A US historian claims to have found the oldest known draft of the King James Bible.

Jeffrey Miller, an assistant professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, came across a 400-year-old notebook at the Sidney Sussex College in England's Cambridge University late last year while looking through the papers of Samuel Ward for an essay he was writing. Ward was among 47 men, divided into six teams, who were commissioned by King James I to provide him with a new English translation of the Bible in the early 1600s.

Writing in The Times Literary Supplement earlier this month, Miller said the draft contained in the 70 page notebook, which is said to date from between 1604 to 1608, is not only the earliest draft ever found but is also the only surviving draft of the Bible which is written in the hand of one of the original translators.

"It represents not just the earliest draft of the KJB now known to survive, but one utterly unlike any previously found," he wrote in the TLS. "Ward’s draft alone bears all the signs of having been a first draft, just as it alone can be definitively said to be in the hand of one of the King James translators themselves. It also stands as the only draft now known to survive of any part of the Apocrypha in the KJB, and the only draft yet to be discovered in Cambridge, one of the three initial centres of the Bible’s composition."

The King James Bible was first published in 1611 and is described as one of the most influential English-language texts of all time.