(Vanity Fair) Christopher Hitchens on the KJV—When the King Saved God

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Bishop Andrewes and his colleagues, a mixture of clergymen and classicists, were charged with revisiting the original Hebrew and Greek editions of the Old and New Testaments, along with the fragments of Aramaic that had found their way into the text. Understanding that their task was a patriotic and “nation-building” one (and impressed by the nascent idea of English Manifest Destiny, whereby the English people had replaced the Hebrews as God’s chosen), whenever they could translate any ancient word for “people” or “tribe” as “nation,” they elected to do so. The term appears 454 times in this confident form of “the King’s English.” Meeting in Oxford and Cambridge college libraries for the most part, they often kept their notes in Latin. Their conservative and consensual project was politically short-lived: in a few years the land was to be convulsed with civil war, and the Puritan and parliamentary forces under Oliver Cromwell would sweep the head of King Charles I from his shoulders. But the translators’ legacy remains, and it is paradoxically a revolutionary one, as well as a giant step in the maturing of English literature.

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchPoetry & LiteratureReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK* TheologyTheology: Scripture

1 Comments
Posted May 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm

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1. MichaelA wrote:

Hitchens writes:

“I believe that Orwell [in “1984”], a strong admirer of the Protestant Reformation and the poetry of its hero John Milton, was using as his original allegory the long struggle of English dissenters to have the Bible made available in a language that the people could read.”

Interesting point.

“After many false starts and unsatisfactory printings, back in England, the Anglican conclave in 1611 adopted William Tyndale’s beautiful rendering almost wholesale, and out of their zeal for compromise and stability ironically made a posthumous hero out of one of the greatest literary dissidents and subversives who ever lived.”

Florid language, but again, its a very good point. A large part of the KJV is Tyndale’s work, and that in turn sprang from soil watered by the English Lollards, long before the Protestant Reformation.

But then Hitchens’ weakness of argument rears its head, as so often in his work:

“For example, in Isaiah 7:14 it is stated that, “behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This is the scriptural warrant and prophecy for the impregnation of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost. But the original Hebrew wording refers only to the pregnancy of an almah, or young woman. If the Hebrew language wants to identify virginity, it has other terms in which to do so. The implications are not merely textual. To translate is also to interpret; or, indeed, to lay down the law.”

This is evading the issue. Even if Hitchens were right in his characterisation of the Hebrew word “Almah”, its not the point. Rather, the issue is that Jesus and the Apostles clearly viewed Isaiah’s prophecy as referring to the virgin birth of Christ. THAT is the real problem for those like Hitchens who would like to remove the miraculous from Christianity, and that is what he should have confronted. But apparently the ‘ticker’ was lacking.

May 23, 4:54 am | [comment link]


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