'To make a good one better': translating the Bible
New Testament title page from the second edition of the King James BibleTruly (good Christian reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, ... but to make a good one better.
These words, taken from the preface to the first edition of the King James Bible, place this most famous of all English Bibles in a continuum of Biblical translation, each new translation building on and refining the versions which have preceded it.
In this exhibition, conceived to mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible in 1611, we draw on King’s College London’s world class holdings of printed Bibles to explore the story behind their creation – the struggles and setbacks faced by translators and publishers and some of the dilemmas involved in the act of translating an ancient sacred text into a spoken language of today. The exhibition also illuminates the part which King’s College London has played – and continues to play – in the advancement of Biblical scholarship.
It has been estimated that the Bible has been translated into over 2,000 languages and dialects. Some of these translations, such as the King James Bible, have had profound effects on the languages into which they have been translated. Many have been controversial, and translators sometimes undertook their work at considerable peril. Translated Bibles could act as a force for change, political and religious, illustrated in this exhibition by a selection of important Reformation Bibles, in whose widespread distribution and influence the invention of the printing press played an essential part.
The expansion of Europe’s maritime empires from the 16th century onwards stimulated much missionary activity, as Europeans came into increasing contact with non-Christian cultures. The missionaries’ wish to give people a Bible in their own language led to the creation of numerous new translations of the Bible, some of which are displayed here.
Many of the items in this exhibition are taken from the Foyle Special Collections Library’s Marsden Collection, the library of the linguistic scholar William Marsden (1754–1836), who assembled a matchless collection of printed Bibles from all over the world. We are delighted also to display an image from the 21st century Saint John’s Bible, a masterpiece of contemporary fine printing and illumination.
I warmly welcome this exhibition. The expressed aim of the translators of the King James Bible not only describes exactly what they thought they were doing, but also what has happened over the 400 years since 1611, and what is our continuing purpose in Biblical interpretation and scholarship here at King's College London today.
The Rev Prof Richard A Burridge, Dean of King's College London and professor of Biblical interpretation
Exhibition curator: Katie Sambrook
In this exhibition
- The first English Bible
- The Elizabethan Bible
- The King James Bible
- Luther and the German Bible
- The European Bible
- The Missionary Bible
- The English Bible after King James
- The Saint John's Bible
- 'The seeds of learning, virtue and religion': Biblical scholarship at King's College London