The King James Bible at 400

My long-time friend Leland Ryken has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal on the King James translation of the Bible, which marks its 400th anniversary this year.  After telling about how the new king of England granted only one of the Puritans’ requests–to make a new English translation of the Bible–and how 47 scholars completed the project in only 6 years, Lee discusses its impact:

The King James Version was not an original translation. It was a revision—technically of the Bishops’ Bible of 1568, but actually of an entire century of English Bible translations starting with William Tyndale. This history lies behind a famous statement in the preface to the King James Version: “Truly (good Christian reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, . . . but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one.”

The King James Bible is familiarly called the Authorized Version, but the king who lent his name to the translation never officially authorized it, even though he hoped that the new translation would help to unify a politically and religiously divided kingdom (a kingdom that would erupt into civil war not long after his death in 1625). Nor did church officials authorize the new translation. The King James Version in reality was authorized by the people, who chose it over others. For three and a half centuries, when English-speaking people spoke of “the Bible,” they meant the King James Version.

The King James translators believed their task was to take readers as close as possible to what the original text says, and in doing so they created a great work of literature. Its style is part of its magic. Yet that style is hard to define.

Modern readers are too quick to conclude that with its now-archaic language and grammar, the Bible’s style is embellished and formal. But thee and thou pronouns and verb endings like walkest and sayeth were a feature of everyday speech in the early 17th century.

However imitated or parodied, the language is dignified, beautiful, sonorous and elegant. “Godliness with contentment is great gain”—six words and unforgettable. “Give us this day our daily bread.” “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” The King James style is a paradox: It is usually simple in vocabulary while majestic and elevating in effect. . . .

For more than three centuries, the King James Bible provided the central frame of reference for the English-speaking world. Former Yale University Prof. George Lindbeck well claims that until recently “Christendom dwelt imaginatively in the biblical world.” During the years of its dominance, the King James Bible was the omnipresent force in any cultural sphere that we can name—education (especially childhood education), religion, family and home, the courtroom, political discourse, language and literacy, choral music and hymns, art and literature. For more than two centuries children in England and America learned to read by way of the Bible. . . .

The influence of the King James Bible is perhaps most profound in the realm of literature. From Milton’s “Paradise Lost” to Toni Morrison’s “Paradise,” it is a presence quite apart from the author’s religious stance. In his book “The Bible as Literature,” British literary scholar T. R. Henn said it best: “The Authorized Version of 1611 . . . achieves as we read a strange authority and power as a work of literature. It becomes one with the Western tradition, because it is its single greatest source.”

Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. It is consistently, year after year, either second or third on the list of current Bible sales in the United States. Furthermore, the King James Version lives on in two modern translations that perpetuate the translation philosophy and style of the King James Version while updating its scholarship and language. They are the New King James Version and the English Standard Version.

via Leland Ryken: How We Got the King James Bible –

The Common English Bible

A new Bible translation is now available, the Common English Bible.  Check out the website, which includes this comparison of passages from the new CEB and other translations:  Common English Bible – Compare Translations.

What agendas are evident in this translation?  What theology is at work in the word choices?  What can you say about the literary quality of the CEB?

HT: Matthew Cantirino

What would aliens do?

This sort of thing attracts ridicule and alarm in the media and the blogosphere–”NASA thinks aliens will wipe us out to stop global warming!”  as with “Pentagon plans war with Canada”!–but agencies and consultants spin out possible scenarios and make contingency plans for everything imaginable.   I draw your attention to this one just for its Science Fiction possibilities:

Shawn Domagal-Goldman of Nasa’s Planetary Science Division and his colleagues compiled a list of plausible outcomes that could unfold in the aftermath of a close encounter, to help humanity “prepare for actual contact”.

In their report, Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis, the researchers divide alien contacts into three broad categories: beneficial, neutral or harmful.

Beneficial encounters ranged from the mere detection of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), for example through the interception of alien broadcasts, to contact with cooperative organisms that help us advance our knowledge and solve global problems such as hunger, poverty and disease.

Another beneficial outcome the authors entertain sees humanity triumph over a more powerful alien aggressor, or even being saved by a second group of ETs. “In these scenarios, humanity benefits not only from the major moral victory of having defeated a daunting rival, but also from the opportunity to reverse-engineer ETI technology,” the authors write.

Other kinds of close encounter may be less rewarding and leave much of human society feeling indifferent towards alien life. The extraterrestrials may be too different from us to communicate with usefully. They might invite humanity to join the “Galactic Club” only for the entry requirements to be too bureaucratic and tedious for humans to bother with. They could even become a nuisance, like the stranded, prawn-like creatures that are kept in a refugee camp in the 2009 South African movie, District 9, the report explains.

The most unappealing outcomes would arise if extraterrestrials caused harm to humanity, even if by accident. While aliens may arrive to eat, enslave or attack us, the report adds that people might also suffer from being physically crushed or by contracting diseases carried by the visitors. In especially unfortunate incidents, humanity could be wiped out when a more advanced civilisation accidentally unleashes an unfriendly artificial intelligence, or performs a catastrophic physics experiment that renders a portion of the galaxy uninhabitable.

To bolster humanity’s chances of survival, the researchers call for caution in sending signals into space, and in particular warn against broadcasting information about our biological make-up, which could be used to manufacture weapons that target humans. Instead, any contact with ETs should be limited to mathematical discourse “until we have a better idea of the type of ETI we are dealing with.”

The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.

“A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

“Green” aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. “These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets,” the authors write.

via Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilisations, say scientists | Science | The Guardian.

Can you think of other possibilities of what aliens might do?  (Space aliens, not illegal aliens.  Though I suppose the former would also raise major immigration issues.)

The Middle-Earth election guide

The Wall Street Journal and John McCain started it by calling Tea Partiers “hobbits.”  Timothy Furnish develops the parallels:

The first leg on this journey is figuring out what the Ring represents in modern political discourse. Since the Tea Party is trying to cast it into the fire, it must be American government spending and debt (which includes deficits, of course). That would make Congressman Paul Ryan Frodo since he knows more about that burden than anyone; and thus Samwise Gamgee must be John Boehner because he helps Frodo and he cries a lot.

Merry and Pippin, the other two major hobbits, would thus have to be Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor — although the thought of McConnell’s mug on a 1-meter tall hobbit frame is a nightmare on the order of Tolkien’s visions of massive tidal waves and giant spiders.

Who advises the hobbits — as well as the other characters in this conservative’s Middle-Earth? Mainly Limbaugh the Grey, sent by the Valar to contest the will of the Dark Lord by inspiring all Men and Elves via three hours of daily radio programming and special advisory scrolls known as newsletters.

He’s assisted in this role by our world’s Elrond — Charles Krauthammer.

Both urge resistance to the Dark Lord….wait for it…George Soros. (Sorry, making Obama the “Dark Lord” would not only send a thrill up Chris Mathews’ “racism” antenna, it would give BHO far too much credit.) “Soron” hopes to seize the Ring of Debt for himself in order to transform the Middle-west and the rest of America into Mordor with a view — also known as Greece. Soron is, however, a bit distracted at present with this $50 million lawsuit brought by a Witch Queen.

Obama, then, is relegated to the role of Saruman — trying to be in charge, hoping to seize the Ring for himself, but really only doing the Dark Lord’s bidding: undermining capitalism, hosting Haradrim religious dinners at the White House, and playing golf on Sunday mornings.

via PJ Lifestyle » The Middle-Earth Guide to Campaign 2012—Updated.

Soros, Sauron, “Soron”!  That’s perfect.  See the rest of the post, in which Furnish gives roles to Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and on and on,  to the last dwarf.

Do you have any additions or corrections?  Those of you on the liberal side of things, can you construct something similar from the Democratic point of view?

The “hobbits” vs. Mordor

Did you hear about how former Republican presidential nominee John McCain has been mocking the Tea Party folks as “hobbits”?  He apparently never read Lord of the Rings.   The lowly hobbits ended up defeating the unlimited government of Mordor.  And, according to Marc Thiessen, this is what happened in the debt reduction battle:  How the Tea Party ‘hobbits’ won the debt fight – The Washington Post.

I think the Tea Party folks should drop the Boston harbor revolutionary label.  They should do as “Christians” and “Protestants” and “Lutherans” have done:  embrace the label intended as derogatory.  Tea Partiers should change their name, trademarks, and stationery and start calling themselves “Hobbits.”  That reference, with its connotation of ordinary down to earth villagers up against overwhelmingly superior power, would make them far more sympathetic.  I know John McCain’s attempt at a putdown (what if he were president?), which he got from the Wall Street Journal, makes me appreciate more these populist activists who are forcing the government to control itself.  Again, conservatives need to win the battle of language and the battle of metaphors to win over the nation’s imagination.

Any Kindle suggestions?

I’m becoming a regular high-tech kind of guy, though at least I’m a late adopter.  I now have a Kindle.  (My wife wanted one for Mother’s Day, so I obliged, whereupon since I was always borrowing hers, she bought me one for Father’s Day.  Our devices are hooked up to the same account so that when either of us buy a book it is “archived” on the other’s device, allowing us to download each other’s books for free.)  I carry around with me some 22 books and they don’t weigh a thing.  That makes it great for the traveling I have been doing lately.  The device will even read the book aloud to you, in a technology I do not understand.  (If anyone does, please explain it to me.  Also explain how the voice feature on my GPS device–see!  more technology!–works.)  That makes it a good treadmill companion, helping me not be  so bored as I pursue physical health.  Then I learned that I can increase the size of the type so that I can read it myself on the treadmill.

I can’t say I don’t prefer paper, but I’ve gotten used to reading on the Kindle.  In addition to reading what I consider “fun” books, I have downloaded some great classics for free or nearly so, including volumes of the complete works of G. K. Chesterton (one of my favorite writers of all time, but who has written lots of stuff I haven’t read yet) and Agatha Christie.  Also the complete Sherlock Holmes stories.  And I love my The Lutheran Study Bible on Kindle, which is set up so that you simply click the passages to read the notes, all in big and readable print.  Also my Treasury of Daily Prayer.  (Click the links to get them yourself.)

Many writers are finding that they can make their books available through Kindle directly without going through a publisher, taking all of the money themselves while also making their books cheaper for their readers.  The problem is, a publisher vets books, keeping out those that are unreadable, and also makes people aware of them.  It’s thus hard to know about worthy books that are electronically published, except by word of mouth.   So let’s have some word of mouth.

What are some good Kindle titles that you would recommend?