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Whitworth one of 40 sites nationwide to host traveling exhibition in honor of King James Bible's 400th anniversary

March 26, 2012
Exhibit to run April 11-May 13

This spring, Whitworth University will be one of 40 sites nationwide, and only two in Washington state, selected to host "Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible," a traveling exhibition that celebrates the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the King James Bible in 1611 and examines its fascinating and complex history. The exhibit will open at Whitworth's Harriet Cheney Cowles Library April 11 and run through May 13. Admission is free. For more information, please call (509) 777-4751.

The Cowles Library is sponsoring free programs and other events for the public in conjunction with the exhibit. An opening reception and lecture by Whitworth Professor of Theology James R. Edwards will be held Thursday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Weyerhaeuser Hall. A panel discussion about the King James Bible will take place Monday, April 23, at 7 p.m. in the Robinson Teaching Theatre in Weyerhaeuser Hall. The panel will feature Whitworth Assistant Professor of Art Meredith Shimizu, who will talk about the Bible and art; Whitworth Professor of English Leonard Oakland, who will discuss the Bible and literature; and Gonzaga Professor of Religious Studies Linda Schearing, who will discuss the Bible and popular culture.

Schearing also will address this topic during presentations sponsored by the Spokane County Library District at the North Spokane Library on Wednesday, April 25, at 7 p.m., and at the Spokane Valley Library on Monday, April 30, at 7 p.m.

The traveling "Manifold Greatness" exhibit was organized by the Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington, D.C., and the American Library Association Public Programs Office. It is based on an exhibition of the same name developed by the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, with assistance from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, to mark the King James Bible's 400th anniversary. The traveling exhibit was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The traveling exhibit consists of high-quality reproductions of rare and historic books, manuscripts and works of art from the Folger and Bodleian collections, combined with interpretive text and related images. The only other site in Washington state that will host the exhibit is the Mid-Columbia Library District, in Kennewick.

"We are delighted to have been selected as a site for this exhibition," says Amy Rice, a librarian in Whitworth's Cowles Library. "The captivating history and influence of the King James Bible will interest many viewers. This exhibition shows how important this book has been in history and helps audiences to develop a new understanding of its social, cultural, literary, and religious influence over four centuries. We are also happy to involve our community partners—the Spokane Public Library, the Spokane County Library District, and Gonzaga University. Their contributions, in addition to those of Whitworth University's Archives and Special Collections, will complement the exhibit well."

The story behind the King James Bible remains surprisingly little known, despite the book's enormous fame. Translated over several years by six committees of England's top scholars, the King James Bible became the most influential English translation of the Bible and one of the most widely read books in the world. For many years, it was the predominant English-language Bible in the United States, where it is still widely read today. Even many of those whose lives have been affected by the King James Bible may not realize that less than a century before it was produced, the very idea of the Bible translated into English was considered dangerous and even criminal.

Equally compelling is the story of the book’s afterlife—its reception in the years that followed its first printing, and how it came to be ubiquitous. Essential to this story is the profound influence that it has had on personal lives and local communities—for example, the Bible became a place for many families to record births, deaths, marriages, and other important events in their history. The afterlife of the King James Bible is also reflected in its broad literary influence in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Many authors have demonstrated the influence of the language and style of the King James Bible on their work; among them John Milton, William Blake, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Allen Ginsberg, and Marilynne Robinson. In the 20th century, many poets and novelists – such as John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, William Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom, and Toni Morrison in The Song of Solomon – allude to the Bible in ways that enrich their narratives.

The words of the King James Bible are also heard in a far broader diversity of contexts, from Handel's Messiah and Linus's telling of the nativity story in A Charlie Brown Christmas, to sermons, public speeches, and the words of the Apollo 8 astronauts – heard live by half a billion to a billion listeners – as they orbited the moon on Christmas Eve 1968.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Amy Rice, librarian, Harriet Cheney Cowles Library, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4480 or

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or