From King James to Charlie Brown

By Katherine Duke '05


What do Handel’s Messiah, Emily Dickinson’s writings and A Charlie Brown Christmas have in common? They all show the influence of the same book—a translation of the Bible whose 400th birthday is occasion for an upcoming exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.


Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible will open this September. The Folger produced it jointly with the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, with help from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. (The Bodleian and the Ransom Center each have their own version of the exhibition.) Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a partnership with the American Library Association, a traveling display will visit 40 libraries nationwide.


King James I, the Folger exhibition explains, wasn’t among the four dozen prominent clergymen-scholars who developed the translation, but as supreme governor of the Church of England, he gave approval for the project to begin in 1604. When the translation was completed and printed in 1611, its dedication to James proclaimed that “Great and manifold were the blessings” when God made him king. The King James Version of the Bible (“KJV” for short) became one of the most important and widely read books ever produced in English.

Manifold Greatness explores the KJV’s historical context, translation, printing and subsequent far-reaching impact on the arts and culture. And we mean far-reaching: on the exhibition’s website,, you can hear a recording from Christmas Eve 1968, when the Apollo 8 crew read from the KJV while in orbit around the moon.

See for yourself
Manifold Greatness runs from Sept. 23, 2011, to Jan. 14, 2012, in Washington, D.C., at the Folger Shakespeare Library (which opened in 1932 with a gift from Henry Clay Folger, Class of 1879, and his wife, Emily, and is administered under the auspices of Amherst Col­lege). Tickets are free. The traveling exhibition will appear in 40 libraries around the country (exact locations to be determined) from fall 2011 through winter 2013. Visit and