Professor Discovers Earliest Version of King James Bible

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Published October 22, 2015
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While looking for information on Samuel Ward, Jeffrey Miller accidentally discovered the earliest version of the Bible. Photo Credit: Alex Gamboa
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While looking for information on Samuel Ward, Jeffrey Miller accidentally discovered the earliest version of the King James Bible.
Photo Credit: Alex Gamboa

Montclair State University’s very own Jeffrey Miller, assistant professor of English, recently unearthed what is believed to be the earliest draft of the King James Bible.

Last summer, Miller was at University of Cambridge’s Sidney Sussex College in the archives looking for information about Samuel Ward, one of the translators of the King James Bible. The notebook he was looking through was incorrectly catalogued as a commentary about the Bible, rather than being marked as a draft and translation of it.

Miller said, “It’s one of those things that you certainly weren’t expecting to find. It’s a weird kind of mixture between an accident and more than unexpected.”

This find challenges what scholars thought they knew about the creation of the King James Bible because of the collaborative nature of it.

Dr. Lee Behlman, assistant professor of English and colleague of Miller said, “People seem to think that the King James Bible was started from scratch, but it wasn’t. There were other English bibles before this, but nothing as lasting. [Miller’s discovery] reminds us that they were working off other translations and making new choices. It wasn’t completely original.”

Jeff [Miller] has really sophisticated skills. So being in the right place at the right time with the amazing knowledge that he has was exactly what it took to get here. – Dr. Adam Rzepka, assistant professor of English

Miller has gained international attention since his article explaining his discovery was published on The Times Literary Supplement on Oct. 14.

Dr. Adam Rzepka, assistant professor of English and another colleague of Miller said, “[To make this discovery,] you need to have a deep understanding of Renaissance theology, the textual process of creating the King James Bible, who worked on what with whom and when, textual history, then you’ve got to be able to read Greek and Latin really well and be able to read Renaissance handwriting. Jeff [Miller] has all of those really sophisticated skills. So being in the right place at the right time with the amazing knowledge that he has was exactly what it took to get here.”

Miller explained in the Times Literary Supplement that the Bible has many parts with no drafts at all, which leaves something to be desired. With this find, he said, “a number of these gaps and others can at last begin to be filled.”

In the Times Literary Supplement, Miller also said that this notebook of Ward’s is probably from 1604 and “shows him not just recording group decisions about the translation after the fact or even doing so in the process of group decisions being made, but rather working out the translation for himself as he went along, making mistakes and changing his mind.”

The King James Bible was officially published in 1611.

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