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  • The Making of the King James Bible

    2010

    Arguably the greatest piece of literature in the English language, and certainly the most influential, the King James Version was born as a gesture of compromise amidst political and religious strife. Follow the whole story in The Making of the King James Bible.

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15 Mar 2011

Resources for further reading

by The Editors | Issue 100

• Alter, Robert. (2010). Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible . Princeton: Princeton University Press. This is a detailed analysis of the KJV’s influence on the style of such American writers as Abraham Lincoln (the Gettysburg Address), Herman Melville (Moby Dick ), William Faulkner (Absalom, Absalom ), and Marilynne Robinson (Gilead ).

• Bobrick, Benson. (2001). Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired . New York: Simon Shuster.

• Brake, Donald L., and Shelly Beach. (2011). A Visual...

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15 Mar 2011

The Bible Riots

by Ann T. Snyder | Issue 100

ON A SPRING NIGHT in 1844, the men and boys of St. Patrick’s parish in Philadelphia manned the roof of their church, rifles in hand, waiting for an anticipated attack that never came. St. Patrick’s was spared, but other churches were not: St. Michael’s at Second and Jefferson and St. Augustine’s on Fourth below Vine were engulfed in the flames of hatred during May and July of 1844.

This was not the first act of terror against American Catholics. In 1834 an angry Boston mob had burned down a convent because of Catholic protests against...

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15 Mar 2011

R-Rated Version

by Mark Noll | Issue 100

ALTHOUGH THE KJV succeeded hugely in America, becoming the overwhelming favorite of Americans through nearly three centuries (mid 1600s–mid 1900s), not every American was pleased. Benjamin Franklin (1706 –1790) was so dissatisfied with the KJV’s rendering of Job (he called the language “obsolete” and “disagreeable”) that he retranslated a section of it himself. Prominent Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush (1746–1813) once warned parents away from the KJV by calling it, in effect, R-rated: “There are, I grant, several chapters, and many...

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15 Mar 2011

Hail to the chief’s Bible

by Mark Noll | Issue 100

IN 1911, on the 300th anniversary of the KJV’s first printing, former president Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed, “No other book of any kind ever written in English—perhaps no other book ever written in any other tongue—has ever so affected the whole life of a people as this authorized version of the Scriptures has affected the life of the English-speaking peoples.” Roosevelt also quoted “the great scientist Huxley,” who had called the KJV “the Magna Charta of the poor and the oppressed . . . the most democratic book in the world.”

...

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15 Mar 2011

old book in a new world

by Chris R. Armstrong | Issue 100

IN 1630, Massachusetts founding governor John Winthrop—of “city on a hill” sermon fame—brought his own personal copy of the KJV ashore: the first known KJV on American soil. But this was something of an aberration; a solid majority of the earliest colonists preferred their Puritan-friendly Geneva Bible. In fact, given the popularity of that version at the time, Winthrop’s KJV seemed destined to remain a mere curiosity.

Within two decades, however, the KJV was well on its way to becoming The Bible of the New World. As the Geneva ceased...

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15 Mar 2011

American Jews and the KJV

by Ann T. Snyder | Issue 100

RABBI ISAAC LEESER, a respected clergyman, author, translator, and founder of the Jewish Press of America, objected to headings and marginal comments in English language Bibles, such as “The Prediction for Christ” for Psalm 110, “A Description of Christ” for the Song of Solomon, and “Christ’s birth and Kingdom” for Isaiah 9. His solution was to single-handedly translate into English the entire Hebrew Bible (1853) and the Sephardic and Ashkenazic prayer books (1837 and 1848). Mark A. Noll has written about the checkered history of the King...

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16 Mar 2011

No overnight success

by A. Kenneth Curtis | Issue 100

IT WAS NOT a promising start. King James I of England had inherited a kingdom still reeling from centuries of religious strife. Anglicans, Puritans, and Catholics each sought dominance in church and government, and each had their own version of the Bible (respectively, the Bishops’, Geneva, and Douay-Rheims versions, as we shall see). Unity, always James’s ruling motive, seemed remote. He tried to foster it in the realm of religion by having 47 scholars work together to create one Bible version, to be read in all English churches. And...

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15 Mar 2011

The shorter Lord’s Prayer [Luke11:2–4] in early English versions

by David Lyle Jeffrey | Issue 100

West Saxon Gospels, ca. 1000

Faeder ure thu the eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod; to-becume thin rice; gewurthe thin willa on eorthan swa saw on heofonum; urne gedaeghwamlican half syle us to daeg; and forgyf us ure gyltas swa saw we forgyfath urum gyltendum; and ne galaed thu us on costnunge, ac alys us of yfele, sothlice.

Tyndale New Testament, 1525

Oure Father which arte in heve, halowed be thy name. Lett thy kyngdo come. They will be fulfillet, even in erth as it is in heven. Oure dayly bred geve us this daye. And forgeve us oure...

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15 Mar 2011

Pre-KJV English translations

by David Lyle Jeffrey | Issue 100

SO FAR AS ANYONE KNOWS, the Bible first touched English soil near the end of the 6th century A.D. when a missionary, St. Augustine, carried one across the Channel. Of course, this was not an English version, but the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome. For centuries, it would be virtually the only written Bible in Britain. How, then, did ordinary folk—mostly illiterate—obtain their biblical knowledge? Essentially, from a variety of oral and visual sources. Preachers delivering sermons would preface their homilies with paraphrases of relevant texts....

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15 Mar 2011

Did You Know

by The Editors | Issue 100

The bucket for our well

The preface gives these powerful images for what a translation does: "Translation is what opens the window, to let the light in. It breaks the shell, so that we may eat the kernel. It pulls the curtain aside, so that we may look into the most holy place. It removes the cover from the well, so that we may get to the water. . . . In fact, without a translation in the common language, most people are like the children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or something to draw the water with; or like the...

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15 May 2011

A few of King James’s approved rules for the new translation

by The editors | Issue 100

Rule 1 instructed the Translators to leave texts from their model, the Bishops’ Bible, “as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.”

Rules 8 – 14 concerned accuracy. Rule 8 required “every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.” Rule 9 added, “As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this Manner they shall...

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17 May 2011

How the King James Bible was Born

by A. Kenneth Curtis | Issue 100

PICTURE YOURSELF in 1604 England. It is a slow-moving world, where security and stability are prized. Someday England, along with the rest of the West, will pursue constant, rapid innovation. For you, however, what is old and hallowed by tradition is what is best. You rest in the knowledge that God rules all things by an unchangeable providence and orders all things by an equally unchangeable natural law.

But all is not well in your world. Beneath its peaceful and orderly reality, an uneasy undercurrent bubbles. True, for much of the past...

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13 Jan 2011

They Said it Best

by Various | Issue 100

England has two books: the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England. — Victor Hugo (1802–1885)

The translation was extraordinarily well done ­because to the translators what they were translating was not merely a curious collection of ancient books written by different authors in ­different stages of culture, but the word of God divinely revealed through His chosen and expressly inspired scribes. In this conviction they carried out their work with boundless reverence and care and achieved a beautifully...

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13 Jan 2011

Two Takes on the KJV

by David Neff | Issue 100

HISTORICAL DOCUMENTARIES inhabit two worlds as they blend entertainment and information. In the world of the written word—strong in its ability to convey information—the artist always faces a challenge to appeal to readers’ senses and arrest their attention. In the world of dramatic film—with its ability to portray action, convey tone of voice, and deliver visual and audio stimulation—the artist faces a challenge to slow down enough to engage the brain along with the eye and the ear.  

Two new films on the King James Version tilt in...

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13 Jan 2011

How the King James Bible brought a “fly in the ointment” to English

by Alistair McGrath | Issue 100

HAVE YOU ever fallen flat on your face? Can you read the writing on the wall? Do you ever think about escaping, perhaps by the skin of your teeth before it’s too late? When things are going well, do you look for the fly in the ointment? If you answered “Yes” to these questions, you are in good company.
Shakespeare, however, never fell flat on his face. He couldn’t read the writing on the wall, never once escaped by the skin of his teeth, and his ointment was always free of flies. The Bard, that great master of vocabulary and wordplay, could...

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15 Nov 1990

1611 Publication of the King James Bible

Issue 28

“TO THE MOST HIGH AND MIGHTY PRINCE James by the Grace of God.” So begins the dedication in the most popular English Bible of all time, the Authorized Version, widely known as the King James Version. The much-loved KJV, as it is often abbreviated, may have fallen out of favor in recent years as more readable translations have been published for twentieth-century readers. But generation after generation of readers has absorbed its phrases. We can safely say that no other translation will ever have such an effect on the English language.

King...

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31 Aug 1994

The Crown of English Bibles

by Tony Lane | Issue 43

WITHOUT THE KING JAMES VERSION of the Bible, one writer speculated, “There would be no Paradise Lost ... no Pilgrim’s Progress ... no Negro spirituals, no Address at Gettysburg.” Another imagined what would happen if the KJV were to suddenly disappear: “People would not know what the great [English and American] writers were talking about.”

But the King James Version hasn't disappeared. Even though today there are more accurate and contemporary translations of the Bible, the KJV holds sovereign place in the English-speaking world: it...

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