Bi­ble bash

Bri­tain gears up to mark 400 years of the Autho­risedVer­sionOfTheBi­ble come 2011.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BOOKS - By CHRISTO­PHER HOWSE

LIKE the Tower of London and its at­ten­dant ravens, the Au­tho­rised Ver­sion Of The Bi­ble stands as a mon­u­ment at the heart of the English-speak­ing world. We may not of­ten look in­side, but we are glad it is there. Like the Tower too, Amer­i­cans seem par­tic­u­larly keen on it, and we speak rev­er­ently of its age­less mag­nif­i­cence while re­main­ing vague on the de­tail.

In the first decade of the 17th cen­tury, it took the new king James from Scot­land to ham­mer out a bi­ble that en­dured. “It is one of the first Bri­tish things to be made,” points out the Glas­gow-born Neil MacGre­gor, fresh from his A His­tory Of The World In 100 Ob­jects on BBC Ra­dio 4. “It was made by the whole is­land to be used by the whole is­land.”

Now it is used by the whole globe, as though God re­ally were an English­man. If the last Harry Pot­ter sold 44 mil­lion, the Bi­ble has sold 2.5 bil­lion some say, or six bil­lion, say oth­ers.

For the 400th an­niver­sary of the Au­tho­rised Ver­sion ( AV), Bri­tain is go­ing Bi­ble ba­nanas. There is a con­tin­u­ous read­ing of the whole vol­ume at Black­burn cathe­dral this week­end, learned sym­posia from Cam­bridge to Aberdeen, shed-loads of Han­del, and a fir­ma­ment of star lec­tur­ers, such as au­thors Adam Ni­col­son and Melvyn Bragg. And there are still chap­ters to be added to the YouTube Bi­ble, a sort of “wiki” ven­ture to post up the whole thing au­dio-vis­ually.

The Duke of Ed­in­burgh kicked off cel­e­bra­tions yes­ter­day with a party in the Ban­quet­ing House at White­hall, even though there are 162 days to go be­fore the 400th an­niver­sary of its pub­li­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to the web­site of the King James Bi­ble Trust, the an­niver­sary’s co­or­di­na­tor.

Note that it chooses King James Bi­ble, the name by which it is known in the United States. In Bri­tain, they call it the Au­tho­rised Ver­sion. Nor was May 2, 1611, re­ally its birth­day, for there were no pub­li­ca­tion dates in those days.

What we know is that two edi­tions of the new trans­la­tion were printed in that year – known as the He Bi­ble and the She Bi­ble (ac­cord­ing to the pro­noun in Ruth 3:15, re­flect­ing un­cer­tainty about whether it was Ruth or Boaz who went into the city). Both edi­tions, of 1,464 un­num­bered pages, were big, fat fo­lios.

Ap­pointed and au­tho­rised

These bi­bles were large be­cause they were “ap­pointed to be read in churches”, as the ti­tle page says. “Ap­pointed” is not quite “au­tho­rised”, but, “that does not mean, of course, that it was unau­tho­rised,” Gor­don Camp­bell, the Re­nais­sance his­to­rian, points out in Bi­ble: The Story Of The King James Ver­sion (Ox­ford).

Un­til 1644, peo­ple could buy Bish­ops’ bi­bles (a trans­la­tion from 1568) to read at home, but any new bi­bles in churches had to be the AV.

Id­ioms from the Bi­ble

This year, the in­de­fati­ga­ble lin­guist Pro­fes­sor David Crys­tal tried to work out how many id­ioms from the AV had en­tered into the English lan­guage, id­ioms do­mes­ti­cated by the lan­guage – such as “salt of the earth” or “two-edged sword”. Prof Crys­tal, fol­low­ing a strict method­ol­ogy, came up with 257, which he ex­am­ines in his en­ter­tain­ing book Be­gat (Ox­ford).

Those who ac­tu­ally read the Bi­ble might find such crumbs un­sat­is­fy­ing. For the AV is the sa­cred text even on the wilder shores of Protes­tantism be­yond the Church of Eng­land. The Au­tho­rised Ver­sion, de­clared 1,000 Bi­ble churches in the US, “pre­serves the very words of God in the form in which he wishes them to be rep­re­sented in the uni­ver­sal lan­guage of these last days: English.”

The Au­tho­rised Ver­sion of to­day is how­ever not the text pub­lished in 1611. Hun­dreds of changes in vo­cab­u­lary, gram­mar, spell­ing and punc­tu­a­tion were made for a cen­tury and a half.

Er­rors crept in (“Thou shalt com­mit adul­tery”; “Prin­ters have per­se­cuted me” in­stead of “princes”; “The un­righ­teous shalt in­herit the king­dom”; “Let the chil­dren first be killed” in­stead of “filled”). And er­rors were chased out.

What is pub­lished now is the ver­sion re­vised by Ben­jamin Blayney, an Ox­ford man, in 1769, and qui­etly adopted by prin­ters. Even the type­face is im­por­tant, for in 1611 it was set in “black let­ter” Gothic type. Words not in the orig­i­nal He­brew and Greek, but added by trans­la­tors to elu­ci­date the sense, were in­serted in small Ro­man type, in ital­ics. They looked suit­ably sub­sidiary in im­por­tance. Our use of ital­ics to­day is to em­pha­sise, so the mod­ern edi­tions, with the print in Ro­man and these added words in ital­ics, give pre­cisely the wrong im­pres­sion.

Ob­scu­ri­ties re­main. What did the prophet Ezekiel mean when he said: “Woe to the women that sew pil­lows to all arm­holes?” But many a crux in Shake­speare is as hard. – © The Daily Tele­graph UK 2010

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