Monday, January 10, 2011

King James Sunday

Although a scientist heathen, I got many years ago the habit of keeping one Bible on my night stand, and only one: the King James one.  Today I learned from the NYT  that this version is today 400 years old.

Why would I keep a King James next to me?  Well, first it is buried together with at least a dozen books, the very least I keep in my night stand, without counting magazines.  Neither it is because I am a closet protestant: I am clear in one thing, if I ever were to return to a religion it would be the Catholic one.  See, I think that if you can convert then you never believed in the first place and you will likely not believe in the second instance.  In my personal observation, conversions today have more of a tribal component than a true metaphysical one.

No, the reason why I keep it is that very early on when I was learning English in college I realized that the King James was in English, or as the NYT writes:

The King James Bible has had an enormous impact on English for the very reason that it captures and preserves — and communicates down through the centuries — the unavoidable rhythms of good English. Its words are almost never Latinate, and its rhythms are never hampered by the literalism that afflicts other translations.

And that is why I have it, so that on occasion, maybe once every 6 months, I can indulge an urge to read a passage aloud, such as that famous shepherd psalm, or that Corinthian passage on love.


  1. Anonymous2:41 AM

    Before you can be a good Catholic or Christian you must first be a good Jew. Keep on reading!!!!

  2. Well, we are in a Judeo Christian civilization, are we not? Even though many do not like that idea and pretend to create an artificial equality between religions, the one that sets the Western World comes in large part from King James.

  3. Oh Lordy, Lordy!! there's still hope for ya!

    Kidding aside -sorry, couldn't resist Daniel- you're right about how good is to read the Bible in English.

  4. Roger3:16 AM

    Why an English Bible Daniel. Why not French or Spanish? Of course Catholics use Missals. I grew up learning religion in French. Even an English Catholic Mass sounds Protestant to my ear. I prefer Latin with a French Choir!

  5. Roger

    Have you made the effort of reading King James? It is superior to any Bible I read in Spanish or English, sorry....

    that is the beauty of being trilingual, you get too chose what version of anything fits you best.

  6. Liz, trust me on that one, there is no hope for me.

  7. Daniel,

    "Better" is not an answer for a scientist :-)

    I think the thing is every major Bible translation has become THE reference for language. That is particularly the case in the Protestant world, where Bibles were/are actually read, whereas Catholics only later started to use their Bibles and mostly as decoration. The Reina Valera never had the impact the James Bible had. People learn to read with the James Bible.

    So: although that version was modelled according to what a good team decided to be the norm of the time, it also "shaped" what was the norm later.

    I like the James version. I also like the Luther version in German to many other versions, but again: the Luther version shaped the German language probably even more than the James version the English language.

    I prefer Latin with a Spanish choir. French was too influenced by the Germanic Franks. If you want something Latin, nothing like Spanish or Italian :-)

  8. Daniel,

    "In my personal observation, conversions today have more of a tribal component than a true metaphysical one"

    Where did you get that from?

    My family is Quaker, and Presbyterian.I am agnostic...what tribe am I from?

    My husband's Mom is Jewish from Curacao( Sephardic) , his father an atheist from a strongly Catholic Costa Rican family and my husband is Buddhist.What tribe is he from?

    As for The King James being superior...dunno....maybe...but I opine that Christian, spoken prayers sound holier in Spanish than in English.

    Generally I prefer English for reading ANYTHING...but I do like speaking in Spanish.Spanish is often vague, wordy, and rambles on the written page going nowhere slowly. Its clumsy formal never-ending phrases,stilt the mind and bore me.

    But it hops, skips and jumps in such a lively way in SPEECH.It reaches for God with more mysticism that any other language, and strongly connects us to the lineage of the Saints.

    Just compare these 2 prayers.The Spanish sounds holier to me:

    Santa María, Madre de Dios,
    ruega por nosotros pecadores,
    ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.

    Holy Mary, Mother of God,
    pray for us sinners,
    now and at the hour of our death.

  9. hot cochonette

    the key word was "conversion".

  10. kepler

    yes, the luther version was also the basis for german language evolution. but i do not read german and i learned english when i was in my early 20ies. so bear with me :)

  11. Daniel,

    What I meant is this: those translations have shaped the languages of their communities in very special ways. They -specially in English and German- became the standard for reading, they motivated people to read. It is thus no wonder you see the King James version as "some kind of standard". It was used as one.

    I was talking to an Arab friend. He is agnostic but he was so full of praise for the language of the Quran. I have also read many times the Quran is seen as a model for Arabic. I have no idea, but my impresion is that it is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    But indeed, King James' is a great version and it is as fresh as ever:

  12. Anonymous6:56 PM

    I like the KJB because it is not gender inclusive, as modern feminists would have it. The English language can get tied up in knots with political correctness. Where do you think the Chavista "los niños y las niñas" came from? Spanish and French used to be better at this kind of thing until the English influence came along. It is a language problem, not a discriminatory attitude.

    My other problem with the English language is the lack of proper verbs for "being" and "essence". All we got is the verb "to be". Greek and Latin languages are OK for this. English and Russian are not. Perhaps this is one reason there are not many great English or Russian philosophers? The KJB translators did a very good job given the linguistic difficulties.

  13. Anon,

    By your logic, in order to be a good Muslim, you would have to first be a good Jew, and then be a good Christian.

    I suppose you could go back, ad infinitum, until you have to be a good Animist before you can properly adopt your next religion. And, how would the other religious tangents, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., fit in the picture?... Pure absurdity!

    Considering that after 6,000 years (+/-) of human civilization, there is still no one single religion that dominates the field, and that even the major religions are riven with schisms that their adherents are willing to kill and die over, you would think that more people would be willing to review the solid evidence and draw their own conclusions.


    The significance of the King James Bible is not that it is representative of English at any particular high point in its history, but that it is the oldest continuously published document in English. Before the printing press, a living language would change half of the words in that language every 70 years. If it were not for the advent of the printed and published word, the English language would have been transformed so that the King James Bible would be as inaccessible to the average person of today as Egyptian hieroglyphics.

    My choice for English in its highest form, is the work of playwright William Shakespeare. And, his plays have a lot more meaning to me than the Bible, which I did not read for the first time until after I was an adult.

  14. Oh I get are referring to being converted by others.

  15. Anonymous,

    Being and essence? Do you mean like "ser" and "estar"? In German you have "sein" and yet...

    Any language can evolve in a matter of a century to produce all it needs for optimal expression of thoughts in a given domain and all major languages have done so. German and English and Russian did not exist two thousand years ago.

    One example is precisely German in the XVIII century for such things as philosophy. Before that some people, even in German lands, thought the language "clumsy for such thoughts". The vocabulary and to an extent syntax evolution of the XVIII century (and also XIX) in the German Sprachraum, in the German language areas, was amazing.

    A little book I recommend is Language, by US American linguist
    Edward Sapir...very old, but still with quite some interesting thoughts and precious knowledge nuggets

  16. Boludo Tejano6:32 PM

    Considering that it is 400 years old, the King James version reads fairly well today. It is interesting that while there was but a short gap in time or no gap- between the plays of Shakespeare and the King James version, the King James version is much closer to current English than is Shakespeare. Most likely this is so because the King James version was more widely read than Shakespeare, which channeled the English language more towards the language of the King James version than the language of Shakespeare.

    In what little Bible reading I do, I often refer first to a current translation to first get a better idea of what is being written. But the King James is superior as poetry. "The valley of the shadow of death" cannot be improved upon.

  17. Boludo,

    Thinking about it, Shakespeare may have been written in a form that was deliberately archaic for its day.

    I have to agree with you about "The valley of the shadow of death". The imagery is awesome. What I love about Shakespeare is the playfulness with which he used the language. For example: "Methinks thou dost protest too much."

    I suppose it is a matter of personal taste and, fortunately, neither are going away any time soon.

  18. Roy

    Perhaps you are more playful than our dear Shakespeare ;)

    "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." is from Shakespeare's Hamlet and the correct phrase.

    Your phrase is misquoted


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