The Corner

The Big Apple Celebrates the King James Bible

There was a party this evening at Broadway and West 61st in Manhattan, to celebrate a remarkable exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art. The exhibition, “On Eagles’ Wings: The King James Bible Turns 400,” features over 50 Bibles of historical interest — including a copy of the KJV itself from its 1611 printing, whose anniversary we commemorate this year. There are other KJVs on display, showing the printing history of this beloved translation over the centuries.

A couple of my favorite items on display actually predate the KJV. There is a manuscript from circa 1440, on vellum, of a Wycliffe Bible. Wycliffe was a proto-Protestant Bible translator and ancestor of the Hussites; he was not martyred, as his successor Tyndale would be, but church authorities expressed their posthumous disapproval of his work by digging up his remains and tossing them in the river. The global success of the KJV is a vindication of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the 16th-century Reformers: giants on whose shoulders we stand today.

Another couple of personal favorites are volumes of the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible (NT, 1582; OT and Apocrypha, 1609-10): I have a great fondness for the Douay-Rheims, especially in its mid-18th-century revision by Bishop Challoner, which makes it significantly more easily understandable for today’s readers than the KJV is. (Just about every copy of the Douay-Rheims you can buy today is a copy of the Challoner revision.) Indeed, I sometimes wonder: If the Reformation had failed, and Western Christendom had been united under the papacy, would we now be having exhibitions about the Douay-Rheims as “the book that changed the world,” whose language shaped nations, and so on? Or would a re-Romanized West have resisted the Biblicism that has been the hallmark of Protestant Christianity during its ascendancy?

The exhibit is utterly fascinating, not just for the historic volumes on display, but for the paintings of noted artist Makoto Fujimura. The works were commissioned by Crossway Publishing, to illustrate a new volume of The Four Gospels.

So if you’re visiting NYC between now and October 16, please consider checking out this lovely display of very old Bibles, and very new paintings, at the Museum of Biblical Art.

PS: One of the things I love about New York is there always seem to be new things to love about New York. At the reception tonight, a splash of color on the calf of a 20something young woman compelled my attention. It was a red heart in the middle of a delicately ornamented circle. Could it be? I thought. So I asked her about the design, and she said that yes, indeed, it was a Lutheran symbol! It looked something like this, only the circle on the young lady’s calf was somewhat darker. It turns out she is a Lutheran from Texas; kudos to her for showing the flag in this striking manner.

I also got to chat with a tall, stunning strawberry-blonde college professor — early 30s, I’d guess  — from Sweden, who assured me that Ingmar Bergman’s stark portrayals of the Church of Sweden are quite accurate; she herself is of Pentecostal leanings. Since meeting her a few hours ago, I have tried to picture members of Manhattan’s rocking Times Square Church in the pews of Gunnar Björnstrand’s bleak Swedish church in Bergman’s Winter Light, and vice versa: Both images bring a smile to my face, but they remind me of something serious and reassuring — that while the ways in which we reach out to God are staggeringly diverse, there is only one God at the end of our paths.

It is sometimes said that if you stand in the middle of Times Square long enough you will meet everyone you ever knew. That is a traditional tribute to the diversity of this marvelous city — of which I got a couple of very welcome reminders this evening.

CORRECTION: I initially wrote that the exhibit was at the American Bible Society. The Bible Society is located in the same building, but the exhibit is at the Museum of Biblical Art.

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