Canterbury's King James Bible
2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. The KJB is one of the foundation stones of western culture, and of the modern English language.
The University of Canterbury possesses one of only two copies of the original 1611 printing in Australasia. This site was created to record an exhibition that took place in Christchurch to mark the anniversary. It also provides an introduction to research into the KJB being undertaken at Canterbury.
The origins of the text that would become the KJB lie in a slow process that took place over a period of two millennia. Whether considered as a collection of fables and moral lessons or viewed as the cornerstone of what remains to this day the world’s largest religion, Christianity, the Bible’s literary and historical importance is difficult to ignore.
Throughout most of the Middle Ages western Europe employed a Latin version of the Bible. During the 16th century a period of religious and political turmoil known as the Reformation saw the medieval Church splinter into Catholic and Protestant factions. It was only at this time that various versions of the Bible in English became widespread.
The KJB was the product of attempts in early 17th century England to establish a commonly accepted English Bible. Canterbury’s 1611 copy is one of only two examples of the first printing now in Australasia. It originally formed part of the library of Christ’s College, Christchurch. UC also holds a 1613 edition.
The KJB was an outstanding publishing success. The text has remained in print for 400 years, and has appeared in numerous formats. Its influence stretches from poets such as Milton to composers such as Handel.
The continuing impact of the KJB remains at its clearest in literature. It also finds a broader role in contemporary culture, and is to be found everywhere from the Billboard charts to the inauguration ceremonies of US presidents.
The Lincoln Bible courtesy of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
The ‘Burstow KJB Project’, set up to commemorate the 400th anniversary and based in the History Programme at Canterbury, was established to unravel the provenance and nature of a KJB still held by the parish church of Burstow in the UK. It is simultaneously exploring the origins of Canterbury’s own copy.