A US scholar has claimed to have found the earliest known draft of the King James Bible in an archive at a Cambridge University college. The book, thought to be the most read English work, was found by Jeffrey Miller of the Montclair State University, New Jersey, inside a notebook dated from 1604 to 1608.
Miller says his finding, which consists of 70 pages of handwritten text, will help piece together how the Bible, which was published in 1611, came to be. Included in the document were Greek and Hebrew notes, and was found among the papers of Samuel Ward – who was commissioned by King James I to translate a new version of Christian text.
Miller wrote in the Times Literary Supplement: "Ward's draft alone bears all the signs of having been a first draft, just as it alone can be definitively said to be in the hand of one of the King James translators themselves." He goes on to explain that Ward's notes show he had difficulty translating the original text.
Miller wrote: "Proposing a revision to the front half of the passage, Ward at first began, 'A tre,' but then crossed it out. No, 'out of h,' he started writing on second thought, but then crossed that out, too. At last, he reverted back to the more straightforward construction with which he had abortively begun, which also more closely mirrors the Greek of the passage: 'a tree should be taken out of his possession.'"
He concluded: "The true value of Ward's draft, though, lies less in the sheer fact of its uniqueness, and more in what the draft, in its uniqueness, helps to reveal about one of the seventeenth century's most extraordinary cultural achievements. It points the way to a fuller, more complex understanding than ever before of the process by which the KJB, the most widely read work in English of all time, came to be."