The King James Bible: from 1611 to the 20th Century

This monumental task of Biblical translation had its beginnings in a conference of churchmen and theologians held in January 1604 at the Hampton Court Pal­ace of King James. Not much of importance came as a result of this conference except for a resolution that the whole Bible should be newly translated into English. To accomplish this task 54 men were ap­pointed. They were divided into a Greek and a He­brew group at each of the three locations of West­minster, Oxford, and Cambridge. These men were cho­sen because of their reputation as some of the lead­ing scholars of the day.

These are some of the 15 general rules the transla­tors were to follow. The Bishop's Bible (1602) was to be followed and altered as little as possible. No marginal notes of any kind were to be used, with the exception of the explanation of Greek and Hebrew words. Each man was to take the same text and trans­ late it himself. Then the entire group was to meet and agree upon the proper wording. For especially difficult passages aid was to be obtained from other learned men. Directors of the six groups mentioned above were to be the deans of Westminster and Ches­ter at Westminster and the King's professors of Greek and Hebrew at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

From this committee came what H. L. Mencken describes as "the most beautiful of all translations of the Bible; indeed, it is probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world...Its English is extraordinarily simple, pure, elo­quent, and lovely. It is a mine of lordly and in­ comparable poetry, at once the most stirring and the most touching ever heard of." The prose used is nearer that of the speech of England of 1500-1540 than of the current speech of 1611. About one-third of the text is worded as in the Tyndale translation. In the remaining two-thirds, where changes have been made, the sentences still follow the general pattern of structure laid down by Tyndale. Tyndale's New Testament first appeared in 1525. Of course the text is also indebted to Coverdale (1535) and to the Ge­neva Bible (1560). The translators were keenly a­ware of the sound of the text and as a result it is noted for its rhythm and cadence and smoothness. The text has been aptly described as embodying nobility, simplicity, directness, economy, strength, grace, and melody.

The first edition was printed in 1611 by the royal printer, Robert Barker. He had sole right from the crown to print English Bibles, books of common prayer statutes and proclamations. His printing shop was located in St. Paul's churchyard at the sign of the Tiger's Head. Of the actual printing, who the craftsmen, proofreaders, and so on were, we know little. The edition was probably one of 1500 copies, the usual number of volumes printed at that time. Although commonly known as the "Authorized" version, it was never formally authorized by any competent body in church or state. The first edition is also called the "He" Bible after a typographical error in Ruth 3:15. In the second edition, also 1611, this was corrected to "She".

The following editions of the King James Bible are on exhibition.

1611 First edition of the King James New Testament

1612-13 Robert Barker, London

1620 Bonham Norton, and John Bill, London

1683 John Hayes, Cambridge, 2 vols.

1763 John Baskerville, Cambridge

1802 Isaiah Thomas, Worcester, Mass.

1804 Benj. Johnson, Philadelphia, 4 vols.

1817 B. & J. Collins, New York

1903 Doves Press, 5 vols.

1924-26 Nonesuch Press, 5 vols.

1935 Oxford Lectern Bible, designed by Bruce Rogers

1935-36 Limited Editions Club, 5 vols.

1949 World Bible, designed by Bruce Rogers

1963 Nonesuch Press, 3 vols.

The first edition of the King James New Testament, 1611, is the gift of Mr. Robert A. Schmitt of Minneapolis. Mr.Schmitt, a lifelong resident of Minneapolis was President of the Paul A. Schmitt Music Company from 1935 until his recent retirement. He continues with the company as Chairman of the Board and is active in numerous cultural and philanthropic organizations. Mr. Schmitt's hobby is book-collecting, hence this valuable gift to the University of Minnesota Libraries.