In November, the York College History, English, and Bible departments hosted a two-night symposium on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. The presentations from this event are now available for viewing on the YC Youtube channel.
About the Symposium
‘To Make a Good One Better’York College faculty explore impact of King James translation of the Bible
Every day people, not just leaders of the church, should be allowed to read the Bible. Therefore, it should be available in the language that every day people speak: English.
This radical idea, wrought with political upheaval, religious persecution, and the blood of many scholars and their supporters, eventually brought forth the most influential book in Western culture, the King James Bible.
Since its publication in 1611, its impact has been felt in every area of society, from politics and business to literature and art. This translation, originally so steeped in controversy, is still in print and is widely used today.
To recognize the 400th anniversary of this work, faculty from the English, Bible, and History departments hosted a symposium on the publication on campus in November.
“No other book in history has had such an impact on any culture for 400 years,” says Dr. Frank Wheeler, chair of the Biblical Studies department and professor of Bible. During this anniversary year, symposiums are being held around the world, he notes. “We’re not celebrating it as the best translation. We are simply recognizing that it’s had such an impact culturally.”
“’To Make a Good One Better’: The King James Bible, 1611-2011” was presented over two evenings, November 8 and 29 in the Mackey Center.
Assistant Professor of English Josh Fullman and Associate Professor of Bible Dr. Terry Seufferlein presented on the political turmoil in England in the 14th through 16th centuries that brought about the King James Bible. “It was a dangerous time to be a Bible translator,” said Fullman. Those who sought to bring scripture to the masses in the common man’s tongue, such as John Wycliffe and William Tyndale, were dealt with severely for their challenge to religious tradition and authority.
The idea that individuals should have access to the Bible, that they should read it and interpret its meaning for themselves, was revolutionary. Church leaders feared that if laymen could read scripture, Christianity (and by extension, the power of the church-led government) would splinter, and dangerous heresies would abound.
Wycliffe, the first to translate the New Testament from Latin to English, was arrested, but died of a stroke prior to his execution. More than 150 years later, Tyndale was executed for the same effort. His famed last words before being strangled at the stake were, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes."Tyndale’s final prayer was answered, as four years after his death an English translation of the Bible was produced at the request of the crown.
Beyond the fascinating historical milieu of the translation, Assistant Professor of English Beverly McNeese explored the impact of the work on language and literature through the ages. Wheeler concluded the event with his presentation "In the Wake of the King James Bible,” which traced the reception of the new translation, both positive and negative. He noted that it was several decades before the King James Bible was widely accepted.
Once it became the primary Bible for most in England and America, the method and theory of translation used continued to influence later Bible translation projects. Wheeler concluded with a brief analysis of more recent English translations.
Moderator Tim McNeese, associate professor of history, brought much to the symposium as he arranged an extensive display of artifacts and facsimiles pertaining to the translation. Attendees were able to view illuminated manuscripts, an authentic reproduction of an original King James Bible, a leaf from an original, 400-year-old KJV Bible and other significant documents and items, including a rare coin collection from the period. Students modeled costumes authentic to the time and Renaissance-style refreshments were served to make the glimpse into the world of the King James Bible more complete for audience members.
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