Monday, October 03, 2011

Books and Articles About the KJV (2)

The Influence of the KJV

In the last post, I mentioned the address by C. S. Lewis. That work stood alone for a long time as the only consideration of the subject. However, with 2011 being the four hundredth anniversary of the KJV, many other books have been written about its influence. One that appeared this year, and which is also worth reading, is Robert Alter’s Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible. Much like Lewis’s essay, this book originated as lectures, specifically the Spencer Trask Lectures, delivered at Princeton University in 2008. Originating as it did in lecture format, the focus of the work is limited. Alter essentially deals with the issue of style by displaying what he sees as the influence of the KJV on three works of American fiction: Moby-Dick; Absalom, Absalom; and Seize the Day. Alter’s treatment is full of insight because he is not only well familiar with the American literary canon; he is also intimately familiar with the prose style of the KJV.

A second work is David Crystal’s Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. This work differs considerably from that of Alter. This is simply a collation and explanation of KJV idioms that have become part of modern English vernacular. The book is divided into 42 short chapters (5-8 pages each) devoted to the various KJV idioms that Crystal discovered.

On the Translation Itself

There does not seem to be much devoted to a discussion of the character and quality of the translation of the KJV, at least in book form. One of the few is Translation that Openeth the Window: Reflections on the History and Legacy of the King James Bible. This book appeared in 2009. It is a collection of essays from various members of the Society of Biblical Literature. The Society is the premier professional society in the United States for those who specialize in the academic study of the Bible. Like Gaul, the book is divided into three parts. The first part deals with Bible translation before the KJV, the second part deals with the making of the KJV itself, and the third part deals with Bible translation after the KJV. The book was published by the Society of Biblical Literature. I have not yet had the opportunity to read this book, but given that it was published by the SBL, my guess is that it is tougher reading than the other works I have mentioned. The language will be technical, because the authors of the essays are writing for a technical audience.

Another work on the character of the KJV translation is found in The Literary Guide to the Bible, edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (pages 647-666). It is the essay, “English Translations of the Bible” by Gerald Hammond. The essay gives many examples, comparing the KJV to other versions. Hammond’s conclusion is: “Through its transparency the reader of the Authorized Version not only sees the original but also learns how to read it. Patterns of repetition, the way one clause is linked to another, the effect of unexpected inversions of word order, the readiness of biblical writers to vary tone and register from the highly formal to the scatological, and the different kinds and uses of imagery are all, like so much else, open to any readers of the Renaissance versions, and best open to them in the Authorized Version."

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