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March 28th, 2011
03:16 PM ET

Tiny church finds original King James Bible

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

Hilmarton, England (CNN) - A little English village church has just made a remarkable discovery.

The ornate old Bible that had been sitting in plain view on a table near the last row of pews for longer than anyone could remember is an original King James Bible - one of perhaps 200 surviving 400-year-old original editions of arguably the most important book ever printed in English.

In fact, the Bible at St. Laurence Church in Hilmarton, England, was sitting right under a hand-lettered sign saying it was an original.

The sign said it had been found in "the parish chest" in 1857, that the cover had been added, and that it was the second of the two impressions published in 1611 - the year of first publication.

But no one knew whether to believe it, parish council member Geoff Procter said. As the anniversary of publication in 1611 approached, they decided it was worth investigating.

"We had no way of knowing whether it really was a 1611 Bible so we had to get it verified somehow," he said.

He and two other church members took it to a specialist, the Rev. David Smith at the Museum of the Book in London.

Smith knew immediately what he was looking at, Procter said.

"We put it on his table and he opened it and immediately he said, 'Yes, this is a 1611 Bible,'" Procter remembered.

Geoff Procter of St. Laurence Church in Hilmarton, England, reads from the church’s King James Bible.

Smith identified it thanks to a printing error - a place in the Gospel of Matthew that should say Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane and spoke to his disciples instead says that Judas, who betrayed Jesus, entered the garden.

That the St. Laurence Bible had that error, but not another one in the Book of Ruth, enabled Smith to pinpoint exactly when the book had been printed, Procter explained.

"We realized that this is quite an important find," he said, and last month the church quietly announced the discovery in the diocese newsletter.

They hesitated before going public, Procter said.

"It was one of those discoveries that we wondered if we should tell everybody or tell nobody," he said. "And we thought that as it was the 400th anniversary, we should talk about it."

St. Laurence Church is far from the only one talking about the King James Bible this year - the Globe Theatre in London is planning a reading of the whole thing in the days before Easter, and a literary festival has already done one. Cambridge University has an exhibition, and the King James Bible Trust lists dozens of special events planned this year to mark the anniversary.

The reason is simple, said Moira Goff of the British Library.

The King James Bible is "so embedded in us that we can't overstate the significance of it," she said.

It's the source of dozens of phrases and concepts that have become part of the English language - "an eye for an eye," "born again," "eat, drink and be merry," "God forbid."

The church recently discovered that its old Bible was a rare 400-year-old original King James Bible.

Experts point out that the King James is based on at least two earlier major English translations, so its creators were editors as much as originators of these phrases, but it is the King James Bible that the great English writers knew, Goff said.

"It's passed entirely into the English language, into the thinking of English speakers around the world," she said.

Its influence has been greater than that of Shakespeare, she argued.

"I think it's permeated the language in ways that we can't count as we can count Shakespeare, influencing people's religious thinking, influencing people's social thinking in a way that Shakespeare probably does now - but that's a more recent development," she said.

"It's the Bible that was read to people in church every week," she explained. "The great literary figures from the early 17th century onwards, this was their daily reading. It passed into their works," she said, citing John Milton and John Bunyan among others.

But the King James Bible shouldn't be reduced to merely its influence on writers, she said.

"I think we have to be very careful in looking at the Bible only as a work of literature. It is also Holy Scripture and I think that makes it a different sort of book than the great works of literature," she said. "It will be read by people who will possibly never read Shakespeare or Milton."

The St. Laurence discovery is very unusual, she said. Perhaps 200 copies of the 1611 printings of King James Bibles are known to exist, she estimated. No one knows how many were printed, she added, but she guessed that the number was probably around 1,000.

Most of the surviving copies are in institutions, such as major libraries at universities, colleges and cathedrals in the United Kingdom and United States, she said.

"Some of them may be in private collections," she added, saying there is no way to know how many such copies there might be.

The sign hanging above the Bible, announcing its origins.

The St. Laurence discovery is technically a fragment, not a Bible, since it is missing a few pages (including most of the first pages of Genesis, up to chapter 4, verse 17) and has been trimmed at the top to fit the wooden cover added in Victorian times.

But it fits a pattern, she said. As King James Bibles got old and needed to be replaced, many were tucked away as church treasures, as seems to have happened with the St. Laurence Bible.

The people of St. Laurence Church are now trying to raise money to build a special case so they can keep their Bible in use and on regular display.

That would make the church more or less unique so far as Goff knows, although she speculated that there just might be a few village churches still using their 400-year-old Bibles.

"It's possible there are one or two churches that have gone on doing it and they just haven't thought to say," she said.

"People are now beginning to realize the value of this particular edition. This is the 400th anniversary and there is a lot more emphasis on it," she said.

"They value it. They want to keep it and they want to use it."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Bible • Books • Christianity • Easter • Houses of worship • United Kingdom

soundoff (1,211 Responses)
  1. DeAnna

    I'm not here to argue...but can someone answer me this...why does this section state "It will be read by people who will possibly never read Shakespeare or Milton."

    This is above:
    "I think we have to be very careful in looking at the Bible only as a work of literature. It is also Holy Scripture and I think that makes it a different sort of book than the great works of literature," she said. "It will be read by people who will possibly never read Shakespeare or Milton."

    I remember back in High School and early college, it was said that "Shakespeare" wrote the Bible.

    Thanks folks.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  2. Awaken1942

    (Psalm 10:4) . . .The wicked one according to his superciliousness makes no search; All his ideas are: “There is no God.”

    March 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Wait

      Translation: "I'm going to heaven because I'm scared that if I don't believe in it, I will go to hell."

      March 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  3. Eric

    That's crazy that they managed to keep it secure with a sign over it identifying what it was. If it went on auction I'm sure it would probably get a considerable amount.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  4. MRV

    Why do Christian/Catholics say "Accept Jesus into your heart!" when in fact Jesus was G-D's "son" Why not just pray to G-D himself/herself and bypass Jesus altogether. After all Jesus was just a man..

    March 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  5. gkfamilyloft.com

    Gkfamilyloft.com

    March 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  6. Ty

    Although there are some great stories in the bible that probably hold some truth behind them, you'd be completely ignorant to believe everything it says. It's just not practical to believe everything in it, as scientific evidence contradicts alot of it.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  7. John

    I’m not that religious but I am an avid history buff when I was drawn to this story. I’m very surprised about all this anti-religious fervor from these posts.

    As a logistics officer in the Navy, I spent nearly 18 months in Africa helping set-up the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that has literally saved well over a million people from HIV.

    Without the help and assistance of the many religious organizations in Africa, this program would not have been anywhere near as successful as it has been. The logistics and in-place infrastructure of the Catholic Church and related organizations was phenomenal compared to what the governments would have provided. Plus, it would have taken months, hundreds of people and many millions of dollars to have set-up from scratch.

    No matter what your religious beliefs are or aren’t, I can’t imagine anyone posting some of these comments if they would go to Africa and actually see what these folks are doing from providing food, clean drinking water, medical attention, education as will as showing them basic dignity.

    One day that I will never forget is when the village elders called in an American Priest that I was working with to “clean-up” a woman dyeing of AIDS. The stench was so bad (and that is saying a lot for areas outside of the US/Europe) not even her family or Doctors could stand to go in her “home”. He not only went in and cleaned her up and comforted her, but at her insistence, held her in her arms until she died . . . 20 hours later. (How many of you would stay just 5 minutes with someone smelling of infection and bile without running to the nearest shower and bar of soap?)

    It’s OK to not agree with a belief. However, I think it is wrong to condemn them when you don’t really know them.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  8. Benwaballs

    Awww..........how sweet. A 400 year old book of hate and intolerance.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • JoePub

      How sweet, a posting filled with hate and intolerance.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  9. camiwa

    So many idiots. I'm also not a believer, but I do appreciate history. That book had a monumental effect upon society, not only as a religious tool, but also increasing literacy.

    Please don't think all non-believers behave like the ignorant that often post. That is an AMAZING find, and I would donate to help preserve it.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  10. Sylvain Zambito

    I think that the biggest problem is that people tend to confuse religion with the Bible. What I am about to say might confuse some of you since I am sure that most of the people that comment against the Bible have never actually read it, much less studied it but here it goes anyway. Christian religions in general and I must say that the Catholique religion especially have discretided the Bible in a very serious way through their actions and false pagan teachings. A serious student of the Bible knows that very well. He also know that when the Bible talks about specific places, people and events that archeology has always proven it right. The prophecies in the Bible with regards to past events and present events have always been specific and proven true. Even though the Bible is not a book of science, when it does talk about scientific things it has always been proven right. (ex. the order of which things appeared on earth. The Bible also talks about the earth being spheric and suspended in space. Hygiene, etc...) But much more than this the Bible gives very satisfying answers to questions that many of us ask such as: why are we here? What happens when we die? What does the future hold for us? What is the meaning of life? Many of you are atheist by choice and I respect that but me personally I can not beleive that we come from nothingness and that life has no meaning. The simple fact that we wonder about these things proves to me that their is something more than blind evolution.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  11. RDS

    The 'King James' bible is only the latest in a long line of myth-religious texts that originated even before the Old Testament from the Hebrews of ancient Israel. The Tora, the Quran, and the other extant religious texts of the last two millennium for that region of the world are only the updated and edited versions of earlier religious texts. Making such a big deal out of the K.J. version of the bible is typical of 'religious scholars.' They are not scientists or historical anthropologists. They are fools who molest young boys on a massive scale, and over the millennium, all the while carrying the bible [or other religious text] in their hands, pretending to be 'pious.' It's all B.S. for sure, as most educated critically thinking people understand.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  12. Solex

    Um = 80% of people are NOT Christian. You seem to forget that most of China, India, and the Middle East do NOT practice Christianity. This is a completely made up statistic that is just plain NOT TRUE.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Taylor

      yeaah, it was never even close to 50% lol. right now its like 18% or so

      March 28, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  13. RdavS

    How stupid are you people? Can't you just appreciate the finding of a cool historical artifact even if you are an atheist or agnostic? Whether you like it or not the Bible was a driving force behind the Gutenberg press and facilitated higher learning for all of mankind with his press, which gave way to the free communication of ideas, all ideas. This is a relic of that and needs to be appreciated.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  14. MARTIN

    "It was one of those discoveries that we wondered if we should tell everybody or tell nobody," ...... very intriguing words...

    March 28, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  15. John West

    Yes this is what we all needed. One more bible to tell us what we need to do!

    March 28, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • JoePub

      Boo Hoo, an inanimate object offends me. Boo Hoo.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  16. Lame

    Now the questions is.... how did King James manipulate the masses with his version? How did he benefit by its acceptance as the end all truth? Has society benefited by adopting it as the end all truth?

    March 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  17. AlreadyInUse

    Church-goers are lousy researcher, period. Whether it research the claims on the plaque that this book was original King James Bible, or to research the claims IN the book that, you know, just about everything. Well, there is hope - it took the 400th anniversary of King James Bible for someone to thought of verifying the claim on the plaque; may be on the 4000th anniversary of Christianity someone will think of verifying the content of the book. It'd be wonderful if they can then prove the content of the book is also true.... yay!!!!!! all non-christians going to hell.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Jim

      Of course you are wrong. Some of the best scholars in the world present or past are church goers as you say. Do you discount all research or misprints, misquotes or typos on churchgoers? You need a purge of your mind among other things.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Jim

      You have to be so bitter and have been mistreated. So sad get a real life.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  18. Jen

    That's neat to discover an original miss translated Bible.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Ed

      Original sin meets original typo 🙂 poetic.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • MsAledella

      Mistranslation it is not, typographical error it is.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  19. Anthony

    This shouldn't be front page news on cnn.com or any secular media outlet for that matter.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Paul Strong

      80% of people are Christian. I think it is fine to print a story about the word of GOD vs more Charlie Sheen or any other Hollywood stories. You are talking about the GOD that gave you life!

      March 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Ed

      Why? Simply because the topic does not interest you? Because you hate religion? Why not open your mind and try to look at this for the historical significance? The Bible was the first book printed by press. This book is very, very rare. Imagine if it were an original Chaucer or Faust. Would you be interested then?

      March 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Taylor

      It has great historical value, did you even watch the video? Forget religion, it is the most influential book in existence, and they just found one of twenty four hundred year old copies. The first translation into English for that matter. The greatest Literature translation of any kind involving our language at all, full of some of the richest English out there. At least appreciate that particular book for that reason.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Rich

      I think you are very wrong about the 80% of people being Chistian. There are many many other religions and thankfully less and less Christians every year. I helped many people to denounce Jesus.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • ArtfulSkeptic

      Why not? It's a book of historical significance. Just because we atheists realize religion is silly doesn't mean we should ignore it's effects on society or its place in history.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • JoePub

      You are missing the point. It has historical significance. Ignorance of history or "religion" is not an excuse to "forget" parts of history that you do not like.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Jim

      Why not? Perhaps not even copies of any ancient literature but just maybe current magazines or blogs. Come on now a book which is revered by hundreds of millions. Get real and go back to your blogs and current events and forget history.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Jarrod

      @ Paul Strong, where in the hell do you get this fact that 80% of people are Christians?? A rough estimate puts that just under 2 billion people are Christians and just over 1.5 billion people are muslims... and with a current world population of 6.5 billion. That puts Christianity at 30% and Muslims at 23%. But hey, I just want to know if my book about the Tooth Fairy from 1600 can make headlines on CNN also.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • thorrsman

      So Paul should have said 80% of people in America. I suspect that you who are attacking him for that actually KNOW what he meant. You just like to play dumb (I hope you are playing) to give you a position to attack someone from.

      March 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  20. Solex

    Although I am an atheist, I can appreciate the historical significance of this work. After all, the bible was the first book ever printed by press, so it is certainly part of world history if nothing else.

    People should realize that although digital media is great for things like protecting forests, it is not a very permanent method for recording information. Think about why we know so much about the Romans and the Egyptians, but not so much about the Saxons who came much later. Why? The former carved their data in stone and the latter printed on hides and parchment.

    The advantage to parchment and other media? TRANSPORTABILITY.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Tony

      So why do you want to reiterate your aethiesm and secularism whenever christianity in news. why dont you act in the same way to the begotic islamists shed crocrdile tears about thier rights in US instead Saudi?

      March 28, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • chris

      Thanks for the unbiased athiest remark. I'm a Christian and I agree totally. I think this find is more about a historical artifact than it is about religion; definitely an awesome find!

      March 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Solex

      Tony – the book is a religious artifact and therefore not of interest to me because it is a bible. The first amendment provides my right to express my views as I wish so please support that and do not worry about how I articulate myself. Try worrying about yourself first.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Taylor

      Yeah, its funny because their written things are thousands of years old, and will probably outlast all of us, as well as whatever stuff we have saved on a hard drive.. That stuff can go around the world in an instant, but it can be utterly erased with a little moisture.. It's a shame for us, really.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Ed

      well said

      March 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.