400 year old bible goes on display

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The 1611 bible was the first to be printed in English rather than Latin

AN original copy of the 1611 King James Bible has gone on display to mark the 400th anniversary of its publication.

The book – widely regarded as one of the most influential books in the English language – will be the centrepiece of a display which opens today (Wed) at the National Library of Scotland.

The display tells the story of the Bible in English from some of the earliest translations, which were often ruthlessly suppressed, through to the approved King James version of 1611 which became the standard text used in churches and remains the most popular English translation.

The history of Bible translations into English is a long and complex one. Translations of the New Testament appeared in 1380 but it was not until the 15th century that the first complete English translation was produced.

The ability to hear and read the Bible in English rather than Latin was promoted by key figures such as the Protestant reformer and translator William Tyndale but condemned as heresy by the religious authorities. Tyndale himself was burned at the stake.

Copies had to be printed overseas and smuggled back but many were seized and publicly burned. The display will feature the only known copy of the 1537 edition of Tyndale’s translation of the book of Jonah, a rare example of his work that evaded the book burners.

Anette Hagan, senior rare books curator who has put the display together, said: “This fascinating display showcases both manuscripts and printed copies of the landmark translations into English. In this 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, it charts the important milestones on the road to 1611.”

It is estimated the King James Bible has sold more than a billion copies around the world in the last 400 years. It is celebrated today as a major achievement of the English language and has left us with phrases such as ‘let there be light,’ ‘eat, drink and be merry,’ ‘the skin of my teeth,’ ‘writing on the wall’ and ‘fight the good fight’ that are still in daily use.

Entry to the display at the NLS on George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh is free. It runs until January 8.

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