“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Tribute to Tyndale

Yesterday my husband and I went down to London for the day, but not to see the Queen. The morning was devoted to visiting an exhibition called Treasures of the British Library, which was free to all comers.

It was absolutely marvellous, and took us well over two hours to get round. Of course, there was a section of sacred texts in amongst everything else, and we saw a copy of the Codex Alexandrinus, one of the three oldest extant Bibles in the world; some stunningly beautiful illuminated Qur'ans and Bibles, and the Bedford Book of Hours, which was so richly illustrated, it took the breath away.

The exquisite Bedford Book of Hours
But the item which moved me the most was  a little book, measuring about 4 inches across and 6 inches tall. It was one of three remaining copies of the Tyndale New Testament, which had been published in 1526, in Worms, because he had had to flee from England.

A page from the 1526 edition of Tyndale's New Testament
My lovely book about the Bible by Gordon Campbell calls William Tyndale 'the father of the English Bible'. He was responsible for producing the first complete New Testament in English, and had also partly translated the Old Testament, when he was executed for heresy in Belgium in 1536. Two years before that, he had produced a revision of his New Testament, about which Campbell comments "it has been estimated that 83 per cent of the KJV [King James Version] published in 1611 derives from Tyndale, either directly or indirectly through other Bibles."

Two things moved me about actually seeing it - one was that I knew he had died because of his passion for making the text of the Bible widely available in English; and the other was that as I bent to decipher the close-set text, I could suddenly feel how amazing it must have been to be an ordinary English person (or at least one of the minority who could read) and to be able to actually read the sacred text of my religion in my own tongue for the first time, and no longer have to rely on the priest to tell me what the Bible said and taught. It must have been truly awesome.

I am so grateful to the British Library for putting on this sort of exhibition, free for all to attend. Long may it flourish!

1 comment:

  1. There is a statue of Tyndale in Bristol and I have visited the little church in the parish where he was a chaplain to the local landed family. Oh and the Tyndale Monument on the Cotswold Scarp.

    I feel the same way about the idea of being able to read one's sacred book in one's own language. Very important. And of course, there are so many Biblical phrases and quotes in use in the English language, too.

    Hurrah for the British Library.