I was invited to attend a morning at The British Library, which is within walking distance of King’s Cross Station, arranged by The Bible Society on Friday 13th April, when three scholars from the Library talked about the sacred texts which are stored there.
Dr. Aviva Dautch spoke first about Text, Texture and Translation.
She told us that the digitising of all the Biblical texts is an ongoing process, with Hebrew texts being tackled first. The first translation of the whole Bible into Greek, the Codex Sinaiticus or Sinai Bible was hand written on vellum in the 4th century AD and was discovered in St. Catherine’s Monastery in the 19th century. It is one of the most valuable books held at the Library.
The Lindisfarne Gospels which were completed in 721 are one of the treasures of the Library.
John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English in the 1380s is also on display. He was an Oxford scholar and professor who advocated reform of the Roman Catholic Church and there was much opposition to his translation. By 1408 translating the Bible into English was banned.
Julian Walker next talked to us about the Printing of the Bible. Before printing was invented, it took about six months to write out the Bible by hand. In Germany in the 1450s, Johann Gutenberg made 180 printed copies of the Bible in Latin using casts made of lead and tin, revolutionising the production of Bibles. Three colour printing followed with illustrations.
The printing of the Bible in England was begun by William Caxton in the 1530s. William Tyndale used Greek and Hebrew sources for his translation of part of the Bible into English in 1530. Copies were burned as there was much opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and he was executed in 1536.
Myles Coverdale’s Bible in 1535 was the first complete translation of the Bible into English and many copies were printed.
This was followed by the Matthew Bible in 1537 and The Great Bible in 1539.
Forty editions of the Bible were produced in Henry VIII’s reign and in 1568 the Bishops’ Bible was produced under the authority of the Church of England and is considered to be the base text for the King James’ Bible. The first Welsh translation of the Bible appeared in 1588.
Irene Wise then spoke to us about Bible Illumination. Decorated initial letters became common and were very elaborate with Inhabited Initials even having animals drawn inside them.
The Lindisfarne Gospels have examples of amazing illuminations and the Gospel in Arabic has pages with designs similar to Persian carpets. The Catalan Old Testament and the Sherborne Missal are two other 15th century illuminated treasures to be found in the British Library.
Then Paul Williams, one of the Bible Society’s chief officers, told us about the work of the society today in 147 countries in the world, translating the scriptures into many different languages.
In Britain the work of the society is to help churches to regain confidence and increase the impact of the Bible in society. It hopes to build a Bible Academy, to equip Christians to relate the Bible to all of life, overcoming barriers to understanding the Bible.
After all the talks had finished, we were invited to go round The Treasures of the British Library Gallery, accompanied by some of the speakers and marvel at the amazing books and manuscripts there.
It was an interesting morning and if you have never been to the British Library, it is well worth a visit.