133. The King James Bible

King James: the bangin’-est of the Bibles.

I love religion. I think it’s fascinating, and really, the driving force behind much of history.

I’m certainly not religious, but I was raised Jewish, and I do appreciate the culture and traditions of Judaism. I can read Hebrew, I know most of the prayers, and I go to services on the High Holidays. That’s pretty good.

God is a bit harder. I’m not sure I believe in God, but it’s hard for me to say I for suresies don’t. It’s probably a relic of my (very reform) religious school experience growing up. But it just feels wrong and not totally sure to say “I don’t believe in God. I’m an atheist.” Plus, if there is a God, it’s definitely the Jewish God – our God is a total asshole, completely arbitrary, and without any of that peace-and-love bullshit. The Jewish God will fuck you up, but you’d better believe anyway.

Anyway. Last year was the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (1611). KJB is the primary Bible used throughout America, and much of the rest of the Western Christian world. It’s where the classic formally worded verses come from – “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is a King James affectation, for example. Translations straight from the Greek or Hebrew tend to just use “you.”

Sum Commandments.

The King James Bible was commissioned by King James of England in 1604. It was completed in 1611. Committees of translators were hired for the task. However, this was not the first Bible in English. In the 15th century, John Wycliffe and his followers wrote the first translation of the Bible into English, so that the common Christian man could read it (before, the Bible was just in Latin). In the 16th century, William Tyndale wrote another translation. Tyndale’s version was the first printed bible in circulation. He was a talented linguist, and his translation makes up a lot of today’s KJB. However, his work was interrupted when he was burned at the stake as a heretic. Wah-wah.

My main man, King James of England

Today, the King James Bible has a pretty interesting legacy. It’s generally viewed as the be-all-and-end-all authority of Bible study in the American Christian world. However, it’s a translation – so it really cannot be taken entirely literally for textual analysis. In the more-ancient world, scholars had to be fluent in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to reputably analyze the Scriptures. It was understood that their original languages were important contextual evidence. But today, I often see preachers and ministers quoting from King James as if it were itself the Word of God – which nobody could possibly believe.


BFF**: In England, the right to print, publish, or distribute the King James Bible belongs exclusively to the Crown. So, even though it’s in the public domain in most of the world, Queen Elizabeth II is the only one in England with the right to lay her mitts on KJB.

** – Bonus Fun Fact

October 31, 2012. Books, Culture, History, Rectangles, Religion.

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