Home Maidenhead News and Events Bodleian Library Visit 2011

Visit to the Bodleian Library and King James Bible Exhibition

Oxford, Thursday 23rd June 2011

Our Group's visit to Oxford was a great success. The Bodleian is Oxford University’s library, with the oldest part, Duke Humphrey's Library, dating from the 15th century. The Bodleian also includes the l7th century Convocation House used for conferring degrees and the Gothic-style Divinity School. This summer, the Bodleian is holding an exhibition to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, which tells the story of the most frequently printed book in the English language.

We first had a tour of the University’s famous Library.  The introductory talk took place in the Divinity School, a beautiful hall whose ceiling bosses record the 15th century donors, and where students were taught theology.  Then we visited a succession of reading rooms, including the exquisite Duke Humfrey’s Library, founded by a brother of Henry V. Thomas Bodley, a learned  and wealthy Elizabethan, extended the Library and donated his great book collection, arranged in the first floor-to-ceiling cases, access to which made the chaining of valuable books no longer necessary.  We learned some remarkable statistics about the number of volumes & maps, the scale of the underground storage & access systems enabling researchers to be supplied efficiently with the resources they need. The head librarian is still known as Bodley’s Librarian. We were then shown the Radcliffe Camera, one of many separate buildings which constitute the Bodleian, the first domed library to be built in Britain, and which contains history books.

At leisure, we then visited King James’ Bible exhibition. Two of the 6 ‘companies’ set up by order of James I to produce a new translation of the Bible met in Oxford.  The excellent exhibition included earlier translations of the Bible which the King was determined to replace. It showed how the translators went about their task, some early editions of the new Bible and an investigation of how the new translation was received – it met with considerable resistance during the 17th century before becoming generally accepted.

Four days later, several of our members took the opportunity to hear a lecture on the King James’ Bible given in St.George’s Chapel by Adam Nicolson who has written, broadcast and headed television programmes on King James's Bible (KJB). The invitation to give the anniversary lecture was prompted by a meeting in the House of Commons’ restaurant of Canon Woodward and Frank Field MP, who is the chairman of the King James’ Bible Trust and who attended the lecture.

Adam Nicolson gave a lively account of how the KJB came to be written: in the decades after Henry VIII’s Reformation several translations, Protestant & Catholic, had been printed, each with its supporters and critics. Then followed an amusing analysis of James 1’s character and intentions. As king of Scotland he envied  the status and authority enjoyed by Elizabeth 1 in England; he longed to be King of England and on his succession in 1603 wished to show off his learning and exercise his authority as head of the Church of England. He had no intention of pleasing his Puritan subjects by legitimising the Geneva Bible translated by exiled English Protestants in which the Greek word for “king” was repeatedly rendered as “tyrant” and that for a “church” as “congregation”!

The six translation “companies”, two each in Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster, consisted not only of university theologians and leading churchmen but also of learned lay members of the community. The way the sections of the Old and New testaments allocated to each translator were thoroughly reviewed by his committee proved highly effective. Adam Nicholson concluded his learned and entertaining lecture with readings of Biblical passages from different translations, showing how the beauty and majesty of the language of the King James Bible makes it the most important work written in English and in turn influenced many other writers including Shakespeare, Milton and T. S. Eliot.

Prepared by Jill Hume, who arranged the Oxford trip,

June 2011


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