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We have a shelf of Bibles in our TV room that marks the
history of our family for generations. Thereâ€™s the old King
James Bible my Granny used. Thereâ€™s the New
International Version with my parentsâ€™ names inscribed in
gold. Thereâ€™s the Revised Standard Version I carried in
college and several more modern translations.
Thereâ€™s the brown, leather-bound KJV a boyfriend gave
me in high school, inscribed with Ruthâ€™s words to Naomi,
and the Italian version my husband Frank used when he lived
in Rome. I've read most of these Bibles from cover to cover,
and their battered state attests to the fact.
Iâ€™ve thought a lot about that shelf of Bibles and what they
mean since the birthday last month of an old friend. The King
James Version of the Bible just turned 400 years old.
Though many newer, more modern versions have appeared
since, for much of my life, it was the only Bible we knew. Like
other old friends, the sound of its voice was familiar and
comfortable, if somewhat stiff and formal, a little like an
eccentric, elderly schoolteacher. It was the Bible my Granny
learned and read from, and it sounded a lot like her.
It's the most famous translation in the English language. The
work of 47 leading Bible scholars of the timeâ€”both Puritans
and Anglicans, divided into companies dealing with the various
parts of the Bible.
Their work was proposed by Dr. Reynolds, president of
Corpus Christi College, Oxford and supported by James I. It
took three and a half years to complete.
It arose out of the Hampton Court Conference (above) called
by King James in 1604. It was based on the Bishops Bible of
1568 with other previous translations (Tyndaleâ€™s,
Matthewâ€™s, Coverdaleâ€™s and Geneva) used where
they followed the original more closely.
The King James Version is still the most widely read English
Bible, exerting a profound influence on language and literature
in both England and America over several centuries.
It became the Bible of most English-speaking countries and
Protestant sects and remains the version in general use in
England, though typos have been corrected and punctuation
and spelling have been modernized over the years.
It's had a major influence on English literature and on
subsequent versions of the Bible. It influenced the prose and
poetry of Milton, Wordsworth, Scott, Carlyle, Coleridge,
Hemingway, Whitman, Faulkner and Steinbeck .
It was used for public reading of scripture on Sunday mornings
long after other versions had supplanted it for personal use. Its
sonorous tones and beautiful cadences shaped my writing as it
had the writing of many others. The simplicity and elegance of
language set a standard for the language.
Its great themes of God, man, the physical
universe, personal relationships, human
morality, the unseen world and our ultimate
destiny became basic themes of literature and
Its simplicity, sincerity, intensity and vigor
have influenced the style of both prose and
â€œConsider this historical fact, that, for
three centuries, this book has been woven
into all that is noblest and best in English
history; consider that it has become the
national epic of Great Britain; and that it is as
familiar to noble and simple, from John Oâ
€™Groatsâ€™ to Landâ€™s End, as Tasso
and Dante once were to the Italians; consider
that it is written in the noblest and purest of
English, and that it abounds in exquisite
beauties of literary form; and finally, consider
that it forbids the veriest hind, who never left
his native village, to be ignorant of the
existence of other countries and other
civilizations, and of a great past stretching
back to the furthest limits of the oldest nations
in the world.â€�
--T. H. Huxley