Thursday, April 17, 2003

The making of the King James Bible
Condensed from The Economist book review

Published 1611, The King James Bible was the result of King James' dream of bridging through the Bible his kingdom's religious divides.

The king brought in disparate teams of translators, members from the Church of England Episcopalians ( Fond of pomp and ceremony in the Church) and from among the Puritans ( Who abhorred pomp and wanted to live by the Word alone) . These men were grouped into six teams, or “companies”, and were based at Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster.

The translated text was written in the left-hand column only of a large ledger, the right-hand kept blank for comments and improvements. In this fashion, working more like a team of accountants than the devisers of a national treasure, the translators put the new text together.

The personalities of the men colored the translations.Laurence Chaderton, a Puritan who translated the “Song of Songs”, was moved by memories of the lovely boy he had a crush on. Among the translators of Genesis was a man who had been to the West Indies,who filled his descriptions of Eden with memories of the parrots and forests of Dominica.

One translator, Samuel Ward, left a diary recording his struggles with sin. As a Puritan , he was bound to a regime of sermons and chapel-going. But his thoughts wandered rather freely to adultery and gluttony.

The Calvinist Geneva Bible of the 1550s records the second verse of Genesis as :

And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the waters.

King James's translators change it as:

And the earth was without form, and void, and the darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

The comma after “form” and the colon after “deep” heighten the drama of the empty stage on which creation is about to occur. But the masterstroke lies in “the face of the deep” and “the face of the waters”, phrases by which the almost human elements appear to be responding to the touch of God.

When the newly translated texts arrived, each team would sit and listen as the words were read to them. Their child-like attention was vitally important. This Bible was meant, above all, to be read out and heard; euphony, its governing principle, is also the secret of its abiding power.


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