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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Reviews of English Bible history and literary impact

Susan M. Felch, associate professor of English at Calvin College, reviews three books on the history of English Bible versions and their literary impact. She begins:
THE ELDERLY churchgoer who declares that "if the King James Bible was good enough for St. Paul, then it's good enough for me" has long since passed into legend, but the tale of our English Bibles remains a fascinating narrative, replete with heroes, villains, plot twists and a surprising denouement.
I was surprised by this summary of part of Bobrik's book, Wide As the Waters, which Felch reviews first:
Although the KJV, another royal version pitted against the Geneva Bible, ultimately wins the day, it does so largely by dint of economic power rather than religious or literary persuasion.
I knew that there had been political (monarchial) power at play in how the KJV arose to preeminence, but I hadn't known that economics had been a factor also. These days, as noted in Mark Bertrand's post yesterday, we usually just see the literary impact of the KJV.

The second book Felch reviews is In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture, by Alister McGrath. Felch quotes McGrath's first sentence, which is believed to be true by many people:
The two greatest influences on the shaping of the English language are the works of William Shakespeare and the English translation of the Bible that appeared in 1611.
Finally Felch reviews A History of the English Bible as Literature, by David Norton. Felch says Norton
provides the surprising denouement to the story by arguing that the KJV's literary excellence is a myth.
Wow! On first sight (yeah, I know the Latin for that, but using it would betray my polemic as a literary populist!), I could not agree with Norton. Fortunately, Felch goes on to explain more. But I won't let the cat out of the bag. But after that "denouement" (literary populists can still quote sophisticated writers!) to the story of the history of English Bibles, I'm sure you will want to read Felch's review, and perhaps each of the books reviewed, as well.

I also recommend the Internet service,, on which Felch's review is archived. I have used this free service to locate quite a few helpful articles.



At Sat Aug 06, 05:13:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Well, having read as much as Felch gives of the denouement, I must admire Norton for daring to say what I have suspected for some time. The only reasons why we consider KJV to have good style and literary excellence is because a self-perpetuating group of people have told us that it has. And this probably started with the attitude that the KJV is the only real Bible mixed with a misplaced piety which took the Bible to have literary excellence almost by definition.


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