400th anniversary of the most influencial book in English language

by Jamie Lutton

The American newspapers, as far as I can tell, ignored this date - February 5th - the anniversary of the publication of the most influential book in the English language. The King James translation of the bible, Old and New Testament.
The most magnificent prose in our language is in this book, I need only bring up the book of Job.

Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook?

I keep reading this book in the Bible, as it addresses the mystery of human suffering.  It is a fable about as a bet between God and the Devil, as if they were equals, to gamble over the soul of one man, Job. Originally, it was told in verse.  I think it is just meant to explore the mystery of human existence, suffering and human fate, dealing with an unknowable God. .

A very odd quirk of our secular Seattle is that people read all sorts of things, but if you pick up a Bible, it is seen to be odd, even though there is fantastic, sweeping prose in this in this translation.  It is as if  the idea of God being so old-fashioned, or perhaps even poisonous, that this book is not to be opened. Not even when stuck in a hotel, and there is a Gideon Bible right there.

It is this translation and no other that should be read.  this translation gave to the English language three times as many words and phrases as Shakespeare.  When you take a quick look in the sections that I suggest, words and whole phrases will jump out at you, like the voices of good teachers you had half forgotten. You will find where that -that! phrase came from. And that leaves out the stories that the book tells, kingdoms rise, kingdoms fall, and many, many wars.  You don't want to read, say, The New English Bible, which says

Can you pull the whale out with a gaff?

in the book of Job.  It might be "clearer" prose, but it is not what our language grew from. And I want you to swoon from intoxication of the images.  This is reading for the poetry, not the  shopping list of literal translation, which plods along, in an alien tongue; not our language.

I recommend, quickly Genesis, Exodus, Samuel 1+2, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes.  the Song of Solomon. Then, in the New Testament, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.  Skip the writings of Saul otherwise known as Paul, for the first pass through, if you have never picked up the Bible.  

I want to bring up William Tyndale, a priest who died because he thought that having the Bible in English was more important than his safety, his security or his life.  He worked on this translation for only a few years, and it seems, by himself. But 70% of the King James Bible is his. He was on the run for years; and he kept translating as he hid from authorities. (For more on the influence of his translation, see here.)

His death was an ugly one. He was strangled in  1536 by the Catholic Church in England for daring to translate the Bible at all. He was burnt, and his ashes were scattered, so he would not attend the Resurrection. There are copies of his version of the Bible in print, so that they can be compared, if you so wish; he got the last laugh, his work lives on.(for more on his translation, the trouble it caused, and his death look here.)

The Catholic Church of that time really did not want the peasants to learn how to read the Word; they killed and killed again to try to stop this. So, for the right to read The Word, we should stop and spend some time and enjoy that right, to remember Tyndale and others like him. They are forerunners of our Founding Fathers, and all others who have died to make us free to worship (or not worship) as we please. To be able to live a secular life, one must first have the choice.

Here are some of the phrases that Tyndale coined in his translation, that made it into the King James Bible. 
  • lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
  • knock and it shall be opened unto you
  • twinkling of an eye
  • a moment in time
  • fashion not yourselves to the world
  • seek and you shall find
  • ask and it shall be given you
  • judge not that you not be judged
  • the word of God which liveth and lasteth forever
  • let there be light
  • the powers that be
  • my brother's keeper
  • the salt of the earth
  • a law unto themselves
  • filthy lucre
  • it came to pass
  • gave up the ghost
  • the signs of the times
  • the spirit is willing
  • live and move and have our being
  • fight the good fight

I could write 1,000,000 words about this translation, and just tread water in a bottomless ocean (keeping a wary eye out for that leviathan).   The greatest book of all, even to the staunchest atheist, doubter, or bored reader,  just for sheer reach of the thing. And the question is not about  *belief* in a desert God, but the book  that God inspired. To read it,  reread it, puzzle over it, and come away refreshed.

And think of all the great quotes you can acquire to entertain your friends*..

To not read the King James Bible because you are not religious is like not reading Shakespeare because you are not particularly  a theater goer..... 

   *though the best one of all "The devil  can cite scripture for his own purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek"  is from Shakespeare