In recognition of this year’s 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (the English translation by the Church of England of the Christian Bible), Special Collections unveiled a new show, “Gather all nations & tongues: Rare & Unique Bibles from Haverford College,” yesterday in the Sharpless Gallery of Magill Library. John Anderies, head of special collections, said that in preparation for the show his team pulled roughly 500 bibles from the College’s archives. Finally, the team whittled that number down to about two dozen extraordinary specimens for the exhibit.
One such specimen is a large (more than a foot tall) original edition of the King James Bible from 1611, the year it was first published. (Fun fact: the King James Bible was initially sold as a large folio edition in loose leaf for 10 shillings or bound for 12.) The show also includes a London Polyglot Bible (1653-1658), which is written in nine languages: Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Samaritan and Persian. Another polyglot bible in the exhibition was once owned by William Penn.
The books in the collection can be dated from the 13th to the 20th centuries and span languages from the ancient (Latin, Greek, Hebrew) to the exotic (the show features missionary bibles from the 19th century that were written in Burmese, Bengali and Tamil, and a version of the Gospel of John from 1818 that is translated into Mohawk, Delaware and Ojibwe for the purpose of converting the Native Americans). Check this gallery to see more photos.
Because the bible is the most translated book in the world, it is not only a religious text that guides the lives of many, but also traces the development of language and human migration. As such, this show is about more than just a stunning collection of rare books; it also tells a story of Christianity, its followers and the development of the Western world.
The show will be up in Sharpless Gallery through September 16.