Tuesday, April 22, 2008
The King's English
Here is my book report. For my book report I read the book God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson. (No, that is not a typo. This fellow has no "H" as Jack Nicholson does. [Didn't you just love Chinatown and Five Easy Pieces?].) Being more of a fiction rather than non-fiction (what's the diff, really?) reader, I started off skimming this book for a research project, and then got drawn into it. I loved the prose. And the history. If I reveal what I learned, it will shine a red-hot a klieg light on my ignorance, but that's okay. They didn't much like Catholics in those days, in Merrie Olde England, especially after the Gunpowder Plot. Nicolson says it was mostly trumped-up hysteria. His book was published in 2003, and he pointedly compares the attitude then toward Catholics of all stripes to attitudes today to Muslims of all types. Many see the King James Bible, or the Authorized (Authorised with an "s," for Glamourpuss) Version, as a landmark work of our English language. It was "translated" by a committee of some 50 scholars. A committee! The language was even archaic in its own time. No one knows how many were printed in 1611; the printer sort of mixed and matched versions, so they were all different editions. Therefore, in essence, "The curious fact is that no one such thing as 'The King James Bible' -- agreed, consistent and whole -- has ever existed." (page 226) There are some startling misprints, including "Judas" instead of "Jesus" in one of the Gospels! Plus, a 1631 edition, called the Wicked Bible, left out the word "not" in Exodus 20:14, so it read, "Thou shalt commit adultery." Miles Smith, who wrote the Preface to the KJV Bible, quoted from the popular Geneva Bible instead of from the work of the Translators in the Preface itself! Similarly, Lancelot Andrewes, one of the chief Translators, continued to use the Geneva Bible as text for his sermons, not the fruit of his work, the King James Version (KJV). How's that for a vote of confidence in something you labored over for years? Speaking of the Geneva Bible, that's what the Mayflower Pilgrims (Separatists; radical Nonconformists) carried on board, though the KJV ironically became the guiding text of Puritan America. Finally, click on the image shown here and you will see the most exquisite and delicious use of the semicolon I've ever encountered. That's my book report. The End. (I am a deliberate reader. Though I found this hugely entertaining, I had to renew the book twice. I'm returning it to the library this evening.) p.s. I learned, or relearned, the word "Jacobean" as an adjective referring to King James I and the period of his reign.