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College of Charleston's Special Collections gets 400-year-old King James Bible

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King James Bible

Harlan Greene, Special Collections archivist at the Addlestone Library, shows off the King James Bible recently donated by the Igoe Library Foundation. Heather Moran/College of Charleston/Provided

Few English works rival the King James Bible, a text that serves as one of the most familiar versions of Christian holy writ.

Those at the College of Charleston now have a chance to examine one of the most important works in English literature. The school's Special Collections Department recently received a 400-year-old King James translation of the sacred book.

The text, printed in 1613, was given to the school by the nonprofit Igoe Library Foundation. 

The gift also includes a 1662 Book of Common Prayer, sermons, and 17th and 18th century manuscripts, adding to the Special Collection's British and religious materials.

The collection is available to students and faculty. The general public can also view them if there's a "valid reason," Greene said.

The historic piece of literature represents early efforts to standardize the Old and New Testaments in English. The Scriptures are bound in calfskin and contains 16 inch by 10 inch cotton pages. It includes ornate engravings and calligraphy.

The college's Special Collections Department, on the third floor in the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library, is accustomed to handling historic treasures. Many of its materials are among the world's rarest.

Harlan Greene, the scholar in residence at the Special Collections Department, recalled when the college received an 1859 first edition of “On The Origin of Species,” Charles Darwin’s most famous work.

"We literally had students wanting to come in and touch it," Greene said. "One student wrote a poem about it."

He said the King James Bible will have that kind of impact, given its importance in literature and in influencing the world's largest faith group.

"It's kind of a bedrock item to have," he said.

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The 1613 Bible is not just important to the Christian faith.

A variety of English phrases can be traced back to these initial printings, including "a man after his own heart," "fell by the wayside," "let there be light," and many more. This connection makes the text a treasure to literature and linguistic scholars.

But the translation isn't without controversy.

The King James manuscript is an important touchstone for those examining America's formative years because it gives insight into the thoughts of White people who used the Scriptures to justify immoral actions, such as enslaving humans, said Lenny Lowe, a professor of religion.

"This would have been their authoritative text," Lowe said.

Some denominations have deemed the King James translation as superior to other manuscripts, but this position ignores the fact the Bible was not originally transcribed in English, Lowe said.

It's important to remember the Bible was initially written in three different languages: Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, he said.

The scholar also pointed out that earlier and more reliable manuscripts — such as the Dead Sea Scrolls — have been discovered since the King James translation, which was authorized in 1611.

The 1613 book originally belonged to Harold E. “Skipper” Igoe Jr., a native Charlestonian and farmer, harbor pilot, entrepreneur, innkeeper and collector of Shakespeare material.

A man with an insatiable thirst for knowledge inspired by intense curiosity, Igoe's love of works by the English playwright and Elizabethan England drew him to materials from the British Isles. Igoe died last year.

Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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