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Jun 06

Theology, Politics & Literature at Hampton Court

THEOLOGY, POLITICS AND LITERATURE AT HAMPTON COURT A New Book about the King James's Bible  Review of a new book about the King James Bible by Robin Lamplough The quatercentenary, or 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorized or King James version of the Bible in 1611 has been marked in a variety of ways. One of the most interesting, from a historical viewpoint, is a book sub-titled 'The Story of the King James Version', published by the Oxford University Press at theend of 2010. Written by Gordon Campbell, Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester, this book examines in very readable detail the many and varied challenges that faced the translators as they tackled a daunting task at the wish of England's new Stuart king. Campbell's familiarity with the background (he is an acknowledged authority on the life and work of the Puritan John Milton) enables him to move through his subject matter with the deceptive ease that is the mark of a true scholar, presenting complex issues in clear and accessible prose. The book opens with a review of the variety of Bible versions available in English from the 14th century days of John Wyclif to the beginning of the reign of James 1 as the 16th century started. It goes on to describe the conference called by the king in 1604 to discuss the grievances of the Puritan members of the Church of England. Out of this meeting, almost immediately, came the momentous decision to make a new English translation of the Bible. The result was the convocation of fifty of England's greatest scholars, who set to work in an orderly and systematic fashion to carry out the royal commission. It was a task that would call for an adroit balancing of political as well as theological opinions. In order to make his own task manageable, Campbell has restricted his consideration of the influence of the King James Version to two key countries, Britain and the USA, where for two centuries it became for most Protestants the only Bible to be used. He outlines the impact of this version on the two North American religious revivals of the 18th century, aimed at countering the influence of European rationalism, which cast doubt on the veracity of many Bible narratives. In the process, he provides a very helpful explanation of the American origin of the current pejorative buzzword 'fundamentalist', coined as the 19th century came to a close. He notes also the emergence in both countries of movements claiming that the text of the King James Version was, in the theological sense, inspired. IMPACT ON ENGLISH In his examination of the impact of the AV on the English language, Campbell observes that the biblical source of many common expressions ('a thorn in the flesh',or 'the writing on the wall', for example) are now largely forgotten. He identifies one instance in which the KJV may be said to have changed the meaning of a word. The Greek word 'talent' was a sum of money but in English usage it has come to mean an ability. On the subject of the Bible as literature, he argues that C. S. Lewis, as early as 1950, successfully challenged that notion, arguing that as a unique and sacred book the Bible must be taken only on its own terms and that to regard it as a literary masterpiece is to trivialize it. There would be many who would not accept this as the last word on the subject. Always a source of amusement, although not at the time of publication and certainly not to the unfortunate printers, who were invariably heavily fined, is the story of Bibles produced with embarrassing typographical errors. Many of these mistakes have been immortalized in the popular names used for the editions in which they appeared: the Fool Bible, the Lions Bible, the Murderers Bible and so on. The Wicked Bible (by omitting a vital negative) appeared to make adultery compulsory. Campbell draws attention to the recent suggestion by a British academic that this omission was a deliberate act of sabotage by a disaffected compositor, although the printers, when the court imposed on them a substantial penalty, never, in their own defence,.made any such claim. Whether or not, however, one has an interest in the Bible per se, Gordon Campbell's account of the King James Version is fine history. Apart from being articulate, witty and entertaining, his writing is erudite, balanced and impartial. This book is bound to be a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand an important influence on the life of the English-speaking world. "BIBLE -The Story of the King James Version, 1611 - 2011"- Gordon Campbell (Oxford 2010). Robin Lamplough

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