Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Biblical time warp


HOW DO YOU REACT in the presence of a piece of Christian and English history that you can touch? Rare books have a certain effect on people that is practically universal, which I'd describe as awe accompanied by goosebumps. That was how I felt, anyway, in the presence of a rare copy of the second edition of the King James Bible, made from the same printing plates as the original in 1611. To see the exquisite language of the beginning of Genesis, some of the most beautiful words in the English language, was to peer across 400 years:
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
I realized I knew it by heart, but there was something about seeing it in ink on old paper that united me to all those literate Englishmen and -women at the dawn of the 17th Century seeing it for the first time. Brrr. Goosebumps.

That was perhaps THE highlight among many of getting to hang around around the historic Bibles that will be on exhibit at the Santa Clara University Library this fall. Too many mention here, anyway, but I'll share one more. Jumping ahead four centuries, I was boggled by SCU's lavish facsimile of the famous St. John's Bible, the first handwritten Bible in half a millennium currently being calligraphed (goose quill, ink, parchment) in Wales. SCU will also be exhibiting several huge leaves of the original.

Just the illumination on a capital T in the book of Genesis is a work of art. It all reminded me of the Benedictine motto, "ut in omnibus glorificetur Dei." Nine centuries of historic Bibles at SCU say Amen to that.

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