400th Anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible Will Be Celebrated By Baylor University with a Conference and Exhibit of Rare Bibles

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March 22, 2011

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Bibles these days range from the Teen Bible for young people to the Green Bible for the eco-conscious, from a glossy magazine-style Bible featuring celebrity photos to one targeting stock-car racers, from electronic Bibles to comic book formats.

It's the era of "niche Bibles," aimed at making the Bible as readable as possible to as many people as possible.

But amid the hundreds of versions, no Bible occupies a position in the heart of Christianity quite like that of the King James Version. It marks its 400th anniversary this year, and in celebration of that milestone, Baylor University will present a three-day international conference in which more than 30 noted scholars of religion will examine the Bible's history and influence on religion, politics and culture.

Baylor also will host a free exhibition of more than 100 items -- among them a Dead Sea Scroll, an illustrated Gutenberg Bible and a text handwritten by King Henry VIII about the sacraments -- on loan from the Oklahoma-based Green Collection.

The conference -- "The King James Bible and the World It Made, 1611-2011" -- will be hosted by Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion from Thursday, April 7, through Saturday, April 9, at George W. Truett Theological Seminary on the Baylor campus in Waco. The exhibition will run concurrently in the Hankamer Treasure Room at Baylor's Armstrong Browning Library.

"We're commemorating the fact that 1611 was a turning point in Protestantism, in Christianity, in the English-speaking world," said Dr. Philip Jenkins, one of the world's leading scholars on global Christianity and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. "This is a global event, with an astonishing range of top-flight speakers."

Several Baylor scholars will be among prominent speakers, as well as Dr. Mark Noll, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, named by Time Magazine in 2005 as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America; Dr. David Bebbington, a professor of history at the University of Stirling in Scotland, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and Visiting Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor; and Dr. Robert Alter, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley and the 2009 recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Contribution to American Letters.

In literature and conversation, the Bible's influence can be seen, from the writings of Ernest Hemingway to the poetry of Walt Whitman, Jenkins said. Many people use such as expressions as "feet of clay," "land of milk and honey," "voice in the wilderness" and "casting pearls before swine" without realizing they come from the Bible, Jenkins said.

The version's impact also is significant culturally and politically, said Dr. Thomas S. Kidd, associate professor of history at Baylor and a Senior Fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion.

Echoes of biblical language can be heard in speeches by prominent historical figures from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, he said, and "when America's founding fathers spoke of the new nation, their conversations were filled with the language of the Bible. Patrick Henry's 'Give me liberty or give me death' speech is shot through with references to Jeremiah. Its Bible references gave people a common vocabulary.

"Probably most people have heard that kind of phrasing in modern art and literature, too, like the U2 song "Pride (In the Name of Love)." That's King James language," Kidd said. "People know that and hear that, and it shapes their thoughts, even if they don't know it's from the Bible. It has almost a haunting influence."

Visitors to the free exhibition may view 100 items on loan from the Green Collection, including early printings of the Bible, Hebrew scrolls and medieval manuscripts, said Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities in Baylor's Honors College, as well as a Distinguished Senior Fellow and Director of Manuscript Research in Scripture and Tradition at the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.

Among the items will be a Dead Sea Scroll containing Genesis 31; a Torah taken from a Jewish community in Spain during the Inquisition; and the so-called "Wicked Bible," in which the printer made an error and left out the "not" in the commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery," Jeffrey said.

"There were unfortunate consequences for the printer -- a big fine and some jail time," he said.

Another remarkable item is the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a manuscript of Scripture that dates from the sixth century. It was written on vellum in Palestinian Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. But Greek became the preferred translation, and because vellum -- skin of calves, goats or lambs -- was so costly, a writer re-used it, gently scraping away much of the Aramaic and writing a commentary in Greek atop the original script. But with a particular type of camera, a viewer can see through the overwritten text to the Aramaic beneath, he said. The commentary previously was kept in a library of St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, Egypt, Jeffrey said.

Also on display will be a handwritten text by King Henry VIII about the seven sacraments. He rejected Martin Luther's view that there were only two sacraments -- baptism and Communion. Because of this, the Pope called him "the Defender of the Faith" -- ironic in light of the king's "increasingly flamboyant disregard for the sacrament of marriage, in which he was famous for being anything but faithful," Jeffrey said.

An English version of the complete Bible did not exist until more than 600 years ago. A Latin version was the most widely used Bible translation in the Middle Ages, and the first complete English translation -- the Wycliffe, produced in 1382 -- was opposed by Roman authorities, who feared a new translation would introduce errors. They burned many of the Wycliffe Bibles. Seven more popular English versions were produced, beginning with William Tyndale's work in 1525. Tyndale was tried as a heretic and executed in 1536.

In 1604, King James I, head of the Church of England, authorized the translation of another version, with 47 scholars performing the work. No English translation has enjoyed such wide approval and cultural authority, Jeffrey said. The 20th century brought the introduction of other influential translations, among them the Revised Standard Version in 1952, the New English Bible, the Living Bible and the New International Version.

Kidd said he expects discussion at the conference about gains and losses through the centuries.

"We have textually more accurate translations because we have an older and wider range of manuscripts than were available" at the time the King James Version was written, he said. "But the loss of a common biblical translation is not a good thing for the English-speaking world culturally."

Nevertheless, Jenkins said, "I think it will always come back as a monument of literature, a standard by which other versions are judged."

The Green Collection is one of the world's largest private collections of rare biblical manuscripts and artists, with tens of thousands of items acquired by the Green family, which owns the Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. retail chain. The collection tells the history and demonstrates the impact of the most-translated, best-selling book of all time.

Exhibit hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 7, and Friday, April 8; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 9. Armstrong Browning Library is at 710 Speight Ave. on Baylor's campus.

The conference at Truett, 1100 S. Third St. on Baylor's campus, costs $175; $75 for students. It is free for Baylor faculty, staff and students, but all attendees must register. Registration deadline is March 31.

For more information, call (254) 710-7555.

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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