An American scholar says he discovered a rare first edition of the King James Bible. The most widely read work in English Literature, the King James Bible is arguably the most influential English translation of the Bible ever produced.
Jeffrey Alan Miller, assistant professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, announced the findings on Wednesday (Oct. 14) in an article in the Times Literary Supplement, in which he explains that the King James Bible, organized as a group endeavor, may have been more than the product of individuals working alone, as previously thought.
Dr. Miller found an unassuming notebook, about the size of a modern paperback, in the archives at the University of Cambridge while researching there last fall.
The notebook, which dates from 1604 to 1608, consistent with when the Bible translation project first began. King James I first commissioned the new translation project in January of 1604, in response to Puritan critiques of previous English translations, like the Great Bible (1535) and the Bishops’ Bible (1568). Completed in 1611, the King James Bible is considered a towering achievement in English literature, as both beautiful and scholarly.
The notebook appears to have been a first draft, belonging to Samuel Ward, who was part of the team of seven men in Cambridge charged with translating the Apocrypha. Ward was a teaching Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge for almost 30 years, until his death in 1643. Ward’s manuscripts and notebooks were then placed into the college’s archives, where they remained relatively undisturbed until recently.
Dr. Miller’s discovery led him to conclude the translation of the King James was largely a collaborative effort. The translators appear to have been broken up into companies which were charged with doing their work on sections of Scripture as a group, rather than subdividing it by assigning individual books to individual translators.
“It was incredibly collaborative,” Professor Miller said. “But it was done in a much more complicated, nuanced, and at times individualistic way than we’ve ever really had good evidence to believe.”