labor was matched by material output: the first printing of the work was distributed across at least six printing presses in an edition of over 6,000, enormous for a time when most prominent printers operated at one-third of that scale. Such quantities ensured that the King James Bible would shape spirituality from the grassroots level upward. It resonated with both local parishioners and intellectuals who considered it a model of rigorous collaborative editing.

A landmark political event in the reign of James, the Bible popularized his role as "scholar king" at the same time as it arguably united the kingdom under a common Scripture. For over 400 years, the "Authorized Version" has figured in every major debate concerning the nature of Scripture, translation, and the development of the English language itself.

Brooke Palmieri
Curator of the exhibit

cover page*exhibition