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1617 King James Bible Acquired
by New Orleans Seminary

BY FRANK MICHAEL MCCORMACK                                                                      ©2012 Baptist Press  
In 2011, English speakers--and Christians in particular--celebrated the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the King James "Authorized Version" of the Bible.

The KJV, heralded both for its longstanding value as a translation of Scripture and for its impact on the English language, was commissioned in 1604. Seven years later, in 1611, royal printer Robert Barker produced the first copies of the new English version of the Bible.

A second printing took place in 1613, with a third in 1617.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary acquired a copy of the King James Bible from that 1617 printing from a former Primitive Baptist minister and his family in Atwood, Tenn., in August 2011.

The past year of the Bible's history is meaningful for the family and quite exciting for the seminary, which hopes to display it one day in a museum dedicated to Bible history and biblical archaeology.

But much of the story of this particular Bible remains somewhat of a mystery.

It was printed in Barker's own London print shop. Due to high demand for the Bible, later printings were done at several London printers and bound at Barker's shop. Judging from the Bible's size –- 15.5 inches tall by 11.5 inches wide by 5.25 inches deep -– it was probably used as a lectern Bible or in some other ministry setting.

Little else is known about the Bible's history for almost 250 years after its publication. In 1860, according to an inscription near the front, it was presented to Anne Early as "the gift of her beloved father," Edward Early, on October 24 of that year. No occasion is named for the gift. Members of the Early family lived both in England and the United States in the mid-1800s, so it's possible the Bible had crossed the Atlantic by then.

Another century-long gap in the Bible's story sits between the inscription and the 1970s when it reemerged in Atwood, Tenn. Samuel Thomas Tolley, a Primitive Baptist minister, bought another Primitive Baptist pastor's library, which included the 1617 King James Bible.

"[The previous owner] had been collecting Baptist literature for years and years," said Mike Tolley, Samuel Tolley's son. "He was getting old, and my dad bought his whole library. We don't know what he gave for it."

Neither Mike Tolley nor his sister remembers the previous owner's name or where he acquired the Bible. The 1617 King James Bible, he said, became a treasured part of his father's library.

During his 50-plus years in ministry among Primitive Baptists, Samuel Tolley published a Baptist newspaper and worked toward building a historical library for Primitive Baptists. His personal collection, besides the 1617 King James Bible, included scores of Primitive Baptist books, records and other documents. 

To read the rest of this story, click here.    

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