The Fascinating Story of the Bible
V SUNDARAM

       There is no better English written this side of Shakespeare than that in the King James Translation. - Charlton Heston

        The 'Englishing'of The Bible has a long and fascinating history involving both religious and governmental politics. The term 'Englishing' was coined in the latter half of 16th century when so many different English versions of The Bible were appearing in the British Isles culminating in the authorised version of scripture better known as the King James Version of 1611.

        A very great obstacle to an early English translation of the Bible was the mixing and blending of languages on the Isles of Britain. Christianity entered Britain sometime in the latter half of the second century. However, it did not take root until three or four centuries later. Ireland became the rich, fertile ground for the growth and expression of the Christian Church. Its progress there was so steady that by the sixth century, Christianity had spread into Scotland and Northern England. During this period, few could read or write. It was the intense preaching of the Gospel by the educated monks and their students that brought about the extension of Christianity throughout Britain.

        At that particular point of time, Latin was the language of the church's worship. Its version of the scriptures was also in Latin ? the Old Latin MSS. (Old Latin was a translation from the Septuagint Greek Scriptures of the Old Testament and not from Hebrew). The New Testament was based on various Greek versions.

        Jerome (342 ? 420) was commissioned by Pope Damasus in 382 AD to revise the Old Latin Version of the Gospels. He used a Greek MS as the basis of his revision but did not complete the rest of the New Testament. Jerome's version, known as the Vulgate, was widely used in the rest and this version replaced the Old Latin MSS. As, the Vulgate superceded the Old Latin Version, the latter lost its authority in the Church.

        In the middle of the 7th century, the earliest beginning of an English Bible (if one could call it such) made its appearance. Bede (673-735 AD), the great Anglo-Saxon Biblical Scholar and 'Father of English History', was the first known individual to render certain Biblical subjects into the Anglo-Saxon tongue beginning with the Creation Story.

        Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury and the first Bishop of Sherborne, became the first known translator of the Psalms into Anglo-Saxon English. Richard Rolle of Hampole (1300-1349 AD) translated the Psalms into Middle English.

        His contemporary William of Shoreham also translated several Psalms into Anglo-Saxon English. The translations of Richard Rolle and William initiated a strong craving throughout Great Britain for more translations of the Bible.

        The movement for translation received a setback in 1199 when Pope Innocent III declared the following: 'The secret mysteries of the faith ought not to be explained to all men in all places, since they cannot be everywhere understood by men'.

        Thus the Roman Catholic Church was keen on ensuring that vernacular translations of the Bible were forbidden. But despite these declarations of Papal Powers, the progress of English translations of the Bible could not be stopped. Common people in England were filled with a desire to drink of the fountains of spiritual knowledge that had been hidden from them by those in authority in the Roman Catholic Church.

        John Wycliffe, scholar and lecturer at Oxford, translated the Bible from Latin into English in 1382. His translation was stilted and mechanical. The language of his work, a Midland dialect, did not represent the central strand of development in English. Wycliffe's version needed revision and it was undertaken not long after his death in 1384. Archbishop Arundel wrote to the Pope in Rome in 1412: 'John Wycliffe that wretched and pestilent fellow of damnable memory, the very herald and child of anti-Christ, who crowned his wickedness by translating the scriptures into his mother tongue'. This clearly shows that the Pope in Rome was against the growth of the enlightenment even in the field of Christian religion.

        William Tyndale (1494-1536) was bundled out of England by the Church for his attempts to translate the Bible into English. He crossed over to the continent and became another great translator of the Bible into English. He was a Greek scholar and had access to the Greek text of Erasmus and other Biblical writings which John Wycliffe did not possess. William Tyndale was martyred by the Church even before he completed the translation of the Old Testament.

        Miles Coverdale (1488-1568), a friend of Tyndale, translated the Bible into English making use of Tyndale's work and some Latin versions. Then came the complete version of the Bible in English by Thomas Mathew in 1539, known as THE GREAT BIBLE. Thomas Mathew was pseudonym for John Rogers (1500-1555). He was the first British Protestant Martyr under Mary Queen of Scots.

        During the rule of Mary Queen of Scots, many Protestant Scholars took refuge in Geneva. Thus, in 1560, the Geneva Bible came into existence. It is interesting to note that the Geneva Bible was the English translation which the Puritans took with them to America. The notes and annotations of the Geneva Bible were strongly Protestant and leaned heavily towards Calvinism (John Calvin, 1509-1564).

        William Shakespeare (1564-1616) quoted the Geneva Bible in his works. It was after meditation on the Geneva Translation that John Bunyan wrote his famous Pilgrims' Progress.

        King James I of England ordered in 1603 that a 'New Revision' be made of the Bishop's Bible then in vogue in England. This work was immediately begun by 47 scholars under the authorisation of King James I. In 1611 the new version was published.

        The King James Version (KJV) is an English translation of the Holy Bible which was commissioned for the benefit of the Church of England at the behest of King James I of England. First published in 1611, it has had a profound impact not only on most English translations that have followed it, but also on English literature as a whole.

        The works of famous authors such as John Bunyan, John Milton, Herman Melville, John Dryden, and William Wordsworth are replete with inspiration apparently derived from the King James Version. Great men in literature and history were influenced by the style of the Authorised Version of the Bible of 1611. The English prose style and writings of Edward Gibbon, Macauley, John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, R W Emerson, Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, William Ewart Gladstone, Lord Curzon, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi were all influenced by this edition of the Bible.

        King James I's dissatisfaction with the Geneva Bible's puritanism led to the creation of the King James Bible.

        Though often referred to as the Authorised Version (AV) or the Authorised Standard Version (ASV), it was never officially sanctioned by the English monarchy or the clerical hierarchy of the Church of England. It is no longer in copyright in most parts of the world but is under perpetual Crown copyright in the United Kingdom. The King James Version, despite its age, is largely comprehensible to the average reader today. It is considered to be an instrumental founding block of early modern English, and remains one of the most widely-read literary works of all time.

        King James Authorized Version of the Bible (1611) has dominated the field of English life and literature for nearly 400 years. What is the secret source of its power and influence? This can be answered in the following words of Cooke, a great Master:

        'Among the qualifications of a good translator, the first, undoubtedly, is that he shall be penetrated by a sense of the surpassing value of his original and a corresponding sense of the importance of his task. This will preserve him from flippancy and meanness, by imbuing him with earnestness and humility. It will make him ready to follow wherever he is led by the text, and will prevent him from preening himself upon prettiness of phrase, or any fancies of his own.

        Such a translator will strive with all his might after fidelity to word and sense, and after the utmost clearness and simplicity of rendering, avoiding, on the one hand, the trivial, and on the other, the ornate or pompous. He will conform to the genius of his own tongue while endeavouring to transfer to it the treasures of another; and, besides possessing naturally, he will cultivate, in every proper way, a high sensitiveness to that music of the phrase, which, in the case of the Bible, is but another name for the music of the heart'.

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