|Photo by Jonathan Schmid, used under Creative Commons License|
The story I want to tell is the story of the creation of the King James Bible, and its enormous influence on the English language. For over 400 years this was the Bible for the English-speaking world, the best selling book of all time, and still the most frequently purchased translation.
It lasting legacy to English is incalculable. It is the Bible that Abraham Lincoln learned to read with, and its sounds and rhythms can be heard in his Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address, as it can in Melville’s Moby-Dick, the poetry of Walt Whitman, and the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
How did we get this extraordinary work of literary art that has made such a place in the story of English? It was published in 1611, but there is considerable backstory that needs to be shared before we get there, and so we need to go way back. The English still refer to it as the Authorised Version (AV), but I will use the more popular American title, the King James Version and its abbreviation (KJV).
Our first question is, what is the Bible? The word itself comes from the Greek Ta Biblia, which simply means “the books.” That seems simple enough, but which books?