Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

King James Version Anniversary Celebrations

The 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorized Version, popularly known as the King James Version, has stimulated various commemorations and celebrations. The King James Bible Trust was established to organize and track commemorations of the anniversary; its website tracks events around the world. It shows that events are being organized to commemorate and further ritualize all three dimensions of this iconic translation.

In the performative dimension, the Trust is sponsoring a "competition for young composers, using texts from the KJV" in choral compositions. Many commemorations focus on reading the KJV aloud: Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London began its 2011 season with an eight-day long "unstaged cover-to-cover reading of The King James Bible recited between Palm Sunday, 17 April and Easter Monday, 25 April" (ICN March 22).

In the semantic dimension, various lectures, symposia and conferences are focusing scholarly attention on the KJV. The largest is probably the Society of Biblical Literature's International Meeting which is being held in London in July in honor of the anniversary. Twenty-four papers will address the nature of the translation and its literary influence, themes that are also getting attention at the society's annual meetings in Atlanta last November and in San Francisco this coming November.

In the iconic dimension, many libraries and museums are mounting exhibits in honor of the anniversary, ranging from displays of a couple of historic copies such as at Auburn University to the larger display in the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth Palace. Some museums have seized on the anniversary to stage more general exhibits about Bibles, such as at the University of Toronto and the "Passages" exhibit of the Oklahahoma City Museum of Art, a "14,000-square-foot interactive, multimedia exhibition for all ages." A collaboration between the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, the American Library Association, and the National Endowment for the Humanities is offering three copies of a travelling exhibit to forty U.S. libraries in 2011 through 2013.

All this activity ritualizing the three dimensions of the KJV should reinforce its prestige in English-spearking cultures, despite the competition from ever-more translations in more contemporary idioms.

The Ezekiel Plates

The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israel Museum is trying to date the mysterious Ezekiel Plates. These 66 stone tiles containing the entire Hebrew text of the book of Ezekiel were reportedly found in the traditional tomb of Ezekiel in Iraq.
... each marble or black basalt tile is about 12 inches square and contains raised lettering on one side in an ancient Hebraic script, with no spaces between the words. Examples of such raised lettering are known from the distant past, though most ancient stone tablets had the words etched or chiseled into the stone.

... the tiles were supposedly found over 100 years ago when visitors to the traditional tomb of Ezekiel in the small Iraqi town of Kfar al-Kafil, located about 50 miles south of Baghdad, noticed a stone tile had fallen off the inside of the burial chamber. Oddly, its back side contained an ancient lettering which had been deliberately hidden, facing the wall. Other tiles were removed and similar inscriptions were found on their back sides as well.
An explanation for this tomb inscription may be provided by the Talmud:
... there is an old Talmudic tradition that Israel's prophets and other great sages were often buried with copies of their writings. One such Talmudic legend held that the original book of Ezekiel was buried with the prophet in his tomb and was left there to be revealed in the last days.
That may not help in dating the text. But it does suggest that the Ezekiel Plates may be examples of eschatalogical texts that were created to be buried until a future or last age (see my previous blog entry, Burying Iconic Books).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tripitaka Koreana (3)

I have twice already blogged about the Tripitaka Koreana (here and here), the 13th-century collection of 88,000 wooden printing blocks of Buddhist sutras stored and displayed in the Haeinsa monestary in Korea. On Sunday, I was lucky to see a procession in Seoul that began the cellebrations of the millenial anniversary of the carving of the original set of printing blocks. Participants carried reproductions of the print blocks on their heads or backs through the streets of the city, preceded by palanquins containing more blocks and followed by dancers and soldiers in period costumes. It was a vivid example of how ritualizing the iconic dimension of texts allows broad participation by lay people who are unlikely to have the linguistic skills necessary to read and interpret these Chinese texts.