Originally created 03/01/97

Exhibit recalls translator's legacy



In a time when there are biblical translations for nearly every group - from toddlers to alcoholics - new attention is being paid to a man who created a ground-breaking English Bible in the 16th century and was strangled and burned for his efforts.

An exhibit, Let There Be Light: William Tyndale and the Making of the English Bible, brings together the only two complete copies of the Tyndale Bible believed to have survived since their printing in 1526.

At the New York Public Library through May 17, the exhibit explores Tyndale's role in producing the first English Bible translated from Greek and Hebrew, and the legacy he left to the language through such phrases as ``the powers that be,'' ``Fight the good fight'' and ``Am I my brother's keeper?''

``He's left behind something which affects the lives of all English-speaking people,'' Mervyn Jannetta said. Dr. Jannetta, head of the English antiquarian collections at the British Library, was in New York for the exhibit's late-February opening.

Tyndale was born in England in 1494. He studied the arts and theology at Oxford and devoted much of his life to translating the Bible into English in such a way to ``cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures.''

In the 14th century, John Wycliffe translated the Bible from Latin into English, working from the Vulgate, the official church version created by Jerome in the fourth century. Translating from Latin resulted in awkward English, and the book was condemned as heretical in England.

Tyndale, denied permission to produce an approved translation, took refuge in Germany. In 1525 he completed his translation of the New Testament from the original Greek. The next year, 3,000 copies were published and smuggled into England.

With the backdrop of the fierce animosities of the Reformation, Tyndale was seen in England as undermining the authority of the church and the English monarchy. He was arrested in Brussels and imprisoned for 16 months. After being tried for heresy, he was turned over to secular authorities in the English government. Tyndale was strangled and his body burned in 1536.

Barely in his 40s, he left one of the most influential translations of all time. A century later, the King James Version would follow his work closely, often using his translation. Familiar phrases from Tyndale's work that survive include ``Eat, drink and be merry,'' ``the fat of the land'' and ``The truth shall make you free.''

And more than 500 years after his birth, a similar trend to make the Scriptures accessible to the common person has heated up in Bible publishing.

There are Bibles for teens, Bibles for parents, Bibles for athletes and Bibles for recovering addicts, along with a number of new translations that seek to make the Scripture clear to people with limited reading abilities.

Tyndale would have approved, Dr. Jannetta said, as long as the translations are accurate.

``He would have seen it as entirely consistent with his own ideal,'' Dr. Jannetta said. ``He would not claim his version was the only one possible.''

The exhibit was first shown at the British Library in 1994. Before New York, it was at the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., and will be at the Library of Congress in Washington from June 4 to Sept. 6.