Dr Femke Saskia Molekamp, University of Warwick


Translation was central to the dissemination of beliefs and culture in the Reformation. This project will examine how European Calvinism and its texts shaped English Protestantism through investigating the making of a single set of translations that was key to the transmission of Calvinist ideas: the English Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible was produced by Protestant exiles from Marian England, living in Geneva in a community of influential European Protestant Reformers at Calvin’s church. Within this Christian humanist culture, rich in biblical scholarship and translation activities, a first edition of the Geneva Bible was produced in 1560. From 1575, with Elizabeth I on the throne, it began to be published in England, where it was printed in over 140 editions up until the 1640s. The popularity of this vernacular Bible was due in part to its unique material features: a wealth of reading aids in the form of prefaces, diagrams, extensive marginal notes, summaries and maps, and the division of the scriptures into verses for the ease of reading. Many of these features drew influence from European texts and paratexts. As a composite of these features, the Geneva Bible was the only Bible of its kind available at this time in England. Scholarship awaits a full account of the making of this materially complex, culturally influential Bible. My project will investigate the making of the Geneva Bible, tracing its genesis and development in Geneva, exploring the influence it drew from other European translations and from the literary culture of Geneva of this time. It will begin with a study of the interactions between European Calvinism and English Protestantism, as an important background. I will examine the collaborative culture of biblical translation at Calvin’s church in Geneva. I will discuss the backgrounds of the exiles constituting the community of Geneva Bible translators and trace their textual exchanges with other learned members of Calvin’s church. In order to provide an original, and much needed account, of the making of the Geneva Bible, I will explore the use of Beza’s Latin New Testament for the revised New Testament by Laurence Tomson, adopted by the Geneva Bible from 1576, and also of the influence of Beza’s Book of Christian questions and answers (1572) on catechistical paratexts, such as ‘Certaine Questions and Answers Concerning Predestination’, which appear in later editions of the Geneva Bible. I will then examine ways in which the literalistic marginal notes of Lefevre’s French New Testament (1523) provided an important model for the Geneva Bible’s extensive marginal apparatus. The theology of the Geneva Bible marginal notes combined a Calvinist emphasis on the security of the elect, regarding salvation, with a moralistic view of faith consonant with the English Protestant tradition. I will trace motifs of predestination and apocalypse in the marginal notes, which intensify in the later New Testament translation by Laurence Tomson, and in the later annotations to Revelation by Franciscus Junius. I will situate these contextually in the literary culture of the church of the exiles making particular comparisons with the works of John Bale, and of John Olde’s translation of Rudolf Gualter’s Antichrist (1556). In examining how Reformers were mediating readings of the scriptures, this study will make an important contribution to the growing field of the history of reading, which has recently gained prominence. This project will be the vital first stage in a larger study of the making and reception of the Geneva Bible in England, which I plan to undertake. The study I propose here would be complemented by further studies, beyond the term of the fellowship, which would detail the complex publication history of the Geneva Bible in England, and trace its readership and associated reading, as well as its reception in literary culture, by writers such as Spenser, Sidney and Shakespeare.


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