Monday, October 19, 2015

The Oldest Surviving Draft of The King James Bible Found

The Bible is the most printed book in the world; and the King James Bible specifically is the most read book in the English language. Some of the most famous phrases originate from this book, such as “a man after his own heart”. The book is both full of interesting stories and yet, elusive. The most recent news regarding this book is that a historian believes that he’s found the oldest copy that’s been ‘hidden’in the Cambridge University’s archives.

The manuscript was found at the department where Samuel Ward’s papers are kept. Namely, Samuel Ward was one of the people commissioned by King James I to translate the Bible into English language, back in the early 17th century.

Professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, Jeffrey Miller, stumbled across the 400 year old notebook while he was doing some research. In the article, published about this discovery, at the Times Literary Supplement, Miller said that notebook is not only the oldest copy ever found, but also the only one written in hand by one of its actual translators.

"Ward's draft alone bears all the signs of having been a first draft, just as it alone can be definitively said to be in the hand of one of the King James translators themselves," Miller wrote.

The King James Bible was published in 1611 and has been reproducing ever since. But, not only that, the King James Bible is probably the most read book in English literature and many phrases and figures of speech originated from it, such as “out of the mouths of babes," "at their wit's end" and "eat, drink and be merry" and so on. However, very few original documents of its original translation have survived.

"I think it is a fascinating discovery, and wholly credible," Jason BeDuhn, a professor of comparative study of religions at Northern Arizona University, told Live Science. "The more we can learn about the process by which the King James Bible was produced, the more realistic our assessment of its merits becomes."

Ward was of a part of the team of translators that King James gathered from London, Cambridge and Oxford to write an English version of the Bible. They were also tasked to improve on it in order to better reflect the principals of the English Church. Later on, Ward was promoted to master of Sidney Sussex, which is a college within the University of Cambridge, and his notebook and manuscripts ended up in the archives. Back in 1980s, the notebook was labeled with “Greek word studies and some Hebrew notes”as “verse-by-verse biblical commentary” by MS Ward B. Miller came to the realization that it may be the original manuscript of the translator when he stumbled upon notes and translations of the Apocrypha, a section of the Bible that is excluded from many modern versions of the Bible.

"This discovery helps us recapture the human side of the translation process," BeDuhn said. "I especially like Prof. Miller's description of Ward trying out phrasing, crossing it out and trying something else. This is the real work of translation caught in the act."

Miller’s arguments in defending the originality of the notes he found, pertain to certain verses in the Apocrypha which could only be found in Bibles prior to the King James Bible, such as: “1 Esdras 6:32 describes a declaration of King Darius, which states that anyone found disobeying his decrees "of his own goods should a tree be taken, and he thereon be hanged."”

"Proposing a revision to the front half of the passage, Ward at first began, 'A tre,' but then crossed it out," Miller explained. "No, 'out of h,' he started writing on second thought, but then crossed that out, too. At last, he reverted back to the more straightforward construction with which he had abortively begun, which also more closely mirrors the Greek of the passage: 'a tree should be taken out of his possession.'"

Ward’s suggestions were not accepted, as it seems, since the King James Bible reads “out of his own house should a tree be taken, and he thereon be hanged.”

The significance of this discovery is even bigger if we consider that this not only is the oldest surviving draft of any section of the King James Bible; it is also the only known draft to contain any part of the Apocrypha.


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