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Book Burning That Worked

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>From the New York Times. Not really bookarts, but certainly history.



Bucheinbandkunst ist Architektur in kleinstem Massstab
Otto Dorfner

Peter Verheyen, Conservation Librarian
Syracuse University Library
Syracuse, NY 13244

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          April 25, 1997

          Book Burning That Worked

          [C] hances are excellent that not one person in a
              thousand could identify the second-most-quoted
          writer in English, after Shakespeare. He is William
          Tyndale (1494-1536), and there is good reason for his

          Not only were the books he published burned, but so was
          Tyndale, for the offense of rendering the Bible into
          English from its original Greek and Hebrew. Nearly all
          the oft-quoted phrases from the King James Authorized
          Version of the Scriptures in 1611 were first translated
          by Tyndale, for which he received scant credit, then or

          Justice to his memory is finally being done by the New
          York Public Library in a fascinating show, "Let There Be
          Light" (the phrase is Tyndale's), which continues until
          May 17.

          The clerical authorities in England were outraged when
          he published the first English translation of the New
          Testament in 1526, thus giving the laity direct access
          to the Gospels without the mediation of the clergy. The
          Bibles, printed in the German city of Worms, were seized
          and destroyed. Tyndale himself was hunted down, tried as
          a heretic, strangled and then burned at the stake near
          Brussels. Only a few copies of his 1526 New Testament
          survive, and they are among highlights of the library

          Even as he awaited execution, Tyndale asked his jailers
          for a "warmer cap' and a Hebrew Bible, grammar and
          dictionary so he might continue translating the Old

          The half he had already completed fixed the majestic
          tone and phraseology of the King James Bible, which
          incorporated nearly all his work verbatim.

          It was Tyndale who first used the word Jehovah, who
          coined such indispensable words as "scapegoat" and who
          rendered these winged phrases: "And the truth shall make
          you free" (John 8:32), "Am I my brother's keeper?"
          (Genesis 4:9), "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus
          19:18), and "Let my people go" (Exodus 5:1). It was
          Tyndale who devised the resonant language about the
          house divided, casting the first stone and putting a
          camel through the eye of the needle.

          Leading the theological pack against Tyndale was a
          fellow Englishman, Sir Thomas More, who was himself
          later beheaded by Henry VIII, the same King who in 1539
          licensed a "Great Bible" in English, a precursor of the
          Authorized Version.

          We like to think that book-burning is futile and that
          the banned authors have the last word. Not always;
          sometimes darkness wins out, leaving great writers in

          But Tyndale's achievement stands, widely recognized or
          not. As the library's tribute puts it, so good was his
          scholarship, so accurate and clear his translations,
          that no one has done his work better.

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