To my growing consternation, there’s been no announcement, in what I call ‘mainline’ translation studies, of any conference to mark one of the most important events of 2011, namely the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible (KJV). And this in a field whose contemporary gurus lay heavy emphasis on the cultural aspects and influences of translation. As I’ve insisted a number of times, religious translations have had more influence on human cultures than literary ones and the influence continues. So I was getting pretty despondent until my ever-supportive friend Ann Corsellis sent me a summary of the King James Bible Symposium held at Gresham College, in London, on September 26. An appropriate venue, since Gresham College itself is over 400 years old and situated very close to where the KJV was revised and put together at Stationers’ Hall in 1611. The Company of Sationers was the mediaeval guild, originally of manuscript booksellers, that craftesmen and tradesmen in the nascent printing industry joined.
“It has to be said that the King James Bible when it appeared in 1611 was far from perfect. Demand was so strong that printers worked in teams to produce folios that were then bound together, sometimes even in the wrong order. There were also some notorious misprints, of which the most celebrated appears in the Wicked Bible, where the word not is omitted from the Seventh Commandment, thereby making adultery compulsory. The other error which cheers up members of the Stationers’ Company (who were heavily involved in the original production) comes in Psalm 119, which reads “Printers have persecuted me without a cause”, which should of course read princes.Thank you Gresham College. However, one symposium in a whole year isn’t much. Am I exaggerating? In fact there have been many scattered lectures and exhibitions, but no major conference.
It must be said, though, that the occasion has been better served by publishers. Well in advance, back in November 2009, I posted a review of Adam Nicolson’s book Power and Glory, which was another much appreciated present from Ann Corsellis. In another post, I concluded that
“the KJV was the work of Expert Translators, whose initiation as Native Translators had begun as soon as they went to school and whose subsequent training was long and of the highest quality.”With one or two exceptions, they were all clergymen or philologists, not professional translators. To read these posts, enter kjv in the Search box on the right.
Probably the most popular of the celebratory books has been Begat, by well-known linguist David Crystal, in which he traces the KJV origin of hundreds of expressions that have made their way into common English: land of the living, wolf in sheep's clothing, Am I my brother’s keeper?, letter of the law, the writing on the wall, etc. – 257 of them.
Which brings us to the popular press. There the level of interest has been in surprising contrast. Dozens of short articles and reports, generally of good quality, repetitive but each reaching out to a different audience somewhere in the world. The latest I’ve seen was in the Huffington Post of October 10:
“There has been a great deal of activity thus far in 2011 commemorating the occasion, including at least six books and 12 columns or blogs in the Huffington Post. This commentary is one more, aimed at exploring what it was about the King James Bible to account for its enduring influence.”Seems to me the academics have missed an opportunity for yet another international conference.
Tim Connell, et al. The Language of the King James Bible: A symposium to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. Gresham College at Mercer’s Hall, 26 September 26, 2011. http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/the-language-of-the-king-james-bible.
Gresham College, founded 1597. http://www.gresham.ac.uk/. Gresham College is London’s oldest institution of higher education and has provided free public lectures within the City of London for over 400 years. There’s a fascinating ongoing collection of transcripts and videos on its website.
Adam Nicolson. Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible. London, 2003. 281 p.; many colour illustrations. Available in paperback.
The Holy Bible Conteyning the Old Testament and the New: Newly translated out of the Originall Tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and reuised by His Majesties speciall Commandement /Appointed to be read in Churches. London, 1611. The full text is on several internet sites.
John Bois (1561-1644). Translating for King James: being a true copy of the only notes made by a translator of King James's Bible, the Authorized version, as the Final Committee of Review revised the translation of Romans through Revelation at Stationers' Hall in London in 1610-1611 / Taken by John Bois ... these notes were for three centuries lost, and only now are come to light, through a copy made by the hand of William Fulman. Translated and edited by Ward Allen. Vanderbilt University Press, 1969. With facsimile reproductions.
The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. http://www.stationers.org.
David Crystal. Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Roy M. Pitkin. The King James Bible: 400 and going strong. Huffington Post, October 10, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roy-m-pitkin/the-king-james-bible-400-_b_993243.html.