I didn’t quite make it for the end of the year, but this week, it is finished – I have read the Authorised Version of The Bible, or King James Version. January has given me the familiar shock that Edna is a biblical name – I don’t know why but it always seems strange to read that name there – Tobit, Tobias, Raphael, Edna. I didn’t know they had Champaign country in Israel (Judith 5.1), or that she had such thick hair – she bound it in a tire. 1 and 2 Maccabees again seems to be numbered the wrong way round and is so gruesome, and confused in its politics that I’m glad I don’t have that in my normal bible reading, though you can’t help smiling at the author’s style at the beginning and end of 2 Maccabees. The politics of religion there seems so odd – who does Alexander think he is to appoint the High Priest of a foreign nation, and why does Jonathan listen? Then Demetrius does the same thing, and Antiochus after him, and by 2nd Maccabees 5 they’re out bidding each other trying to bribe the king to appoint them as High Priest. Politics in our chaplaincy seems a doddle compared to that! What is the role of church and state with regard to each other? Would we rather have the church in control so we get godly government, or the government in control so we get a godly church? The English Anglican Church of course tries to do it BOTH ways together.
I thought that when I got to Hebrews I would instantly love it with ‘God, who as sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son’ except, those aren’t the words I expected. I get the good feeling of nostalgia when I hear, ‘In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son’ – I think it’s the ‘but’ that makes the difference, emphasising that God is about to do a new thing and it says ‘listen now!’. Revelation, one of my favourite books, is a fantastic ending and I encourage you to read it in one sitting rather than getting bogged down in details.
I began this journey through the KJV expecting, as I have experienced with all other translations I have read – now 12 versions – that by the end I would be so used to the language that the style, strange at first, would seem easy and somehow natural and resonating with my heart by the end. I have heard of so many people who ‘swear by it’ that I had hoped I would understand the elegance and beauty of the language as they see it. I finish with a feeling that although I can intellectually appreciate that it was elegant, clear, and a milestone in its time, for me today it is just not so clear, and the language is a barrier to my entering into the intention of the text. The poetry which I find there in abundance comes not from the words but from the ideas within them. I can’t help but think that those who get all romantic about the wonderful language only read small portions of it, which come with past associations (carols services, 1am walks home from Christmas Midnight services and such like) rather than the beauty of the themes behind the words themselves. They say, it’s not like it used to be. Well no, but the message it was trying to get through to us is like it used to be. I can be nostalgic about ‘the old language’, but for me, as I have repeatedly found on this adventure through the King James, what I think of as from the old days is from the RSV – it’s in the cover of my old school RSV I have kept note of what versions I have read over the years, though I never took any interest in it until after I left school. And more often, the portions I know are from songs I sang at university which were from the RSV. Since then of course there’s been a new translation almost every year as booksellers try to reap the profits from people who think they will actually read their bible (and fulfil their failed resolutions) if only they can have it in the latest wrapping. It’s like my keep fit programme – If only I have a walking machine, or a swimming pool, or a gym, then I’ll get fit. Yeah right. Unless I use the apparatus, or sit and open the book, it will not affect me however impressive it looks.
I have loved being able to read the Bible at last in the traditional version. It has a wonderful message which I will continue to read, even if it’s a bit weird in places. I will return this particular version of the book now to Holy Trinity Church Dubai where it belongs. and tomorrow resume with my familiar version.
I was wondering about reading The Message bible as a contrast. But not yet.