The King James Bible and the day Osama bin Laden died

While the nation grappled with the news of Osama’s death, the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible was being celebrated.

VANCOUVER, Wa, May 12, 2011—The hotel room vibrated with the buzz of the 5:00 AM alarm, ending my restless night. Recovering from the long evening watching the extended coverage of bin Laden’s demise, I anxiously awaited the beginning of this day’s busy schedule.

The events of the evening before collided with a very exciting day for me and those others that enjoy the King James Bible. May 2 is the official date to celebrate the birthday of the world’s bestselling book, the King James Bible that was published in 1611, and I was speaking at the 400th Anniversary Celebration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  

Dr. Donald Brake at the Capitol Building for the 400th Anniversary celebration for the Kings James Bible.

Dr. Donald Brake at the Capitol Building for the 400th Anniversary celebration for the Kings James Bible.

Arriving early at the Senate side of the Capital, we observed the security and cleaning shifts calling out cheery hellos or goodbyes as the only pageantry of the moment. 

The actual date of the book’s publication is unknown, but tradition places its publication sometime in May. A London register, Stationer’s Register, recorded dates of new books as they were published. There is no record of the KJV published in the register. “The Translators to the Readers” in the introduction to the KJV identifies it as a revision of the Bishops’ Bible and not a new translation.

David Norton speculates that being considered a revision explains its absence in the register. The translators consulted most of the 16th century Bibles (as set forth in the 15 rules for translators), plus the Greek and Hebrew texts, during their work.

Perhaps the absence of the KJV from the Stationer’s Register can be explained another way.

The King’s printer, Robert Barker, had at least five printing presses, and possibly two or more print shops printing the new version. The printing of 732 large folio size leaves for each of about 2000 copies required many days of intensive labor.

The practice of printing on multiple presses, storage of leaves waiting to be bound, and individual binding may have made an actual day of publication difficult to set. Some copies may have been sold before the complete run was finished.  

The earliest verifiable date for the King James Bible appears in an entry, made November 21, in Arthur Throckmorton’s diary, stating he purchased a KJV in November of the year 1611. In one of the Bibles in the author’s census in A Royal Monument of English Literature describes another KJV that was sold in February 1612.

Whatever the explanation, no verifiable date can be assigned to its publication. Without any verifiable date, May 1611 is as good a possibility as any other. In reality, the King James Bible will be celebrated throughout the English speaking world during the entire year of 2011.

The President of the Capitol Hill Executive Service Club invited me to speak at their breakfast meeting. The members are a diverse group of retired and active duty Admirals and Generals, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, industry executives, heads of Non-Profit organizations and businesses, as well as former White House and Congressional staffers. 

In her letter of invitation, President Peggy Nienaber listed past distinguished speakers including Senators, Congressmen, Chiefs of our Armed Forces, Supreme Court Justices, NASA distinguished Astronauts and heads of numerous Federal Agencies, and Fortune 100 Companies.

While the gallery of distinguished speakers impressed me, flashes of adrenalin rushed through my decaffeinated veins. Sitting under an oil portrait of George Washington, I couldn’t help thinking, “What am I doing here?”

My topic “Greatest Literary Accident in English History” told the story of the King James Bible.  At the time, the Puritans cried for reform in the church. They didn’t like, among other things, the wedding ring ceremony, priests making a sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly-baptized, or the elaborate dress of the clergy.

Dissension led King James to call a conference at Hampton Court to discuss these Church matters, and on the second day of the conference, and without much warning, Puritan John Rainolds rose to his feet and called for a new translation to unite both Anglicans and Puritans.

To the surprise of everyone, King James liked the idea and commissioned a new translation.

James appointed 54 of England’s finest scholars to translate the Bible, using past translations with special emphasis on the Bishops’ Bible (1568). One could only dream of a bestseller from a committee. Wouldn’t the endless arguments and resultant compromise dilute its quality?

Dr. Donald Brake reading from the King James Bible outside the Capitol in Washing

Dr. Donald Brake reading from the King James Bible outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

However, four hundred years later, the King James Bible is the most distinguished book of prose and poetry ever written in the English language.

My first presentation behind me, we walked through the Capitol’s halls to the steps that bear the weight of our Presidents as they breathe the oath of office, and that today lead to the King James Expo (2011) hosted by The Bible Nation Society on the National Mall, held in the “shadow” of the Capitol building.

There are many things to see and do. A display of rare Bibles traced English Bible history from the earliest manuscripts to the 1611 KJV, while a working replica of the Gutenberg printing press delighted visitors as they interacted with history by printing their own 1611 leaf of the Ten Commandments

Included in the anniversary celebration was a symposium, the King James Bible Lecture Series, held at George Washington University. My presentation “A Visual History of the King James Bible” included, of course, a visual power-point explanation.

On the second day of the KJB 2011 Expo, participants stood in front of the reflecting pool with the Capitol behind, and read from the King James Bible. I was thrilled to read Psalm 87 from my original leaf of the first edition of the 1611 King James Bible.

A year-long celebration of the English language bestseller seems appropriate. The two-day celebration was a wonderful kickoff of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. 

Whatever is said about the King James Bible, it is the most influential book ever written in the English language. You may prefer a modern translation for study and devotion, but the KJV is still the Bible with a unique language style that enhances worship and inspiration.

Read more about the World’s Best-Selling Book in The Washington Times Communities. 

-cl- 5/16/11 

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.

Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.


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