Thursday, April 14, 2011

In the beginning was the Word

Tonight I chanced upon an interesting exhibition at a local shopping centre. Oxford University Press (China) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. To commemorate the event they have a range of religious books, dictionaries, and text books on public display, and the exhibition is titled "In the beginning was the Word".

The most interesting item on display, in my opinion, is this Authorized King James Version of the Holy Bible, published in 1611. Commissioned by England's King James I, this Bible translation transformed English life and culture. It's publication heralded a new era in religious reform and profoundly influenced  English language and literature ever since. Several billion copies have been published of this translation. I found it peculiar, however, that the Bible was open to the Apocrypha. Of all the pages in the Bible that could be on display for people to read and marvel over, why choose the Apocrypha?  

As 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the King James Version Bible, Oxford have recently published a leather-bound edition identical in every way to the original 1611 publication except for an easier-to-read font. Again, perhaps opening the Bible to display the book of John chapter one might have been more appropriate?

This is Benjamin Blayney's 1769 Oxford edition of the KJV. (I apologise for the poor photo quality but I was not allowed to use my camera flash.)

I would have liked to see inside this Book of Common Prayer from1686.

Here is another beautifully presented Book of Common Prayer and Bible set which came in a case to carry to church or when travelling. They were printed around 1840.

Oxford University Press eventually began printing Bibles and prayer books in other languages besides English. These were used in missionary work and Christian worship around the world. For instance here is a Bulgarian Bible (1922),

Arabic Bible (1917),

Dutch Bible (1893),

and Samoan Bible (1884).

If looking at old publications of the Book that changed the world isn't really your thing, maybe you would be more interested in these old volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, first edition, from 1919. 

Here is one of its original printing plates, for the page of words from wagger - waging.

I had my photo taken in front of this Scriptorium where James Murray, the former Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary used to work. It originally had 45 wooden pigeon holes, and researchers thought that space would be sufficient to hold all the material from English texts to create the dictionary. In the end, 5000 boxes were filled.

A man named John Fell brought this new technology to Oxford University Press in1690. Liquid metal was poured into the fine moulds to make a piece of type.

 This Arabic type cast is from 1657.

This box of wooden Chinese characters is from 1850.

My high school French teacher Madame Peltier would have no doubt been impressed with this 1666 publication by playwright Molière.

And look at this gorgeous edition of John Milton's poetry! Swoon!

I only featured a few of the items on display at Oxford University Press' exhibition, so come and have a look for yourself. "In the beginning was the Word" is on until May 2, 2011 on Level 1 (near Toys R Us) of New Town Plaza in Sha Tin.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, how I wish it would be there when I am next there!