From Papyri to King James:
The Transmission of the English Bible


The University of Michigan Library is privileged to count within its collections a number of distinguished documents marking significant milestones in the history of the Biblical text. These documents, spread across nations, peoples, and languages, trace the development of the Bible from ancient Egyptian manuscripts to the modern, printed book.

The English-language Bible came late in the long history of the preservation and transmission of the Biblical text. The Wycliffe English Bibles, the earliest complete Biblical manuscripts in English, appear in the late 1380s and 1390s, or less than a century before the invention of the printing press in the mid-fiftheenth century. However, the roots of these translations are long and venerable, extending back some twelve centuries to the earliest New Testament documents and even further back to oral tradition and pre-history for the New Testament.

This exhibit traces the roots of the King James Bible, showing both its direct ancestors and other, related religious works from A.D. 150 to A.D. 1611. Attention is also given to the materials upon which the Blibical text was preserved, from papyrus to parchment to paper.

As this exhibit opens during the Christmas holiday season, portions of the Bible relating to the Nativity are shown in several instances. New Testament texts are open to Luke's narrative of the Christmas story while the wall cases display facsimiles of the beginning of Luke from the Gutenberg Bible as well as works by Albrecht Dürer and illustrations from richly illuminated manuscripts.

This exhibit is a revised version of the an earlier exhibition, Highlights in the Transmission of the English Bible: The Christmas Story, prepared by Helen S. Butz. Since that time, Daniel Williams-Capone, Kathleen Dow, Kathryn Beam, and Traianos Gagos have contributed to this annual exhibit.

Browse the Display Cases

From Papyri to King James:
Review | Introduction | Cases 1-2 | Cases 3-4 | Cases 5-7

copyright 2004 The Regents of the University of Michigan
U-M Papyrus Collection | Special Collections Library