Thursday, February 05, 2009

Pure King James

“Pure King James” first appeared in the May, 2006 issue of Touchstone.

The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible
edited by David Norton
Cambridge University Press, 2005
(1,904 pages, $79.45, hardcover)

reviewed by Robert Hart

Several years ago, when careful restoration was being done to clean up the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, some people complained that it was being ruined. The work of restoration was, to them, a desecration. Never mind what Michelangelo actually painted, or what the artistic eye intended. They wanted the appearance to which they had grown accustomed.

In his introduction to The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, editor David Norton compares his work to that of restoring a painted masterpiece.

Though it is the most important book in the religious life and culture of the English-speaking world, the King James Bible or Authorised Version of 1611 has never been perfectly printed. . . . Unnecessary background noise gets in the way. To use another image, there is dust and dirt on the old master, the paint is darkened and cracked: we can still see that the picture is a great one, but not how great it is.

Norton, Reader in English at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, and author of A History of the Bible as Literature, explains that the first edition of the Authorised Version was hurried in its production, and errors were introduced into the original publication. The first edition is “uniquely authoritative” due to direct supervision of some of the translators, “but it has its unavoidable share of mistakes.” These, he says, were mostly typographical or caused by the printer’s type, but there are also a few mistakes by the translators themselves.

The changes made in the several subsequent attempts to update or improve it have left us with something not in accord with the intention of the original translators, and “the textual development came to an almost complete stop in 1769, which thereafter became accepted as the standard.” Norton has edited his new, old Bible in such a way as to solve these problems. The spelling and punctuation are entirely modern, but the words themselves are the exact words of the translators.

Revisions Undone

In some places he has quite deliberately undone revisions. One example he cites is Hosea 6:5, restoring “I have hewed them by the prophets” to read, “I have showed [in 1611, spelled ‘shewed’] them by the prophets.”

To decide what the translators intended to say, he consulted the ancient Targum Jonathan that influenced them (a targum is a translation of the Old Testament from earlier Hebrew into the Aramaic commonly used by first-century Jews). In addition, he concluded that “shewed” also followed “the general sense of the note to this verse in the popular Geneva Bible.”

Another example he cites is 1 Timothy 2:9. The standard revisions render the verse: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.” St. Paul, writes Norton:

appears to want them not only to be modest and sober, but also ashamed. This is not what the translators meant. They used a word that might once have sounded the same as ‘shamefacedness’, ‘shamefastness’. This is not so easily read as ‘ashamed’: its authentic strangeness takes the reader to the right meaning, holding fast to modesty.

In that verse, as in most others, Norton uses the modern spelling (the original had “shamefastnesse”). But in a few cases he has restored the old spelling, when the “modern spelling can obscure meaning.”

[‘Instead’] in the English of the King James . . . is always given as two words, ‘in stead’, and often has a more concrete sense that fits with phrases such as ‘reigned in his stead’. When one reads in current texts that God took one of Adam’s ribs ‘and closed up the flesh instead thereof’ (Gen. 2:21), one might well be puzzled: instead of what? one might ask. The real meaning becomes clearer in the first edition’s ‘closed up the flesh in stead thereof’.

We see that Norton’s work of restoration is necessarily complicated on this matter of spelling. The idea is to make the work free of what he has called “unnecessary background noise” from archaic spelling, and yet be true to the original intention of the translators. What Norton has worked to restore is the meaning and flow of the language.

English Cornerstone

Of course, as a work of genuine restoration, this Bible contains “The Books called Apocrypha.” The original King James Bible contained all of the books that were used in the Lectionary of the Church of England, not only the 66 books in most modern editions. It had become customary in England, since long before the translators began working, to separate these books into a section between the Old and New Testaments, and so it is in this edition.

Should readers wish to compare Norton’s labors with the very first printing of the King James Bible, they need only obtain The Holy Bible 1611 Edition. If one has the patience, he can get through the olde spelling, where he can read about “al that Iesus began to doe and to teach, Vntil the day in which hee was taken vp,” from Actes I: i, ii.

The comparison does, however, indicate one thing about the historical context of 1611 that Norton cannot restore. The original contains in its various forwards such things as a table to find the date of Easter and a schedule of the appointed lessons, as well as the 30-day rotation of the Psalter for the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. That is, in that time, reading the Bible had more to do with the entire community of the Church.

What Norton can and does restore, however, is the literary power of this masterpiece, as well as the intention of the translators. The King James Bible is one of the great cornerstones of English literature. It has, in addition to beautiful sound, rhythm, which is one reason it sticks so well in the memory.

Having both of these King James Bibles available, a reader can see and judge just how well we have been able to understand it. They make it possible for the modern reader to grasp the meaning of the text, and the intention of the translators, with more clarity than has been possible for a very long time. Here one can bring forth from his treasures a thing that is, itself, both new and old.


poetreader said...

Thanks for this review. It does say much of what I've been saying about the KJV, which I do regard as still the only really adequate
english version.

I want a copy, but I'll have to waut until someone produces a less costly edition. On my budget, that edition is impossible.


Sandra McColl said...

I have one. It's really worth saving up for, although I wish that, in modernising the spelling, he'd left the Philistines' emerods alone.

If you play around on Abebooks and Amazon you may find a reasonable discount.

Frtomva said...

Ed, I have found a source for the NCPB - offering it at $14.99 It is also available from A1 for $46.37 The binding on the less expensive one is not a s good,but so far as I can tell, the A1Books binding is the same as the $75 ones offered elsewhere.

Tom McHenry+

Anonymous said...

I just purchased THREE English Standard Versions with Apocrypha from Oxford University Press -- . Great for devotions -- but I STILL love my old Cambridge KJV with Apocrypha best of all.

Thanks for the wonderful blog article, Father.

St. Worm

Anonymous said...

I examined this work in a bookstore and was not sure how I felt about it.
It omits verse divisions and prints the text in paragraph form, in the manner of the RV and RSV. While I agree this is preferable, it is simply not authentic and subtly changes the character of the AV.
(Was the AV the first to employ verse divisions? I am not sure.)

Two observations on the AV:
1. The language was already somewhat archaic even in 1611.
The great scholars who produced it were not seduced by the idol of contemporaneity. Geddes Macgregor wrote, "One of the secrets of the beauty and enduring power of thjis version lay in the fact that it was neither couched in antiquated language nor yet dressed up in the current linguistic novelties or colloquialisms. It was not in the latest, the most fashionable, or up-to-date kind of English that could be contrived.....This slight archaism in ther language of the KJ Bible was one of its greatest charms. The style was sufficiently modern to be plainly understood at the time, yet just old-fashined enough to carry with it the dignity of the recent past...."

2. The AV did not meet immediately with universal popularity. Hugh Broughton, one of the greatest scholars in Engand at the time wrote, "Tell His Majesty that I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses, than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor parishes." The AV had to contend with other competing translations and has never completely displaced them. Our beloved Coverdale Psalter in the BCP, as well as earlier translations of the Decalogue and Comfortable Words, are fossils of the KJV's "former translations diligently compared and revised."

Anonymous said...

I have found a source for the NCPB - offering it at $14.99

Can you provide a link? I cannot find this price point at that site.



Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. Wells:

It is true that paragraph form is different from the original KJV, but at the time verses were a new thing. The idea of verses is both good and bad. Good in that it helps us locate something fast and easy; bad in that it creates a false division of God's word by separating sentences from a context. Of course, the latter applies mostly to undisciplined minds. But the paragraph format, although not like the 1611 edition, is more in line with how the scriptures were written.


I cannot find it at that price myself, but someone here may be able to help.

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart: I agree that the verse divisions familiar to us in AV are, at best, a mixed blessing which probably do more harm than good, as you point out. We are already familiar with the AV in paragraph format through the pericopes printed in our Prayer Book. But do the verse divisions have such a baleful effect as to justify the expense of $80.00, for yet another copy of a book I ready own? If so, your book budget is more ample than mine. That's about the price of the Neo-Vulgate Bible which I salivate over, but such a purchase would probably turn me into a divorced priest and I cannot for the life of me dream up grounds for a "degree of nullity."

Anonymous said...

I know what the Vulgate is of course but what is Neo Vulgate??

Not being one to drag on old threads but the "grounds for a "degree of nullity." Anyone notice this Sunday's lectionary? Kind of speaks to the ' you can but should you' question.

1 Corinthians ix. 24.

...I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.


Canon Tallis said...

In speaking of the magnificent rhythm and sound of the King James version, Anglicans frequently forget that it was intended to be sung rather than merely read in accordance with the rubric from Elizabeth's book of 1559 until it was taken out in 1662. The sound and the rhythm of that version make the doing so immensely memorable.

When I was at university, the college students were responsible for Sunday evening evensong. we gradually moved the service from a merely said one to one in which everything was said from "O Lord, open thou our lips" to the Amen of the third collect. It grew the service from about twenty regulars to somewhere above ninety. The lessons were the last thing which we attempted and we were terrified that they would fall flat from being so absolutely foreign to our experience. Instead they received an incredible response and resulted in an almost unbelievable community high.'

It was then and remains until now an unforgettable lesson in the power of the prayer book office to make us aware of the presence and power of God. No copes, no fancy vestments and no incense, just Scripture and the prayer book done in the tradition.

Canon Tallis said...

Terrible "oops!" I meant to write "sung" instead of "said" from "O Lord, open thou our lips" to the last "Amen" after the third collect.

I also should have included the fact that among Orthodox Jews, the Scriptures are always sung, even if very quietly. They are considered too sacred to be merely read.

Anonymous said...

John: The "Neo Vulgate" is a corrected Latin translation published under Vatican auspices after Vatican II. The Vulgate text, like our Greek NT text, has many variant readings, probably even more so. I am not deeply knowledgeable about the Neo Vulgate, and have been exposed ro it only as it is given in the Navarre Bible Commentary series.
Comparing it to the Vulgate in my "Novum Tesamentum Graece et Latine" edited by Eberhard Nestle, it appear they were trying to weed out some old textual mistakes and bring it into line with what modern scholarship knows about the Greek text. Since Latin has been in eclipse in RC circles, this Bible is hard to come by ande wexpensive. A little Christian Book Store in my city, run by some AG-type charismatics, has a copy gathering dust. When they put it on special sale (as they will some day), perhaps I will buy it.

John A. Hollister said...

"Degree of nullity"? Hmmmmm. ;>)}

I guess that means that some are more nuller (as my 8-year-old would say) than others....


Ken said...

I've searched the world over (cyber-speaking, that is) and the only KJV Bibles available with Apochrypha are this Cambridge version and some 1611 versions for the KJV-only fundamentalist churches.

I don't like the Cambridge because of the paragraph formatting and the 1611 is a little too archaic in spelling.

Some continuing church ought to publish a King James Bible with Apochrypha using the more modern spelling of the (I believe) 18th century edition with the Lectionary, Collects and Morning and Evening Prayer from the BCP.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...and some 1611 versions for the KJV-only fundamentalist churches.

I don't think so. Usually it upsets fundamentalists to learn that the KJV included the Apocrypha (just as they are scandalized to learn that Luther drank beer).

I use the 1611 edition all the time, and that is for scholarly reasons I suppose. The fact that it was designed to be read within the life of the Church of England, and has the 30 day Psalter as well as other things to go along with daily use of the BCP, is it self instructive.

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart makes an important point in emphasizing the ecclesial quality of the original AV. Quite right.

Two valuable features of the earlier editions were the (1) Preface to the Reader--somewhat longish--which should not have been dropped in later editions. It is more worthwhile than the fulsome dedication to King James VI and I.
(2) The notes which head the chapters. In the OT, these point us toward a thoroughly Christological reading. For Malachi 3, the notes inform us:
"1. Of the messenger, majesty, and grace of Christ. 7 Of the rebellion, sacrilege and infidelity of the people. 16 The promise of blessing to them that fear God."

These notes are dropped from many otherwise fine editions of the AV (such as the large Cambridge lectern Bible) but are happily included in the Prayer Book/Bible sold by the Anglican Parishes Association. There are some valuable theological nuggets in those notes. They are evidence of the high level of Biblical theology in the Church of England at the beginning of the 17th century.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

As Fr. Wells has reminded us, Anglican Parishes Association publishes the Authorized Version with the Apocrypha and bound with the 1928 American BCP. See the link on this blog.