Contact: Yvonne French (202) 707-9191
May 15, 1997
First Printed English New Testament To Be Displayed at the Library of Congress
Monday, June 2 - 2 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson Building
10 First St. S.E.
The first printed English translation of the New Testament will be on view at the Library of Congress from June 4 to September 6 in an exhibition titled "Let There Be Light: William Tyndale and the Making of the English Bible."
"By integrating history, theology and literature, this exhibition tells the history of English-language Bibles and the remarkable story of the life and work of English priest William Tyndale," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
The guest speaker at the press preview will be David Daniell, author of William Tyndale: A Biography, and an emeritus professor of English at the University of London. The preview will be held in the North Great Hall Gallery on the first floor of the Jefferson Building.
William Tyndale (1494-1536) translated the New Testament from the original Greek and had it printed in 1526. He devoted his life to the project in order to "cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures." Tyndale, a Catholic priest, became a martyr for his efforts when he was executed as a heretic in 1536.
Tyndale's achievements and struggles can be understood only in context of his times, laws and traditions. The Latin translation of the original Hebrew and Greek, known as the "common version" or the "Vulgate," was made in the fourth century A.D. by St. Jerome. For nearly a thousand years, any attempts to correct or clarify parts of the text were usually branded as heresy. Nonetheless, translations from the Vulgate into vernacular languages were made throughout Europe, including such famous translations as Martin Luther's German Bible in 1522.
Tyndale's lucid translations of the New Testament, as well as the Old, later became the basis of the King James Authorized Version in 1611. Many common phrases come from Tyndale's vernacular version, including "the powers that be," "the salt of the earth" and "eat, drink and be merry."
The 706-page New Testament owned by the British Library is pocket-sized, bound in crimson leather and richly illuminated. Also in the exhibition will be the recently discovered Stuttgart Copy, which is complete with title page and preserved in its original binding, on loan from the Wrttemberg State Library in Stuttgart. The only other known copy of Tyndale's New Testament, in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, has 59 leaves missing.
The display of the 1526 New Testaments is augmented by other books and documents from the Library of Congress and the British Library. Among items on display from the Library of Congress are the 1611 King James Bible, King Henry VIII's 1521 Advocacy of the Seven Sacraments Against Martin Luther, the 1553 edition of Martin Luther's New Testament, also called the September Testament, and the 1610 edition of John Foxe's Actes and Monuementes (Foxe's Book of Martyrs), which includes a chronicle of Tyndale's life.
Tyndale first began his translations in England, but was dogged by church and civil authorities who were upholding a ban on translating the Bible into English. He moved to Germany, where Luther had successfully completed his translation. There Tyndale continued to study Erasmus's Greek New Testament and Luther's New Testament. Tyndale completed his translation in Cologne in 1525.
He took it to printer Peter Quentell, who reportedly had printed 10 sheets of the New Testament when his press was shut down by Cologne officials. The "Cologne Fragment" is so called because it is all that is known to survive of Tyndale's attempt to print his New Testament in Cologne in 1525. The Fragment is also in the exhibition on loan from the British Library.
Tyndale fled to Worms, where, in February 1526, printer Peter Schoeffer completed a run of between 3,000 and 6,000 New Testaments. The books were shipped in bales of cloth down the Rhine and smuggled into ports in the south and east of England. Many were collected by order of the Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall, and ceremonially burned in October 1526 in front of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Tyndale then fled to Antwerp, where he began to translate the Old Testament. He printed the first five books of the Old Testament and revised his New Testament between 1528 and 1534. To the Roman Catholic Church, King Henry VIII and the English authorities, Tyndale was a heretic. Sir Thomas More denounced him in his writings, calling him a "beast" and a "hell-hound." Tyndale was captured, imprisoned for 16 months, found guilty of heresy, and, on October 6, 1536, strangled and burned at the stake.
For visitors who are interested in Bible printing and history, the Library of Congress also has on permanent display the Gutenberg Bible and the Giant Bible of Mainz. The Gutenberg Bible is one of three perfect vellum copies. It is an early example of printing by individual pieces of movable type. The Giant Bible was hand lettered and illuminated in 1452-53 in Mainz, Germany, around the same time that Johann Gutenberg began printing his Bible.
The original exhibition, "Let There Be Light: William Tyndale and the Making of the English Bible," was organized by the British Library. The American tour is a collaborative effort among the Library of Congress, the British Library, the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., and the New York Public Library. The Library of Congress is the last stop on the tour, after which the traveling exhibition will return to the British Library.
The Library of Congress will offer for sale the British Library's handbook, Let There Be Light: William Tyndale and the Making of the English Bible, by Dr. Daniell.
The exhibition can be visited in the North Great Hall Gallery, on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street S.E. Exhibition hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Library is closed on Sundays and federal holidays. For information, call (202) 707-8000 or (202) 707-6200 TTY. All groups of 10 or more are requested to call the Visitor Services Office at (202) 707-2630 to arrange a tour.
A selection of slides and photographs of items in the exhibition are available from the Public Affairs Office. Call (202) 707-9191 to arrange for delivery of duplicates.
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