King James Bible’s longevity proves bigoted is better

Who said this? “We are a Christian culture, we come from a Christian culture, and not to know the King James Bible is to be, in some small way, barbarian.”

No, not a disgruntled churchman, but Richard Dawkins, lending his support to this year’s 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible.

Fans of the feisty atheist need not worry that their hero has gone soft. “It is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource,” he said. I had a little chuckle at that one. Religion? Hijacking the Bible? Whatever next?

Except, of course, that is precisely what the King James Bible (or, more properly, the King James Version or KJV) was: an attempt by the Church of England to control the religious and cultural agenda.

The translation, begun in 1604, was meant to bolster the authority of the established church. King James I ordered that the Greek word “ekklesia” be translated as “church”, not “congregation” or “assembly”, to give the impression that the Bible proposes top-down ecclesiastical authority. He insisted that there be no marginal notes in the text. This dangerous commentary in the more radical Geneva Bible led to the questioning of the divine right of kings.

This year, the KJV will be everywhere, feted alongside Shakespeare as a formative influence on the English language. In this, there is much nostalgia for some golden age of dignified public speech.

The KJV was always about performance: it was designed to be read aloud in church, not studied at home. Early editions were vast tomes, to be placed on a lectern, unlike the tiny Tyndale Bible, made pocket-sized because it was contraband, banned by the established church. When it comes to Bibles, size matters. — Guardian News & Media 2010

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Giles Fraser
Guest Author
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