Monday, 7 February 2011

Happy Birthday King James

This is the year that the King James Bible turns 400. Nobody seems quite sure when the first copy actually churned off the presses, but May 2 has been chosen by some to mark the event. The Canadian Globe and Mail has a decent article about the anniversary, and many more are bound to follow.

The G&M piece points out that the KJV "is the only literary masterpiece produced by a committee," an incredible achievement in its own right. And who knew that the Queen still holds the copyright? (How does that work? I mean, 1611!) The misuse made of the Grand Old Lady by dimwitted "KJV-only" fundamentalists can't obsure the fact that all English speakers today owe the seventeenth-century translators a huge literary debt.

Those folk of my generation still remember the KJV as the standard Bible of our childhoods. Moffatt and Fenton, the ASV (huh?) and Knox, Williams and Beck, Goodspeed and Phillips; short-lived challengers and now long-faded memories to all but the most determined Bible collectors. God speed the day when Eugene Peterson's The Message and the CEV likewise pass into obscurity.

The KJV, because of its almost universal use, was also a wonderful repository of inane proof texts and sickly memory verses. And who could forget those charming phrases from long ago such as "him that pisseth against the wall." Despite that it was, and is, a true cultural artifact. From an age in which literature was crafted to be read aloud to text messages and 'tweets.' Evolution in reverse?
[H]istorical theologian Ephraim Radner of the University of Toronto's Anglican Wycliffe College speak[s] of the 400th anniversary as something of a funeral notation for biblical literary culture – a culture that only four decades ago shaped the soaring oratory and cadences of Martin Luther King Jr. but now is passing rapidly from the collective memory of an English-speaking world with no knowledge of the bonds of its rhetoric, metaphors and sublime rhythms.
Amen brother!

I feel a series on obscure Bible translations coming on...

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