Monday, 20 November 2006

king james bible: the public response

The book crept out into the public arena. Being only a revision of earlier translations, and not a new work, there was no need for it to be entered in the Stationers’ Register, which recorded only new publications and so, in addition to this most famous book having no agreed text, it also has no publication date. ...
Everything that could have been done for it had been done. Something approaching three hundred and fifty scholar years had been devoted to its excellence; the Crown and state church had given it their imprimatur; a laudatory preface and dedication, by permission, to the king, had been included. Any publisher would have hoped for the most enormous success.
They didn’t get it. Some critics thought its dependence on a kind of English which seemed sixty or seventy years out of date (although its English was in fact a form no one had ever spoken) made it ridiculous and bogus. Hugh Broughton, a cantankerous and aggressive Puritan Hebrew scholar, who had wanted to be part of the great committee, sending papers and suggestions to Bancroft, but barred because of his incivility, lambasted the translation for its errors and its slavish following of the old Bishops’ Bible. In the opening words of his Preface, Miles Smith had predicted such a reaction. ‘Zeale to promote the common good’, he had begun - and there is no phrase which encapsulates more precisely the ideals of the project - ‘findeth but cold intertainment in the world.’ Broughton castigated the Translators. Their understanding of Hebrew was inadequate; where they had stumbled on something worthwhile, they had usually relegated it to the margins. These worldly divines, he said, were interested only in promotion in the church and crawling to royal authority. Blasphemy, most damnable corruptions, intolerable deceit and vile imposture were terms scarcely bad enough to describe the depths of their degeneracy. ‘The late Bible’, he wrote, ‘was sent to me to censure: which bred in me a sadness that will grieve me while I breathe, it is ill done. Tell His Majesty that I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses, than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches . . . the new edition crosseth me. I require it to be burnt.’ ... The Geneva Bible continued to hold its position in English affections, at least partly because it was so useful for its notes and appendices, a guidebook to the world of the divine. It continued to flood off the presses ... Then, in 1616, the king put a halt to it, or at least attempted to: no more editions of the Geneva Bible were to be printed. The King James Bible ... was to become, by order, the only English Bible. [But Dutch editions were produced for the English market well into the 1630s] The King James Bible languished on the side, a royal project, whose language it seemed was not the language of the people.
- p227-228, Adam Nicolson, Power and Glory

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