TAG | King James Bible
More from that article by Mr. Hitchens on the KJV:
A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it “relevant” is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare. “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,” says the Book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter? And so bleak and spare and fatalistic—almost non-religious—are the closing verses of Ecclesiastes that they were read at the Church of England funeral service the unbeliever George Orwell had requested in his will: “Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home. … Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. / Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was.”
The Tyndale/King James translation, even if all its copies were to be burned, would still live on in our language through its transmission by way of Shakespeare and Milton and Bunyan and Coleridge, and also by way of beloved popular idioms such as “fatted calf” and “pearls before swine.” It turned out to be rather more than the sum of its ancient predecessors, as well as a repository and edifice of language which towers above its successors. Its abandonment by the Church of England establishment, which hoped to refill its churches and ended up denuding them, is yet another demonstration that religion is man-made, with inky human fingerprints all over its supposedly inspired and unalterable texts…
But it’s not just the churches that have been “denuded”, and it’s not just the C of E that has been doing this sort of thing, and it’s not only an English problem either. Just read, for example, what Heather has recently posted here about the proposed “Common Core” school curriculum.
On a related topic, an English friend recently mentioned to me that in one respect he sometimes found it strangely difficult to communicate with his teenage children. They are bright, well-informed and doing well at ‘good’ schools. At the same time, he believes that they are not being taught some of what he, or, for that matter, his parents, would have considered to be the essentials of English culture, from the KJV, to Shakespeare, to too much of the country’s history. The result is that the shared assumptions of shared knowledge necessary to underpin so many conversations are simply not there.
A traditionalist, but not an unthinking traditionalist, he recognizes that cultures evolve but this is, he reckons, something else. Heather, I suspect, would agree.
And so, I think, would Christopher Hitchens.
The machinery by which one generation transmits its heritage to the next appears to have been wrecked.
Read these words again:
A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one.
Indeed. And not too much of it will survive for too long.
Via Vanity Fair, here’s a fine account from Christopher Hitchens of the—King James Version—greatest of all the English translations of the Bible.
As always with Mr. Hitchens, there’s room for a good anecdote:
After she was elected the first female governor of Texas, in 1924, and got herself promptly embroiled in an argument about whether Spanish should be used in Lone Star schools, it is possible that Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson did not say, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas.”
Those were the days.
And then there’s this:
Until the early middle years of the 16th century…torture and death was the attempt to print the Bible in English. It’s a long and stirring story, and its crux is the head-to-head battle between Sir Thomas More and William Tyndale…Their combat fully merits the term “fundamental.” Infuriating More, Tyndale whenever possible was loyal to the Protestant spirit by correctly translating the word ecclesia to mean “the congregation” as an autonomous body, rather than “the church” as a sacrosanct institution above human law. In English churches, state-selected priests would merely incant the liturgy. Upon hearing the words “Hoc” and “corpus” (in the “For this is my body” passage), newly literate and impatient artisans in the pews would mockingly whisper, “Hocus-pocus,” finding a tough slang term for the religious obfuscation at which they were beginning to chafe. The cold and righteous More, backed by his “Big Brother” the Pope and leading an inner party of spies and inquisitors, watched the Channel ports for smugglers risking everything to import sheets produced by Tyndale, who was forced to do his translating and printing from exile. The rack and the rope were not stinted with dissenters, and eventually Tyndale himself was tracked down, strangled, and publicly burned. (Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece historical novel, Wolf Hall, tells this exciting and gruesome story in such a way as to revise the shining image of “Saint” Thomas More, the “man for all seasons,” almost out of existence. High time, in my view. The martyrdoms he inflicted upon others were more cruel and irrational than the one he sought and found for himself.)
One can only agree, pausing only to note that, during the course of his recent visit to the UK, the current pope had the gall to lecture the English on the virtues of the bleakly proto-totalitarian More.