A new interfaith exhibition that opens this week at the Vatican reveals how the roots of the 1611 King James Bible are almost entirely Catholic, despite the fact that the translation was often viewed as a highpoint of Protestant European culture.
“If it had not been for the Catholics of the 1500s, there would be no King James Bible,” exhibition organizer Cary Summers told EWTN News.
“Many of the original Bibles that formed the basis of the King James Bible came from Catholic priests. Very few changes were made. The ancient writings that the King James writers actually mimicked and copied were by Catholic priests,” he explained.
The “Verbum Domini” (Word of the Lord) exhibition runs from March 1 to April 15, coinciding with the seasons of Lent and Easter. The organizers describe it as a “highly contextual, interactive format” exhibit that aims to celebrate “the dramatic story of the Catholic contribution of the most-banned, most-debated, bestselling book of all time.”
They have also collected rare Jewish, Protestant and Orthodox artifacts to manifest a “shared love of God’s word” that exists among those religions. For that reason, the first room visitors enter is a scaled reproduction of the mid-third-century Synagogue of Dura Europos in Syria. Another exhibition highlight is the earliest known fragment of the Book of Genesis, which comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Summers gave EWTN News a preview tour of the exhibition on Feb. 22. The exhibition takes visitors through eight galleries and concludes with a replica of the Jerusalem Chamber in London’s Westminster Abbey, the place where the King James Bible was completed 400 years ago. (The abbey was originally Catholic.)
“Most people don’t understand the history of the King James Bible. There is a rich history, a very positive history of Catholic contribution to the creation of it,” Summers said.
The King James Bible was commissioned by King James I in 1604, only a year after the Scottish monarch ascended to the throne of England. A copy of the book was gifted to Pope Benedict XVI earlier this month by the current U.K. prime minister, David Cameron.
“The King James Bible has bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage, from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art,” Cameron said in a speech to mark the 400th anniversary of the work in December 2011.
A recent study suggested that there are more than 250 phrases and idioms in common English usage that have their origins in the language of the King James Bible. These include “how the mighty are fallen,” “the skin of my teeth,” “nothing new under the sun” and “the salt of the earth.”
The Vatican exhibition hopes to show that all Christians can share the King James Bible in common.
“Unfortunately we live in a world that locks in on all the negatives, and that’s how it’s spun,” Summers remarked.“But there’s ... a rest of the story which is very positive, too. And that’s what we are here to celebrate.”