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.

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