Report on the Third Oxford International Tyndale Conference, September 1998: Tyndale's Early Years

On entering the lodge at Hertford College I overheard a rather bemused porter explaining to some puzzled visitors that these cheery delegates were intending to discuss William Tyndale and his Bible for three whole days. It seemed a little impolite to burden his incredulity by adding that this would be the third time that many of us had done so! He was not to know that the cheeriness was due to the fact that attendance at a Tyndale Conference is by now a means of meeting old friends whether they be academics or 'plough boys'. There is definitely a special and friendly atmosphere associated with these bi-annual Conferences which the porter and the visitors had detected on that mild September day. The Tyndale Society, everyone acknowledges, cuts across many disciplines — history, religion, translation and art — and this is always reflected in the papers submitted. The programme of short papers were more trite to the chosen theme of the Conference namely Tyndales Early Years than the plenary sessions but, as Tyndale members would be the first to admit, the Society has developed, since its inception, a much broader base and scope than originally envisaged.

It was appropriate as registration was on a Sunday to open the Conference with a service of worship in Hertford College Chapel led by Prof. David Daniell with an erudite address given by Dr Hilary Day on the book of Jonah. After dinner two publications were introduced — W.R. Cooper's Old Spelling Edition of Tyndale's 1526 New Testament and Dr Deborah Pollard's Concordance to Tyndale's Bibles in Modern Spelling. This is surely proof that the Society has inspired members to enhance the solid base in research already undertaken and published by Prof. David Daniell and contained in its academic journal Reformation. Another exciting development in this respect was Revd David Ireson's presentation in a plenary session on Tuesday afternoon of a slide lecture William Tyndale which he and several other plough boys are producing for general distribution and sale to publicise the Society. He made it clear that it was not yet in its final form. Nonetheless, it was of a very high standard and David Ireson invited discussion and comments. The project was extremely well received and afterwards several of the professional academics present gathered round to correct a few errors and inconsistencies. This practical initiative of the 'plough-boys' (amateur historians) and academics working together is a welcome but, not altogether, usual state of affairs at international gatherings. It rates as one of the most positive strengths of the Tyndale Society Conference.

The Conference was given an enthusiastic start by the irrepressible Dr Guido Latré of the Catholic University of Leuven, who manipulated his overhead sheets with the ease of a juggler whilst expounding on the highly developed printing industry of Antwerp in Tyndale's time. This city had over 60 printing houses in the first half of the 16th century and produced well over 2000 works which, Guido was keen to emphasise, were not all theological. Printers appreciated solvency and printed works that enabled them to achieve this end! They were also careful to protect their reputations by keeping within the rules whenever possible and by not printing too many contentious works or phrases. Naturally, Bibles in many languages (Latin, Dutch, Danish and English) were an important part of their business. Although Tyndale's Bible may have represented only a tiny trickle in terms of production its influence was enormous. He also revealed that the Coverdale Bible of 1535 was printed with Dutch illustrations.

The theme of illustration in Bibles was brilliantly expounded with slides by Prof .Andrew Pettegree iii the University iii St Andrews in a plenary session on Tuesday morning. It is not appropriate or, indeed possible, to discuss his paper in detail here. Suffice to say that the Genevan contingent (all two of us) were pleased to hear the Geneva Bible was described as a trend-setter since it achieved a compromise between good production and acceptable illustrations. In a nutshell it seemed Antwerp had the money and the demand from a sophisticated clientele to develop the art of illustration: a little later Geneva had the ingenuity to produce an illustrated Bible using ail the available techniques (maps, diagrams) whilst toeing the Protestant line: lastly Lyon, whilst keeping to the Genevan text, was much more flexible on and more lavish with illustrations as. for example, in John Le Tour's Bible of 1561. Pettegree did make the point that the semi-clandestine nature of Tyndale's Bible arid the limited funds available were the over-riding criteria in the rather restricted nature of the illustration in that particular case rather than deep theological principles.

There were some excellent presentations by other speakers. Mary Clow enthralled us all with her paper on Murdoch Nisbet and his New Testament in cots — all the more impressive since she has never seen it The book is being restored at present. W.R. Cooper revealed some first class detective work in his short paper on The Tyndale Fragment. We were not all totally convinced by his handwriting analysis and argument but we were impressed by his meticulous persistence and interpretation of his subject. Sir Rowland Whitehead. President of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, amused us with his thought provoking paper on the trials and tribulations facing a translator entitled Tyndale — the pith and marrow of the thing. His title, as many of you are well aware, is lifted from Tyndale's introduction to the book of Leviticus. Neil Inglis managed to make the story of the death of Michel Server sound fascinating in his own inimitable way — though we Genevans were able to spot the poetic licence in his performance. Speaking of performances after dinner on Tuesday evening Greg Thompson and the AANDBC Theatre Company gave a moving rendering of excerpts from If I were lifted up from earth — the New Testament as translated by William Tyndale in 1534. The company's aim s to make profound texts accessible, vibrant and enriching for large audiences that are not the normal consumers of such works. Judging by the audience reaction (and we were tired after a long day of Conference papers) these earnest young people sill be given the opportunity to perform in locations other than London in future. Their presence at the Conference was a personal tribute to David Daniell to whom they owe their material.

The parallel sessions on Monday proved to be a little frustrating as the rooms they were held in were too small — an organisers' nightmare as they are never quite sure which papers will attract the crowds — and the technical backup (projectors) was nil. It proved impractical, even for the fittest amongst us, to race back and forth as the two sessions were not synchronised. By imposing strict time keeping and allowing an interval between papers this could and should be rectified at the next conference. Thanks to the forethought of Air Canada whose strike unfortunately deprived us of the talks by the de Courseys (stranded in fax-starved Saskatchewan) the parallel sessions for Tuesday were metamorphosed into a slightly longer plenary session. Although the subjects were varied and uneven in quality, at least, no agonising choices had to be made or speakers interrupted by doors opening and games of musical chairs.

The last plenary speaker of the Conference Tyndale Society chairman, Prof. David Daniell, gave a classic rousing and poignant talk on The faith of William Tyndale. He never fails to interest and or find new aspects of Tyndale to expound on.

Several interesting ideas and suggestions emerged from the lively Tyndale forum on Wednesday afternoon ably chaired by Dr Guido Latré. Quite a few people felt that the Society should be publicised more widely and that it was falling down on the public relations side. Apparently there was only one review of the Society's Academic Journal Reformation when it was launched; considering the quality of this publication this was, to say the least, very unfortunate. Concerning the conferences themselves it was agreed that they should continue at two year intervals and be held in early September; round table discussions and the inclusion of a workshop were to be seriously considered and hopefully implemented.

All in all it was an enjoyable, successful and worthwhile Conference. The balance of full time academics and passionately interested 'plough-boys' was decently and delicately maintained. The Committee in their wisdom have decided to hold the next conference in Leuven (Louvaine), Belgium in September 2000. This is a bold initiative and will hopefully bring in some new people from the continent. To date, Europeans have been outnumbered by Americans. It would be nice if some of Europe's leading academics were to come as the Society is in danger of placing too much emphasis on England and its viewpoints. The slogan for 2000 must be-away with insularity; shun not Europe. After all, William Tyndale spent most of his productive life there!

Valerie Offord, European Tyndale Representative

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