THE ENGLISH BIBLE AND THE SEE OF HEREFORD
Valerie N. Walke (Victoria, Australia)
WHILST in Britain in 1968, I spent a most enjoyable day in Hereford which, dating from c AD 680, is one of the oldest sees in England. Built on the site of the original wattle and daub structure, the present Cathedral dates from c 1080 and exhibits a variety of architectural design. Here in the upper transept is the famous Chained Library.
In times when books and honesty were rare, books in the libraries of places of learning were secured by chains, and this practice continued until after 1750.
The Hereford Chained Library is the most perfect known example of an early Jacobean library. Its original fittings include hasps, battle-axe lock plates, and handmade nails, rods, sockets, desks, seats and index boards. The books are arranged on three tiers of shelves in oak bookcases, the most famous of which date from 1611.
This collection of about 1,444 books, each with a chain attached to the front edge of one cover, is the largest such collection in the world. The chains end in a ring which runs upon a rod, and when a book is added to the shelf a key is used to free the hasp and release the rod. The earliest chains have swivels to prevent twisting when the book is in use.
Some volumes are printed and some are manuscripts, the earliest of which dates from 7th century. One of the 8th century volumes has Saxon records at the end which prove it has belonged to Hereford since the days of King Canute, whose name appears in these records. One of the 15th century volumes is the famous Cider Bible, a 1420 copy of Wycliffe’s version in English. In this the scribe wrote ‘he shall not drinke syn ne sidir’ instead of the usual ‘strong drink’. One early mathematical treatise contains the earliest known illustration of an abacus.
Most manuscripts are on vellum or parchment (sheepskin). Skins were polished with pumice, whitened with chalk, dressed with oil and cut into sheets. Writing fluid consisted of soot, gum, liquid from cuttlefish and lampblack which will never fade. Writing was executed using swan, goose or crow quills, which do not corrode. The ingredients to which pigments were added for illuminations were glue, gum and gelatine diluted with white of egg.
The Chained Library contains about 55 books which were printed before 1500, two of these by Caxton.
CONNECTION WITH AUTHORISED VERSION
However, Hereford is famous not only for its Chained Library, but also for its connection with the publication, in 1611, of the Authorised Version of the Bible.
Earlier translations of the Bible, e.g. the Anglo-Saxon Gospels dating from the 8th century, and the various commentaries on books of the Bible, were in Latin as this was the language of learning, law, theology and liturgy. Using Latin, a learned clerk could travel anywhere in the western world and meet those of other nations on equal terms.
After the Norman Conquest, the court, nobles and knights spoke French, and this became the language used internationally. At this time the English language was in its earliest period known as Old English, i.e. up to 1100. Gradually, however, the Anglo-Saxon became enriched with French and, in time, the native language again entered polite and learned society as the English of Chaucer and of Wycliffe’s Bible. Further enrichment gave us the English of Shakespeare and Milton.
In 1392 a Statute was passed ordering that pleadings and judgments in courts of law be spoken in the English tongue. At this time began the translation of well-known Latin works into English. In Oxford between 1370 and 1382 the first English Version of the Bible was made from the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome and one of the translators is noted as Nicholas of Hereford.
Nicholas was a disciple of Wycliffe and during his life suffered both excommunication and imprisonment for his Lollard sympathies. The idea that the Scriptures ought to be read by the common people in their own tongue was one which grew and prevailed.
Early in the 16th century William Tyndale worked from Erasmus’ New Testament in Greek. Unfortunately the fiery teaching of the Lollards had turned the official Church against any version of the Bible in English and Tyndale was obliged to work overseas.
By 1534 authorised translators such as Miles Coverdale were permitted by the King to work in England. Thomas Cromwell supported the issue of the Great Bible in 1539, which was actually a combination of the work of Tyndale and Coverdale. When Archbishop Cranmer visited Hereford in 1538 he enjoined the clergy, among other things, to encourage laymen to read the Bible in English or Latin.
A further revision was undertaken in the reign of Elizabeth I, when the archbishop and bishops of Exeter, St. David’s Norwich, Chichester, Winchester, Coventry and Lichfield, London, Peterborough, Ely, Lincoln and Llandaff were all involved.
THE CAREER OF MILES SMITH
In 1554 Miles Smith was born in Hereford, the son of a well-to-do fletcher or arrow-maker. Miles was an infant prodigy and is said to have soaked up learning like a sponge. It is thought he started his schooling at Hereford Cathedral School and at the age of 14-15 years went to Corpus Christi and Brasenose College, Oxford.
He was recorded as being exceptionally industrious and to apply himself constantly to the reading of ancient Classical authors in their own language. He ‘lusted after no worldly things so much as books’. He was almost as familiar with Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chaldiac, Syriac and Arabic as with his own tongue. In religion he followed the Calvinist and Puritan teachings.
In 1587 he was admitted as a residentiary canon of Hereford Cathedral and remained at Hereford until 1612, during which time his reputation as a scholar continued to grow. He became widely known for his studies in Oriental languages. Thus when King James I, at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, decreed that a new translation of the Bible should be made, Miles Smith was an obvious choice as one of the translators.
He was one of the Oxford committee of seven who dealt with the four greater prophets, Lamentations and the 12 lesser prophets. From this committee he was chosen as one of the 12 revisers who met in Stationers’ Hall, London, and eventually became, with Bishop Bilson of Winchester, the final reviser.
Miles Smith was described in a report on the translation presented to the Synod of Dort, as ‘outstanding and highly skilled from the beginning in the whole of this work’. He was chosen to write the Preface and the Dedication to King James I, which is still to be found in our Bibles.
Surely Miles Smith was a man raised up by God and specially equipped for the great task which was to be given him. Just as the Apostle Paul was a chosen vessel so might we view Miles Smith who, endowed with such extraordinary scholastic ability and love for learning, was also of deep Protestant conviction.
The production of the A.V. took from 1604 to 1611. The years 1605 and 1606 were allotted to private research, from 1607 to 1609 to the work of the six boards, part of 1610 to that of the 12 revisers at Stationers’ Hall and of the final revisers, while the rest of 1610 and 1611 were given to printing.
Miles Smith became Bishop of Gloucester in 1612 where he lived until he died in 1624. But his love for Hereford was shown in that he left to Hereford Cathedral library all his Hebrew and Arabic books. Today can be seen there his Hebrew Bible in five volumes, his Hebrew and Arabic lexicons and grammars, his Rabbinical texts and commentaries and many other works.
The translators of the A.V. had been charged to base their translation on the Bishops’ Bible but to compare it with that of Tyndale, Matthews, Coverdale and Whitechurch, and with the Geneva Bible. Such was the meticulous care and scholarship which went into the preparation of the A.V. that we cannot doubt it was a divinely inspired work and the end product a veritable gift from God.
THE BIBLE MADE AVAILABLE FOR ALL
From 1610 to this day British peoples have had available the very Word of God written not only in their own language but portraying the rhythm, strength and melody of that language at its best.
How greatly reverenced and prized were the few laboriously copied, early translations of the Scriptures, so valuable that they were chained to their shelves in case they should be stolen.
How eagerly sought after were those first Bibles printed in English and how hungry were the people to hear the Word of God in their own language. But time passed and, with the perfection of printing, Bibles became easy to obtain. Millions have been given away free of charge. Instead of the great, heavy volumes of earlier times, we have small, lightweight, easy to hold Bibles which we can so easily carry with us. But do we? How valued is this precious volume today?
The A.V., which has been for over 350 years the mainstay of Western Civilisation and has endured countless attacks by modernists, atheists and agnostics, is reverenced by few today. No wonder Western Civilisation is experiencing moral decline when widespread contempt for spiritual values exists and ignorance of the Word of God is fostered, when materialism reigns supreme and moral courage in the affairs of Government is a rare quality.
How fiercely the Devil has striven to destroy our confidence in our Bible. How wary we must be, therefore, of any who would denigrate this great gift from God. Let us stand firm, being assured of the reliability of that upon which we base our faith.
‘A Walk Round Hereford Cathedral’.
‘Hereford and the English bible’ - A.J. Winnington-Ingram,M.A.
‘Hereford Cathedral - A Short Account of the Chained Library’ F.C. and P.E. Morgan.
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