“What does it mean to discover the earliest draft of the King James Bible?” asked Peter Kingstone, dean of Montclair State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Kingstone posed the question in introducing Associate Professor of English Jeffrey Alan Miller, who was recently awarded a 2019 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship – better known as a “Genius Grant” – and who was presenting on his “chance” discovery at an event at the Kasser Theater on December 4.
Nearly 400 people from the Montclair and campus community attended the lecture by Miller on his scholarship and research. A Rhodes Scholar who attended Princeton University as an undergraduate and Oxford for his doctorate, Miller achieved international recognition in 2015 after discovering the earliest known draft of the King James Bible.
Miller and Kingstone quickly eschewed the idea of discoveries in the humanities – or elsewhere – happening by “pure serendipity.” Rather, said Kingstone, such a discovery “requires great intellect and great insight, an ability to draw on different areas of humanities in order to recognize what remains hidden in plain sight.”
Miller then took the audience through his circuitous route to the discovery – a veritable whodunit involving prominent and obscure literary, religious and historical figures of early 17th-century England – based around his specialization as a scholar of the poet John Milton.
Experts characterized Miller’s discovery as being “perhaps the most significant archival find relating to the King James Bible in decades.” The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation noted that Miller’s expansive view of the writing process and of what constitutes a draft manuscript are changing our understanding of seminal works at the foundation of modern Christianity, philosophy and literature.
“The discovery of Ward’s draft did not happen by chance at all,” Miller said. “It happened because I was fortunate enough to be at Montclair State, surrounded, encouraged, perpetually uplifted by the students, faculty, administration and wider University community that all of us affiliated with Montclair State are immensely fortunate to call our own. That’s the real way discoveries in the humanities so often happen. Through the support of places like Montclair State.”
“That made all the difference,” said Miller. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
– Story by Mary Barr Mann