Traveling exhibition on the King James Bible opens in Poughkeepsie

King James, 1608, Folger Shakespeare Library

“It lives on the ear, like music that can never be forgotten, like the sound of church bells.” So wrote the 19th-century English theologian and hymn composer Frederick William Faber of the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible, commonly known today as the King James Bible. It has been called “the most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language” and “the most celebrated book in the English-speaking world.”

The King James Bible has contributed 257 idioms to the English language – more than any other single source, including Shakespeare – and remains the most popular translation in the US. In spite of many efforts to market more modernized and “relevant” translations, Protestants and others still cling to the archaic-sounding poetry of what many still regard as the Authorized Version.

But perhaps the text’s familiarity makes us take it for granted. There’s a whole fascinating history behind the politics of how the King James Bible came to be commissioned, what ecclesiastical and stylistic priorities were laid down for the translators, whether the Apocrypha should be included or excluded and so on. You can find out much more about it by visiting “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” a touring exhibition organized by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC and the American Library Association and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibit is based on last year’s exhibition of the same name developed by the Folger and the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, with assistance from the University of Texas, to mark the 400th anniversary of the revered tome’s publication. It opens to the public on Tuesday, May 29 in the Rotunda Gallery at the Adriance Memorial Library in Poughkeepsie – one of only 40 libraries in the nation where it will be shown – and runs through June 29.

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“Manifold Greatness” offers a “biography” of one of the world’s most widely read books. The 14 artistic display panels combine fascinating narrative text with beautiful images of rare books, manuscripts and works of art to trace the extraordinary process of translating and printing the King James Bible, and its multifaceted impact on the world. In examining the four-century lifespan of the translation, the exhibit looks at such details as the role of the “family Bible” as a place to record important family events; the translation’s literary influence on a wide spectrum of poets and writers; and the appearance of King James texts in works as familiar and diverse as Handel’s Messiah and the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas.

In addition to the educational display at the Adriance, nine public programs and a movie series are planned, giving the community an opportunity learn about the history of the King James Bible and gain a better understanding of the book’s social, cultural, literary and religious influence. Scholars from Bard, Dutchess Community, Marist and Vassar Colleges will offer a series of presentations, including “The Challenges of Translation,” “The Influence of the King James Bible in American Religious History,” “The Bible as Literature,” “The History of the Printed Bible,” “The Influence of the King James Bible on Language and Linguistics” and “The Bible in Hollywood.” An opening reception featuring Vassar’s Dr. Ronald Patkus will take place on Wednesday, May 30 at 7 p.m. in the Auditorium at the Library.

The Gallery is open for viewing every day during regular Library hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. All exhibit-related events are open to the public free of charge. Adriance’s Gallery is located at 93 Market Street and the Auditorium at 105 Market Street, Poughkeepsie. Call (845) 485-3445, extension 3702, for more information.

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