Bet You Didn’t Know ‘Amazing’ Religious Archive is So Close To KC

Bill Tammeus on...Quayle Bible Collection

You may be surprised to learn that the first King James Version of the Bible, published in 1611, came in “he” and “she” editions.

No, one wasn’t for males and one for females. Rather, in the book of Ruth, one translation said “he went into the city” in verse 15 of chapter three, and one said “she” went there. There also were a few other small differences between them, including a hapless error in the “she” Bible that in Matthew 26:36 had “Judas,” not “Jesus” going into a garden with his disciples.

You can find both a “he” and a “she” King James Bible at the Quayle Bible Collection at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, which is only about a 45-minute drive southwest from Overland Park.

“This is an amazing collection, but people don’t know about it,” says Nicholaus Pumphrey, Baker religious studies assistant professor and Quayle curator. He’s right. It’s a hidden gem.

Chainy J. Folsom, a University of Missouri-Kansas City Ph.D. candidate who uses the Quayle collection in his research on the history of books, agrees:

“I’m very interested in books that were printed in the Nuremberg (Germany) region around 1480, give or take a few years,” he told me. “I found it quite amazing that the Quayle library has quite a few of these, and it’s just six miles from where I live.”

To find books for his research, Folsom has traveled across the U.S. and in Europe, “but I’ve saved the Quayle until now, because it’s just in the backyard. It’s a stupendous collection in general, and the fact that they have 15 or 16 of the books I’m looking at, it’s an amazing collection.”

This collection is named after Methodist Bishop William Alfred Quayle, who began it and who was president of Baker for several years in the early 1890s. Others have added to it, and it now has its own space in the Kenneth A. and Helen Foresman Spencer Wing of the school’s library. (Yes, Quayle was a distant relative of former Vice President Dan Quayle.)

Normally the collection is open to the public on weekend afternoons or by appointment. Partly because Pumphrey will be doing archeological work in Israel this summer, those hours won’t apply again until fall, but in the meantime, individuals and groups still will be able to arrange for separate tours or visits.

The collection includes important English Bibles published prior to the King James (such as those by William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale) as well as many other texts and scrolls. One of its most important holdings is a Nuremberg Chronicle, a biblical paraphrase and history of the Christian world.

“One reason it’s so valuable,” Pumphrey says of that publication, “is that it has over 1,000 woodcuts, and [the famed artist] Albrecht Dürer probably did a few of those.”

The Quayle has limited display space but exhibits change regularly, and scholars like Folsom can get access to the many holdings not on display.

Folsom’s research has to do with how such early books — mostly Bibles — were put together, how to tell who made the paper, and where the books were printed and by whom.

He’s interested especially in watermarks, those images embedded in the paper that reveal something about the source of the paper or printer.

“Even though people have collected watermarks over the years,” he told me, “what’s never been done (systematically) is seeing what paper is used in what books. I call it archeology because I go page by page. Each watermark is unique. I go through a book slowly and catalog these things.”

One of his special loves, which the Quayle has, is the 1560 Geneva Bible, known as the Bible of the Protestant Reformation, though Folsom says, laughing, that “as a Roman Catholic, I probably should get incensed occasionally” when reading it.

One Quayle book he looked at has paper that matches the binding of a completely different book printed two years later. So he could tell how even scraps of hand-made paper at times were used.

This is far different work from the rock ‘n’ roll sound engineering Folsom did for decades before a scary surgery got him thinking about how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. After surgery, he decided to finish a master’s in history. Since then, he’s taught at UMKC and in high school and now is a general academic advisor for the UMKC College of Arts and Sciences.

“My wife refers to this as ‘I’m living my dream,’” he said.

Pumphrey came to this work via his love of ancient history, and a professor who suggested he combine that with religious studies.

“One of the reasons I wanted this job,” he told me, “was the Quayle. I thought this would be a great resource. But I had no idea that the Quayle was going to have the manuscripts that it does.”

Maybe you didn’t know that, either. Until now.

Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder and former award-winning Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star, writes the daily “Faith Matters” blog for The Star’s website and columns for The Presbyterian Outlook and The National Catholic Reporter. His latest book is The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. Email him at wtammeus@gmail.com.

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