The latest in a series of “House of Learning” lectures in the HBLL, “The King James Bible: Cast of Characters” officially opened the exhibition on the first floor of the library.
Professor Kent Jackson spoke on Thursday about the people and the process that led to the commission of the King James version of the Bible, beginning with the original authors.
“They are our first and perhaps most important characters,” Jackson said.
He said while the Roman empire ruled, the writings of the original authors were compiled and translated from the original Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) into Latin. Latin, at the time, was familiar to most people, which is where the name “Latin Vulgate” comes from, “Vulgate” meaning something like vulgar, or common. It was language understandable to common people.
Jackson said eventually, Latin died as a language, and was no longer spoken. This made it impossible for common people to read and understand it. The first to translate the writings into English was John Wycliffe, who directly translated from Latin. The translation was too literal, and he was opposed by the church because of his protestant views. After Wycliffe’s death, his remains were exhumed, burned and scattered.
According to Jackson, soon after Wycliffe’s death, capital punishment was attached to translation of the Latin Vulgate into English. Almost 100 years later, William Tyndale began translation into English. He worked in parts, hoping to avoid notice. His translation was based on the original Hebrew and Greek, instead of the Latin Vulgate. His translation became the basis for the King James Version of the Bible 90 years later.
Jackson said King Henry VIII, who created the Church of England, legalized translation of the Bible and commissioned Myles Coverdale to print an English translation. They borrowed heavily from Tyndale’s translation and created the Coverdale Bible. King James was depicted on the title page, along with Adam and Eve and other Bible figures.
Eventually, versions of the Bible were produced with the commentary of professional scholars in the margins. This allowed the people to not only read the Bible but understand it according to the interpretation given in the commentary.
According to Jackson, King James wanted an authorized version of the Bible for use in churches, and which would unify the people by using the same English translation.
“When the King James Version was published in 1611, it included an 11 page small-print introduction called ‘Translators to the Reader’,” Jackson said. “It was written by Miles Smith, one of the translators. In an extraordinary display of prose and fine arguments, Smith made the translator’s case for publication of the Bible in the contemporary language of its readers.”
When King James commissioned the version that would be named after him, he gave many rules for the translators. One of those rules was that there was to be no commentary in the margins.
“The hope was that with no commentary in the margins, people would need to turn to the church for interpretation and understanding of the Bible,” Jackson said.
However, that was not the effect. Many protestant churches were then able to interpret the Bible as they wished, and it allowed for many people, including Joseph Smith, to personally search for the meaning of passages.
“The absence of commentary would leave the reader with only the Holy Ghost for their guide,” Jackson said. “The King James Version of the Bible was gradually accepted, then loved, and finally revered.”