About the Exhibit

The history of the Bible is a history of translation. Originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the first 1000 years of the Christian era saw the Holy Scriptures translated into a multitude of languages as the new faith extended its spiritual, cultural, and political influence across the Mediterranean region and Europe. By the 11th century, the “official” languages of the Bible had been established. Eastern Christendom, centered in Constantinople, initially relied upon Greek Scriptures, but eventually complemented these ancient versions with more modern translations rendered in the newly-invented Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets that made the Bible available in a number of Slavic vernaculars. Western Christendom, in contrast, settled on Latin as its only “authorized” language, paying little heed to the host of regional tongues developing across what had formerly been the Western Roman Empire.

Although Scriptural lore was adapted to and transmitted in a variety of vernacular forms in the medieval West, including paraphrases of particular biblical books in verse and prose, short commentaries, dramatic works, devotional treatises, and visual art, Latin remained the unchallenged language for the text of the Bible itself. This situation, however, began to change in the closing years of the Middle Ages as developing vernacular idioms across western Europe began to challenge the linguistic authority of Latin as the only legitimate biblical language. While these challenges took root in the late-14th and 15th centuries, it was not until the onset of the Protestant Reformation in the early-16th century that they truly began to flower, resulting in the production of biblical translations on an unprecedented scale. England, in particular, was a hot-bed of Bible translation, witnessing no fewer than eight separate translation and revision efforts undertaken between 1525 and 1582, all culminating in the publication of the Authorized Version, better known as the King James Bible, in 1611. By the early-17th century there was no going back; the English Bible was here to stay.

In this special exhibition commemorating the 400th anniversary of the printing of this most influential of all English books, the Rare Books & Manuscripts Library of The Ohio State University Libraries opens a window onto its own collections to shed light on the pre-history of the King James Bible and its profound influence and abiding impact on the broad spiritual, literary, and cultural landscape of the English-speaking world. We invite you to explore the materials on display and discover for yourselves the truth behind the King James Bible translators’ words, “Translation… openeth the window, to let in the light.”

Eric J. Johnson, Curator

This is a temporary digital exhibit. It will be available January 7 through May 5, 2013. To find out why and to learn more about the project, please read our series of blog posts from the curator, the project manager, and the developers