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Roughly coincident with the publication of this issue of The Yale Review, Yale University Press is issuing The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible, by Harold Bloom. The perdurability of the Authorized Version, or King James Bible (KJB), for four hundred years and the durability of the genius of Harold Bloom in well over four hundred volumes seem to me equally miraculous; their special confluence is an occasion to be celebrated. What I propose to do here is to brood over one theme in Bloom’s book whose iconoclastic acumen outweighs the volumes of less insightful adoration of the King James translation: the role of this translation in abetting the illusion that the Bible is a single work. Here is a sample Bloom sentence: ‘‘The largest literary failure of the KJB . . . is the tonal uniformity its baroque style imposes upon very di√erent writers.’’ Not surprisingly, what Bloom understands as the failure of the KJB is precisely what so many have celebrated as its greatest success. There are, essentially, two ways to read the Bible – symbolically (one book, one purpose, one plot, one author) and diabolically (many books by di√erent authors whose historicity and di√erences in theology, style, and sense of literariness are the R
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appropriate subject for academic, as opposed to church, study). George Bernard Shaw caught the spirit of the former: ‘‘To this day the common Britisher or citizen of the United States of North America accepts and worships it as a single book by a single author, the book being the Book of Books and the author being God.’’ Shaw may have been sneering, but many a Christian, even many a scholar rapt beyond reason into pure adulation, have treated the Bible as though it were indeed not an anthology of sacred books but a book, whose author (since the actual writers lived over the course of a millennium) can only be called God. Take Northrop Frye, for example, whose Great Code proclaims that typological reading is ‘‘the ‘right’ way of reading it – ‘right’ in the only sense that criticism can recognize, as the way that conforms to the intentionality of the book.’’ The ‘‘intentionality’’ means one intention, ‘‘the book’’ treats the whole Bible as one book, as though the typology of Paul in Romans governed not just all the letters of Paul, all the letters (such as Hebrews and Timothy) not by Paul, but all the books of the Old and New Testaments. What is it about the King James Bible that makes it seem especially responsible for what Bloom perceives as the error of the homogenization of di√erent biblical sublimities? At the outset, there are three obvious things to say on this score that perhaps should be stated together: the first is that any translation of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament into English, the same English, is bound to further the impression that the Bible is a book, not a collection of books. When reading in Hebrew, it is not hard to tell that Isaiah is not written by the priests who penned Leviticus, and even within a single book such as Genesis it is possible to distinguish the style of the J Writer from that of E, or the pious sayings that Ecclesiastes inherits from his own, startlingly antithetical proverbs; reading in Greek, one is constantly aware of how di√erent Mark is from Matthew, or Revelation from the Gospel of John. In this sense, any translation into English of the whole collection of biblical books furthers the blending of di√erent voices. If historical accident (and special commercial as well as sectarian interests) had not privileged the King James translation and proscribed the more popular Geneva, we would be saying that the Geneva translation is responsible for the great Y

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homogenization Bloom decries. Indeed, by introducing verse numbers throughout and by adding marginal cross references, the Geneva Bible really did do more than any Renaissance Bible to further the impression of being a single book. The second point, Bloom’s own in the sentence I have cited, is that complicated matter of ‘‘baroque style,’’ often vaguely summoned as ‘‘the unique rhythms of the King James version.’’ We know that the six companies of translators who labored over the pieces of the Bishops’ Bible that were distributed to them as base text contained conservative Church of England men and (at least moderate) Puritans, scholars and authors, some of whom published elsewhere in distinctive voices. Having to work together, having the inner compulsion to be loyal to their Hebrew and Greek originals (surely a greater compulsion than the king’s charge to leave the Bishops’ Bible unchanged wherever possible), and having to have their decisions reviewed by further committees all contributed to a uniformity of style. Donald Foster may be able to test for telltale signs of John Ford or William Shakespeare, but anyone who has worked on a document that is the product of an academic committee knows the sorrows of watching one’s favorite phrases disappear into the blend of common, bureaucratic prose: the Genesis of the KJB is not Lancelot Andrewes’s style, nor William Tyndale’s; it is in the same ‘‘baroque style’’ as the Isaiah that had Miles Smith working on it or the Romans that had William Barlow. A third, much smaller point, may be joined to these two just to acknowledge an obvious truth that weighs heavily on anyone confronting early Geneva and King James Bibles. The Bible of 1611 was first printed in stately black letter, a print so daunting that comparison with contemporaneous versions of the Geneva in easily legible roman type leaves one in no doubt about which Bible would have won out if the publication of the Geneva had not been later proscribed. Though roman-type editions of the KJB quickly followed, there is a sense in which the KJB has never lost the patina of its original Gothic script, and I suspect that among Biblecarrying evangelists who believe that the Holy Spirit specially presided over the work of the King James translators, there are those equally sure that black letter is in some sense the ‘‘original’’ R

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print. In what follows, I propose to muse over the elements of theology and style that make for the impression of ‘‘black letter,’’ whatever the print. Theology It is not surprising that the KJB avoids certain choices in translation that would have marked either a Catholic or a Puritan Bible. The preeminent Catholic term in discussions of Bible translation and the role of the Bible in individual Christians’ lives is tradition. Like the classic Jewish distinction between Oral Law and Written Law, a distinction that allows the Talmud to take precedence over the Pentateuch, and, in essence, for Judaism to replace ancient Israelite religion, the term tradition for Catholics involved in translation into English – and, before them, Catholics involved in proscribing translation into English – stood as a shorthand for the authority of the Vulgate over even the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Tradition stood too for the resistance to disseminating a vernacular Bible that could leave in the hands of an individual interpreter a text that could be construed to yield meanings not in accordance with Church doctrine. For this reason, the Paul of the KJB 1 Corinthians 11:2 reads, ‘‘Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.’’ (I am modernizing spelling in all citations.) Now ordinances is Tyndale’s choice, and it is repeated in the Geneva and Bishops’ Bibles. But the Catholic Douay-Rheims New Testament, though it gives precepts in the text itself, contains the crucial note ‘‘in the Greek, traditions.’’ When the KJB does allow the word tradition, it is likely to have a negative connotation, as in Matthew 15:2: ‘‘Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.’’ This, from the perspective of mainstream Protestant tradition, may subtly equate Catholic tradition with Jewish tradition. This one little word stands, synecdochally, for a wholesale rejection of Church fathers as well as Judaism. In choosing not to use the word tradition in 1 Corinthians and to use it in the Matthew passage, the KJB echoes the choices of the Geneva Bible. But in one other ‘‘untraditional’’ matter, the KJB Y

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could have gone much farther than it did. There are only two small passages in the whole New Testament that appear to give a biblical basis for the idea of the Trinity. For one of these, Matthew 28:19, we need to wait for a twentieth-century Bible to have any indication that the trinitarianism has been interpolated. So the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible gives, as text, ‘‘baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’’ but then notes, ‘‘The formula is probably a reflection of the liturgical usage established later in the primitive community.’’ One would not expect the translators of KJB to have known this, and even if they had, they would certainly not have thought of deleting the line. But the situation is di√erent for 1 John 5:7. Erasmus knew that this great proof text for trinitarianism was a Vulgate interpolation, and Tyndale himself suspected as much, giving the famous Johannine Comma in italics. If the overwhelming majority of Greek manuscript are indeed more reliable than the Textus Receptus most in use, the trinitarianism in 1 John 5 would be limited to a threefold earthly symbol: ‘‘There are three that bear record on earth: the spirit and the water and the blood.’’ But the Comma is integrated into the original KJB in 1611 – some later versions of KJB italicize it anew – so trinitarinism appears to stand firm on two biblical legs: ‘‘For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.’’ The KJB is likewise conservative when it comes to that group of words that Puritans were most eager to have translated in accordance with their dissenting views of Church organization. The text of 1 Timothy 3:1 could have seemed to be a support of the praiseworthiness of the desire to be a presbyter, or ‘‘president’’; but the KJB, like the Geneva, opts for the traditional ‘‘bishop.’’ In 1 Timothy 3:5, Tyndale had already suggested, ‘‘If a man cannot rule his own house, how shall he care for the congregation of God?’’ But the KJB opts for the good old Church of England ‘‘church of God.’’ A perhaps more important homogeneity governs phrases from the Hebrew prophets that could be read Christologically. I think the great Hebraists at work on the Psalms knew that it would be more accurate to translate ‘‘they clawed at my hands R

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and feet like a lion’’; but this would deny the already familiar foretelling of the crucifixion if the phrase is given as ‘‘they pierced my hands and feet.’’ The KJB opts to follow the Geneva and the Bishops’ Bibles with ‘‘pierced.’’ Similarly, the KJB translates Job 19:25, ‘‘I know that my redeemer liveth,’’ following in the footsteps of the Bishops’ and Geneva and paving the way, as it were, for the unforgettable Handel setting of this stunning phrase. But if we cannot imagine seventeenth-century translators coming up with ‘‘defense attorney,’’ we can imagine that they could have considered ‘‘defender’’; the choice of redeemer represents the desire to leave in place all renderings that could make the Hebrew Bible seamlessly connected to the New Testament. More subtle, and in certain ways more impressive, are the translation choices that obscure di√erences between voices within the Hebrew Bible. Ecclesiastes is a great example, for perhaps no single book is so theologically dissonant with mainstream ancient priestly religion. The KJB follows its great English precursors in opening the book with ‘‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’’ Perhaps the choice of ‘‘vanity’’ for the Hebrew hevel seems inevitable, especially given the heavy weight of the Vulgate’s ‘‘vanitas vanitatum.’’ But consider for just a moment more modern translations, the NJB’s ‘‘sheer futility,’’ Robert Alter’s more literal ‘‘merest breath,’’ or the startling ‘‘Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’’ of the New International Version (NIV). Neither futility nor meaninglessness was available in early-seventeenth-century vocabulary; but breath certainly was; and at just the time when the KJB translators were settling for ‘‘vanity,’’ Shakespeare’s Vincentio was advising Claudio in Measure for Measure that life is merest breath: A breath thou art, Servile to all the skyey influences, That dost this habitation, where thou keep’st, Hourly aΔict. The KJB translators had ear enough to apprehend that the great Geneva line ‘‘all is vanity’’ is stronger than the Bishops’ ‘‘all is but most vain vanity’’ or Tyndale’s ‘‘all is but plain vanity.’’ But there is an existential despair in Vincentio’s ‘‘breath’’ that is lost in the KJB. It is not just the force of the outcry of the work as a whole Y

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that they diminish; they also work subtly to obscure the sense, so important to modern readings of the text, that Ecclesiastes is a collection of proverbs some of which are conventional, others of which express a belated, antithetical understanding of God and humans. Consider this panoramic outlook: ‘‘The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all’’ (2:14). The choice of ‘‘and’’ belies the gulf between the pious sentiment before and the volte-face that follows. Compare the Geneva: ‘‘Yet I know also that the same condition falleth to them all.’’ The decision not to copy Geneva’s ‘‘yet’’ is a decision to obscure the di√erence between the Preacher and his precursors. I want to pause over one other justly famous example of the KJB translation of Ecclesiastes where the sheer beauty of the phrasing has obscured the existential despair. The book closes with a version of old age that could hold its own in comparison to the contemporaneous vision of Jaques in As You Like It, where the seventh age of man is ‘‘second childishness and mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’’ In the KJB, ‘‘the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets’’ (12:5). Why did the KJB translators accede to the Bishops’ Bible choice of ‘‘long home’’ for the Hebrew bet olamo? In doing so they resisted both the contextually more just Geneva translation, ‘‘the house of his age,’’ and the more fleeting picture of old age being passed over for ‘‘his eternal home.’’ Robert Alter praises this choice for entering into the spirit of ‘‘how the biblical writers conceive great temporal duration – not anything as ponderous as ‘eternity’ but rather something that goes on and on.’’ In choosing to praise a general appreciation of ‘‘biblical writers,’’ Alter himself contributed to the KJB sense that these writers are all of a kind. But this is one particular writer, very di√erent from other voices in the Hebrew Bible. Alter is helpful in praising the ‘‘stark understatement’’ of the KJB choice of ‘‘long home.’’ Yet in doing so, he has passed over the Geneva insight into a vision of old age more terrifying than a general view of life as short, eternity long. Compare this push beyond debility to eternity with the famous KJB choice for concluding Psalm 23: ‘‘I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’’ Why did they choose ‘‘for ever’’ rather than ‘‘length R

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of days,’’ a more literal rendition of the Hebrew orech yamim? The Geneva o√ered, ‘‘I will remain a long season in the house of the Lord,’’ a representation of the kind of reward within the ken of a psalmist who knows nothing of Christian afterlife. Harold Bloom, who has no interest in theology, justly praises the ‘‘cognitive music that is distinctly the KJB’s own, particularly invoked in closures.’’ Surely it does help to appreciate the KJB choice of ‘‘for ever’’ to think of this as a musical choice, a firm (Bloom might say ‘‘strong’’) misreading of the Hebrew. Yet we might also acknowledge that what the choice of ‘‘for ever’’ does here is to obscure the great di√erence between the palmist’s vision of the pleasantly protracted life and Christian eternity. The Geneva choice of ‘‘a long season’’ was true to the di√erence between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament; the KJB choice obliterates it. If the KJB works subtly to suggest one view throughout of where we are going, it also works to suggest one view of where we have come from. To a reader of Genesis familiar with the stunning revelations of the Documentary Hypothesis, the two wife-sister stories in Genesis 12 and 20 represent the human, all too human Abraham of the J Writer and the pious patriarch of E. The KJB translates to make the two stories closer to each other than they actually are. What got into Abraham that he should present Sarah to Pharaoh in Genesis 12 as his sister and let her be taken to wife? There is a boldness to the J account that we might represent with a touch of J-like vulgarity as Abraham’s great screw-up: he allows Sarah to be screwed. In the gentle hands of the KJB translators, Pharaoh protests, ‘‘Why saidst thou, ‘She is my sister’? so I might have taken her to me to wife’’ (12:19). The Bishops’ Bible had been less dainty: ‘‘so that I took her to be my wife.’’ The KJB introduces an invented hypothetical, invented for the purpose of portraying an Abraham consistent with the untarnished view of the patriarch throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. When the tale reemerges in Genesis 20, the KJB concludes the story, ‘‘thus she was reproved’’ (20:16), attributing the whole idea of posing as Abraham’s sister to Sarah! In this, the KJB retains the pleasant fiction of the Bishops’ Bible (also in the Geneva); but Tyndale and Miles Coverdale had taken the Hebrew nochachat as a noun, not a verb, and translated ‘‘excuse.’’ Modern translations understand that the word is a verb related to a root meaning ‘‘to make right, to justify.’’ Y

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Thus Sarah was completely vindicated (NIV, NJB). Though the hapax legomenon might not have been impenetrable to the Hebrew scholars on the First Westminister Company, they chose a reading that, at Sarah’s expense, allows for the bland assimilation of the Genesis stories into the rest of the Bible’s accounts of the unblemished patriarch. One might have wished that they had saved reproof for John 8:46, where Jesus could have been represented as asking, ‘‘Which of you can reprove me for sin?’’ But not surprisingly, there they chose the archaic ‘‘Which of you convinceth me of sin?’’ The archaism seems to add additional distance between Jesus and sin. Words and Syllables In the Translators’ Preface to the KJB, Miles Smith stakes out a spirited claim for breaking free of a principle of always using the same English word for the same Hebrew or Greek one: ‘‘For is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? Why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free, use one precisely when we may use another no less fit, as commodiously?’’ Superficially, my task in exploring what the translators did to give the impression of unity would be simpler if they had adopted such a principle of uniformity; but it is one thing to build a hotel chain by imposing uniform standards of comfort and cleanliness, quite another to subject all guests to the same Procrustian bed. Throughout the KJB Old and New Testaments, I find no instances of painful stretching of meaning to allow for the same English word. On the contrary, the translators seem to flaunt their freedom by occasionally translating the same verse in two di√erent ways. In Hebrew, Isaiah 35:10 and 51:11 are virtually identical; but the KJB renders the first ‘‘And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.’’ Then, in 51:11, it has ‘‘Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing into Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.’’ And why not render piduyim as ‘‘ransomed’’ one time, ‘‘redeemed’’ the other? Is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? Similarly, the KJB renders Mark R

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14:38 as ‘‘The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.’’ Where Matthew 26:41 picks up the identical line in Greek, the KJB renders it, ‘‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’’ The Geneva Bible had ‘‘The spirit in deed is ready’’ for both Gospels. But the KJB breaks free: ‘‘Ready’’ and ‘‘willing’’ are equally good, as would be ‘‘eager’’ and even ‘‘zealous.’’ The KJB translators were not attempting to discriminate some subtle di√erence between Matthew’s and Mark’s sense of vulnerability to temptation; they were asserting, as it were, that flesh has stumbling blocks enough without the temptation to think one English word rather than the other could make all the di√erence. This freedom seems more startling when sameness or di√erence might influence recognition of a New Testament citation of an Old Testament verse. The narrator in Matthew asks us to recognize as a citation from Isaiah, ‘‘Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased.’’ But no one thought it necessary to make this tag coincide exactly with the KJB version of Isaiah 42:1: ‘‘Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delighteth.’’ Similarly, Paul himself calls attention to an Old Testament citation when he says, ‘‘ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’’ (2 Cor. 6:16). The translators felt no need to copy exactly the language they used in rendering Leviticus 26, ‘‘I will walk among you,’’ a fact more startling when one notices that ‘‘among’’ was in both contexts the Geneva preposition of choice. On the other hand, where a citation is less obvious, the KJB translators might go out of their way to tune a New Testament bell to the recognizable same pitch as the Old Testament text. In Romans 1:21, Paul castigates the ungodly for having become ‘‘vain in their imaginations.’’ One reason to prefer ‘‘imaginations’’ (a choice they have before them in the Bishops’ Bible) to the Geneva ‘‘vain in their thoughts’’ is to hearken back to Genesis, where ‘‘every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’’ (6:5). Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 2:9, Paul rings in the glories of the redeemed: ‘‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’’ Compare Isaiah 64:4: ‘‘For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by Y

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the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, besides thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.’’ To be sure that the KJB translators tuned that Isaiah text to match, one has only to compare Isaiah in the Geneva, which (incidentally) makes clearer the sense that no other God has so worked wonders: ‘‘neither hath the eye seen another God beside thee, which doeth so to him that waiteth for him.’’ ‘‘Doeth’’ may more literally, less interestingly, translate the Hebrew yaaseh; beside this, the KJB ‘‘prepared for him’’ seems specially prepared indeed. When Peter protests the news that Jesus must be crucified, the KJB translators would have found in the Bishops’ ‘‘Favor thy self; this shall not be unto thee,’’ a line that then as now may have seemed too close to ‘‘pamper yourself’’ or ‘‘you have to love yourself if you want to love other people.’’ The Geneva was a little freer with the Greek: ‘‘Pity thy self; this shall not be unto thee.’’ But the glorious choice of the KJB translators made – ‘‘Be it far from thee, Lord’’ – gains glory from appearing to echo Abraham’s protesting injustice of God’s plan to destroy Sodom: ‘‘That be far from thee, to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee’’ (Gen. 18:25). Here, it is decidedly to Peter’s glory that he should be upholding a standard of right as Abraham did, both facing the doom of an implacable God. In another place, however, the morality of the verbal echo is more problematic. When Schechem the son of Hamor rapes Dinah, ‘‘his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel’’ (Gen. 34:3). What the translators saw before them in the Bishops’ Bible copy they were emending was ‘‘his heart lay unto Dinah.’’ I think they were trying to be more true not just to the Hebrew of Genesis 34, vatidbak nafsho b’Dinah, but to the Hebrew of Genesis 2:34: ‘‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.’’ The devek, or ‘‘glue,’’ that binds man and woman in sexual desire, the devek that Genesis 2 wishes to make into a metaphysics of marriage, is also the devek that, for the KJB translators, binds together the disparate writings of the Bible into one book. I would like to save a special place of honor for one instance where the KJB editors emphatically declined to call attention to a cited text through verbal similarity. In the stunning story of a R

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previously unknown woman recognizing and anointing the previously unanointed Messiah, the disciples protest an apparent waste of expensive ointment. Jesus responds, ‘‘Let her alone; why trouble ye her? She hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always’’ (14:6–7). The confrontation between newly minted Messiah and old-school disciples seems to bring to a head both the tension between faith and works and the tension between continuity with and di√erence from the old dispensation. Should we or should we not hear in Jesus’ declaration of the uniqueness of his incarnation a reference to Deuteronomy: ‘‘ye have the poor with you always’’ (15:11)? Perhaps to suggest that we should not, the KJB translates the Deuteronomy verse as ‘‘The poor shall never cease out of the land.’’ The di√erent wording calls attention to the di√erence in circumstance, the fact that Deuteronomy is proclaiming a perdurable charitable principle, while Mark is focusing on a onetime event. Obscuring Di√erences Why is it that the Geneva Bible omits Paul’s name from the Epistle to the Hebrews while the KJB restores the conventional attribution, the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews? Was the Geneva omission an accident, or did these translators sense the di√erence between Paul and the very di√erent writer of Hebrews? The KJB translators do what they can to obscure the di√erence between these writers, and the di√erence between the Pauline and Johannine texts as well. In many places in the New Testament, they choose locutions that obscure as well the di√erence between Hebrew and Greek. In the Geneva Bible, Jesus says, ‘‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you, before I su√er’’ (Luke 22:15). The KJB opts for a more literal word-byword translation that seems to be restoring a Hebrew speech rhythm: ‘‘With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I su√er.’’ I am struck by the inconsistency with which this principle is applied, however. In Mark 4, a great storm arises while the disciples and Jesus are on board ship, ‘‘and they feared exceedingly’’ (4:41). In the Douay-Rheims, ‘‘they feared with great fear.’’ The disposition of these choices may be an accident, more likely a Y

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reflection of a reluctance to impose a single principle of translation on all translators; but I cannot help wondering whether the di√erence reflects a decision to let Luke speak Greek, as it were, in English, while Jesus retains his Semitic idiom. Of the disparate writers of the Pentateuch, as we have come to see them since Wellhausen and Graf, the translators of the KJB may have known little. There is one sense, however, in which the little they may have well intuited they did much to obscure. It is striking, reading Genesis in Tyndale’s English, that the colloquialisms he introduces are concentrated in the text we would now recognize as J. Tyndale’s Eve is created ‘‘to bear him company,’’ a motive that seems more staid when the KJB renders a noun for a noun and Eve is to be ‘‘an help meet for him.’’ Most justly famous is Tyndale’s J-like serpent, who assured Eve, ‘‘Tush, ye shall not die’’ (3:4). I find myself misremembering the KJB line as ‘‘Surely, ye shall not die.’’ but even as they wrote it, ‘‘Ye shall not surely die’’ – introducing the possibility of a playful hint that if the ‘‘surely’’ is to be emphasized, then there is room to maneuver – this is far more staid, far less distinctively J, than the great Tyndale serpent’s dismissal of God and Priest and Church. One might object that there is nothing in a P text that could arouse such liveliness of idiom from Tyndale, but I think rather it is a case of one great writer identifying with the spirit of another in some but not all of the Pentateuch. Less obviously J, but J nonetheless, is the passage describing Joseph: ‘‘The Lord was with Joseph and he was a lucky fellow’’ (39:2). Here the playfulness of J is altogether lost when the KJB renders the verse, ‘‘he was a prosperous man.’’ There may be a further hint of Tyndale’s perception of a J voice when Balaam’s ass protests, ‘‘Am I not thine ass which thou hast ridden upon since thou wast born?’’ (Num. 22:30). The KJB cannot wholly erase the J quality of this other talking beast, but it goes partway in diminishing the preposterous by translating it, ‘‘Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day?’’ Even within the speech of one writer, one can see the KJB translators working to diminish a sense of the di√erences that would disrupt the harmony of the whole. David’s great lament for Jonathan has him cry out, ‘‘I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan, very pleasant hast thou been unto me’’ (2 Sam. 1:26). Why did they opt for ‘‘very pleasant’’ when they had before R

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them the much better choice of Geneva, ‘‘Woe is me for thee, my brother Jonathan; very kind has thou been unto me.’’ I suspect that David’s a√ection for Jonathan is something disruptive, and the KJB translators handle this by choosing the same word they used a few verses before in a more public moment of eulogy: ‘‘Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives.’’ To appreciate what is at stake here in retreating to the same English word for the same Hebrew term (noam), one has only to compare a good modern translation such as the NIV. The public: ‘‘Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and gracious.’’ The private: ‘‘I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.’’ The whole force of the apostrophe to Jonathan would be lost if the second verse read, ‘‘you were very gracious to me.’’ It is interesting that the KJB rings true when the Hebrew noam is a public pleasantness. In Proverbs, wisdom is described beautifully: ‘‘Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace’’ (3:17). This the Geneva almost perversely gets wrong: ‘‘Her ways are ways of pleasure, and all her paths prosperity.’’ Poetic Prose Though nothing in the 1611 KJB was printed as poetry – not even the Magnificat, so recognized by Tyndale, and not even the psalms – there is, throughout, a recognition of the value of poetic ambiguity. Rivaling, even trumping the principle that translation should vary from the Bishops’ Bible only when fidelity to the Hebrew or Greek so requires, the principle of choosing the rich phrase over the unambiguous one seems to have been silently adopted by all the translation companies, even if nothing like it was stated in Richard Bancroft’s instructions to the translators. And it may well be that the consistency with which this principle was followed accounts more than anything for the sense that the KJB made a unity of the disparate styles and theologies of biblical writers. In what follows, I select, in turn, from the Pentateuch, prophetic books, Gospels, and letters to illustrate the kinds of ambiguity favored and disallowed and the complex relation of the poetic to the literal. When, and in what sense, did Enoch ‘‘walk with God’’? The phrase is unusual in Hebrew in the sense that it appears to treat Y

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vayithalech (he walked) as transitive, as we commonly do when we speak of walking the dog. But walking God? Tyndale understood the Hebrew to mean ‘‘walking with God,’’ and he understood that to mean ‘‘living a godly life.’’ After what we number Genesis 5:22, ‘‘And Henoch walked with God after he had begot Mathusala 300 hundred year,’’ Tyndale gave for 5:24, ‘‘and then Henoch lived a godly life and was no more seen for God took him away.’’ The di≈culty in ‘‘and then’’ (which ought to mean ‘‘because’’) is cleaned up beautifully in Coverdale: ‘‘And for so much as he lived a godly life, God took him away.’’ What can one do better than to clarify that walking with God is what Enoch did while alive, for which he was granted a special assumption into heaven – or at least a disappearance, or something other than the finality of death and corporeal decay everywhere else in the Hebrew Bible? But the Bishops’ and Geneva Bibles return to a more literal translation, and the KJB follows suit: ‘‘And Enoch walked with God: and he was not.’’ One can only imagine that the KJB translators decided that it was not their job to specify whether the walking with God is in this life or out of it, and they bequeathed an ambiguity richer than the theology of reward and punishment they might otherwise have reified. In the Covenant between the Carcasses, poor Abram spends a fearful night. Tyndale tells us, ‘‘And when the sun was down there fell a slumber upon Abram. And lo fear and great darkness came upon him’’ (Gen. 15:12). The terror may be somewhat lightened when the Geneva specifies ‘‘a very fearful darkness,’’ thus omitting the mysterious other that seems somehow to lurk in the shadows of ‘‘great darkness.’’ But the Bishops’ Bible reincarnates the unknown other when it translates it as ‘‘an horror of great darkness fell upon him,’’ and the KJB opts for the Bishops’ reading. Obscuring the question of objective or subjective genitive, ‘‘horror of great darkness’’ seems all the more terrible. Enoch, in a small way, and Abraham, to a far greater extent, are heroes, and the rich ambiguities lavished on them are appropriate gifts of language. When the biblical character is more problematic, the language can be more niggardly. Thus Laban, when he catches up to the severely overworked (though not underpaid) Jacob, newly run away, complains, ‘‘What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my R

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daughters, as captives taken with the sword?’’ (Gen. 31:26). The Hebrew vatignov et livavi literally means ‘‘you stole my heart!’’ with the implication of ‘‘you broke my heart when you stole away,’’ and is so understood by Coverdale, the Bishops’ Bible, and the Geneva Bible. But the KJB translators hearken back to a liberty that Tyndale took to interpret stealing the heart as something like ‘‘sneaking away without the heart to tell me you were going.’’ Tyndale’s ‘‘Why hast thou this done unknowing to me’’ becomes the KJB ‘‘stolen away unawares to me.’’ When the idiom is repeated in the following verse in still more potentially heartwrenching form, the KJB renders vatignov oti (you stole me) as ‘‘you stole away from me.’’ The translation seems to be governed by the judgment that Laban should not be presented as saying anything with which we might sympathize; Jacob, not Laban, is the hero, and so Jacob in translation steals nothing, taking only the practical precaution of leaving under cover of night. I want to linger over just one more example from the Pentateuch to illustrate the impact of these local decisions far beyond their immediate contexts. In Numbers, God’s anger against the Israelites requires Moses’ intercession, and when Moses finally prevails on God by reminding him of his merciful nature, God concedes, ‘‘I have forgave it according to thy request’’ (Tyndale, Num. 14:20). It is by no means clear from the Hebrew whether God’s forgiveness is in accord with the model of Moses’ citation of God’s forgiving nature or in response to Moses’ request. This is the same rich uncertainty suggested by the Lord’s Prayer: ‘‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’’ (KJB, Matt. 6:11). Do we model mercy for God or suggest a system of accounting such that the ‘‘as’’ means to the extent that we forgive our debtors? Or is there an unspoken assumption that forgiveness is a pure good, whether found on earth or in heaven – as good in our interactions as in our prayed-for treatment from God? Added to these questions in the Numbers context is the uncertainty about whether the word alluded to in the Hebrew kidvarecha refers to the words of request or the words of citation from Exodus of God’s forgiving nature. This ambiguity the Coverdale translation already suggested in o√ering, instead of ‘‘request,’’ ‘‘I have forgave it, as thou hast said.’’ And the spirit of this uncertainty is captured, even heightened, in the magnificent KJB choice, ‘‘I have pardoned, according to thy Y

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word.’’ One might even hear, in God being so taken with Moses’ word, a hint of a midrash that Moses has caught God’s nature as the Word – the Word of Forgiveness on which the world stands. The ambiguities everywhere characteristic of the KJB more often than not restore those of the original languages, though in doing so they may or may not suggest a connotation of extra beauty or transcendence. A particularly harrowing example where uncertainty is anything but spiritual elevation comes in the tale of the Levite who throws his concubine out of doors to a night of murderous gang rape rather than risk any violence to his own person. In the Geneva (following the Vulgate), what follows is nasty enough: ‘‘And her lord arose in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way, and behold, the woman his concubine was dead at the door of the house and her hands lay upon the threshold’’ (Judg. 19:27). The Hebrew nofelet indicates that the poor woman has fallen on the threshold (perhaps even that, upon the Levite’s opening the door of the house, she now falls to the threshold); but though the euphemism ‘‘fallen in battle’’ is often used for the dead, the actual death of the concubine is not indicated in the Hebrew. This uncertainty is carefully captured in the KJB: ‘‘And her lord rose up in the morning, & opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.’’ When the Levite, with incomparable insensitivity, ignores what she has been through and simply orders, ‘‘Up, and let us be going!’’ her silence appears to indicate that she is dead. But we are not quite sure, not even when he takes home her exhausted or dead body and cuts it up to make a point. Another scene that threatens to degenerate into like inhumanity is that concerning David and Nabal. When Abigail appeases David, he blesses her and dismisses her as God might a successful supplicant: ‘‘Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request’’ (NIV, 1 Sam. 25:35). The idiom here translated as ‘‘granted your request’’ might be literally rendered ‘‘I lifted up your face,’’ and it is the same idiom that appears so unforgettably in the blessing of Numbers 6:26: ‘‘The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace.’’ While the KJB is reluctant to take the lifting and the face out of the idiom in R

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reference to God, it does render the same terms a little more figuratively when they occur in the colloquy of God with Lot: ‘‘I have accepted thee concerning this also’’ (Gen. 19:21). In all three contexts, what is di≈cult, blessedly di≈cult, to determine is the extent to which the granting of a request constitutes a more general favor toward the person making the request. God seems even better disposed toward Lot in the KJB when he says not just ‘‘I have granted your request’’ but ‘‘I have accepted thee.’’ There is a di√erent sort of uncertainty hovering over the question of David and Abigail. The Geneva has David lift up Abigail’s countenance in idiomatic English: ‘‘I have granted thy petition.’’ As such, he administers a piece of political patronage that he need not blush at. But the KJB stops short of full translation away from the idiom and o√ers instead, ‘‘I have accepted thy person.’’ Knowing David, and knowing what is about to happen, we may wonder indeed whether the king listened much to the petition when ‘‘faced’’ with such a comely ‘‘person.’’ Even when the connotation suggested by the KJB introduces no second thought clearly distinct from a first, there is something distinctive about the choice of the richer phrase. Consider the justly famous vision of the end of days in Isaiah: ‘‘And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’’ (2:4). Modern translations seem to lose something of the beatific by specifying ‘‘no longer will they learn how to make war’’ (NJB) or ‘‘nor will they train for war anymore’’ (NIV). What the KJB translators had before them in the Bishops’ Bible was ‘‘neither shall they learn to fight from thenceforth,’’ and though a tad more elevated in Geneva – ‘‘neither shall they learn to fight any more’’ – there is still a di√erence worth noting between ‘‘learning to fight’’ and ‘‘learn war.’’ The KJB choice could be explained by the desire more literally to translate the Hebrew milchama, which really is ‘‘war’’ rather than ‘‘fight,’’ and also a noun, not a verb. But there is also in the KJB choice a wistful hint of a change in academic curriculum: Will the world not be a better place not only when we no longer need to train for war but when we no longer conceive of history as the study of wars? I do not mean carelessly to indulge in the anachronism of a vision of social history replacing military history; but the question of what makes Y

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‘‘learn war’’ the richer phrase is not purely academic. Similarly, consider the appeal of Isaiah in 31:6. There was nothing terribly wrong about the Bishops’ Bible text that the KJB translators faced: ‘‘Therefore O ye children of Israel, turn again unto him you have ofttimes forsaken.’’ The children of Israel have been, to use a contemporary idiom, ‘‘deep into rebellion.’’ There is something particularly fetching about the idea that they have not just often rebelled, as the Bishops’ rendering states, but revolted in no careless way but with all their depth of being. I don’t think that KJB here can be matched: ‘‘Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.’’ In the Gospels, what I am calling poetic ambiguity cannot be fully explained by a desire to be particularly close to the literal meaning of the Greek. Consider ‘‘Su≈cient unto the day is the evil thereof’’ (Matt. 6:54). The Geneva Bible surely did a better job of conveying the sentiment of the maxim: ‘‘The day hath enough with his own grief’’ – in the clear sense that there is enough to grieve about in one’s immediate surroundings without, in Wordsworth’s phrase, going far to seek disquietude. If the only motivation were a desire to choose the definition that seemed most particular to the context, ‘‘misfortune,’’ a familiar enough term in early-seventeenth-century vocabulary, might have done better than ‘‘evil’’ or ‘‘grief’’ for kakos. Indeed, the KJB translators had an excellent, clear choice before them in Tyndale: ‘‘The day present hath ever enough of his own trouble.’’ All the sermons I have heard about the ungodliness of extended anxiety (for example, don’t worry about global warming, just keep energy policy friendly to today’s businesses) would find equal biblical basis with the translation choice of ‘‘trouble’’ for ‘‘evil.’’ Yet ‘‘evil’’ rumbles with a connotation of absolute or ultimate evil, and perhaps suggests too that the daily disappointments of ordinary work in the world are connected to Adam’s fall and the resistance of things to the cultivation of man’s labor. It is not surprising that ‘‘evil’’ is also the KJB choice in Isaiah’s sweeping vision of God’s power: ‘‘I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things’’ (45:7). Modern translations suggest ‘‘disaster’’ or ‘‘hard times’’ for the Hebrew ra, the first more clearly in the idiom of Isaiah’s political trouble or peace, the second perhaps attempting to relate national to personal ups and downs. The KJB translators had ample R

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precedent for choosing something more suggestive of Isaiah’s political context: Thomas Cranmer’s Great Bible, Coverdale, and the Bishops’ Bible all give ‘‘I made peace and trouble.’’ One may wish to note that the use of two verbs in the KJB, ‘‘make peace and create evil,’’ is truer to the Hebrew distinction between oseh and boreh. But the ultimate choice of ‘‘evil’’ seems to be made on the grounds of maximum resonance – a consistent, unified vision of a universe of good and evil, all in God’s hands. In terms of closeness to the original, perhaps there is a special place that should be reserved for the decision to transliterate rather than translate mammon, the common Aramaic word for worldly goods: ‘‘Ye cannot serve God and Mammon’’ (Matt. 6:24). Our tendency to think of Mammon as something more evil, a veritable god, an alternative god, makes the choice to leave mammon as ‘‘mammon’’ seem just right. In modern translations, the New Revised Standard Version choice, ‘‘You cannot serve God and wealth,’’ seems to go out of its way not to suggest a metaphysical force. On the other hand, ‘‘You cannot be the slave both of God and of money’’ (NJB) plays on what is perhaps in our culture a preexistent personification of Money as an evil force with a will of its own. The KJB translators had before them the Bishops’ translation, or nontranslation, ‘‘God and mammon,’’ and they chose to retain this (even adding to its force with a capital M) rather than adopt the common English Geneva version, ‘‘Ye cannot serve God and riches.’’ If one thinks, in this context, of the question ‘‘But can I not serve God with my wealth?’’ – or if one tries to wiggle out of the absolutism of Matthew 19:21, ‘‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast’’ – then the Geneva translation may provide some comfort: to heed the warning, ‘‘Ye cannot serve God and riches,’’ one can reason, ‘‘Well, I’m not serving riches; they serve me’’; but ‘‘Ye cannot serve God and Mammon’’ retains a more powerful reminder of an ancient, metaphysical battle. Jesus’ absolutism in delineating qualifications for ‘‘eternal life’’ here seems consistent with Old Testament absolutism in prosecution of the sin of sins, idolatry. Making ‘‘riches’’ into Mammon is shorthand for making the Bible seem to be one book. The question of how literal or figurative, how clear or obscure a phrase should be assumes a particularly interesting complexity in the injunction, in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘‘If thy right hand Y

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o√end thee, cut it o√, and cast it from thee’’ (Matt. 5:30). Perhaps, in its KJB form, this meant something inspiring to James Franco, playing the trapped adventurer Aron Ralston in the film 127 Hours, as he contemplates having to sever his own trapped right arm from the boulder that has pinned him. But surely Jesus was not o√ering practical advice for survival in a canyon crevasse. The Oxford English Dictionary cites Tyndale as introducing for o√end the meaning ‘‘to cause spiritual or moral di≈culty.’’ The Geneva, less poetic, removes all enigma: ‘‘If thy right hand make thee to o√end, cut it o√.’’ Had the Geneva become the Bible of popular imagination, perhaps the smart aleck in my high school health class would not have been so quick to respond to our teacher’s fumbling through a lesson on self-abuse. ‘‘If thy right hand o√end thee, try the left.’’ What has always struck me, thinking back to that moment, is the uncertainty of whether our class wit meant by o√end ‘‘gives you moral o√ense’’ or ‘‘bores you with the same dull round.’’ If one lingers over the literal meaning of skandalizo, ‘‘to cause to stumble,’’ one might be more impressed with the witticism of the NJB translation: ‘‘If your right hand should be your downfall.’’ Though it is hard to picture hands literally making one ‘‘stumble,’’ it is not hard to think of the misuse of one’s hands being one’s ‘‘downfall.’’ Our sense of the disgusting or horrific may be o√ended by the suggestion of eyes plucked out, hands cut o√; but the awkwardness of ‘‘o√end thee’’ only makes more vivid the sense of verbal o√ense standing for moral o√ense. In some cases, it may be that that attraction of the more ambiguous phrase even trumped the religious imperative to make the message of the Gospels as clear as it is powerful. In Mark 10:52, Jesus tells the blind man who had been calling out to him, ‘‘Thy faith hath made thee whole,’’ with a marginal note supplying the clearer theological meaning ‘‘saved thee.’’ Here, as elsewhere, sesoken can suggest, literally, ‘‘healed’’ and, figuratively, ‘‘saved.’’ Surely the KJB translators were not for a moment tempted by the strangely lame Coverdale suggestion, ‘‘thy faith hath helped ye.’’ But they might have been satisfied with the dead metaphor on which Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Geneva and Bishops’ Bibles concur: ‘‘Thy faith hath saved thee.’’ Nonetheless, there is special magic in their choice, ‘‘thy faith hath made thee whole.’’ Though not a literal translation, it is the one most suggestive of the relaR

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tion between the letter and the spirit. If, in other contexts, Jesus is reluctant to adopt the Old Testament symbolism of unsound body for unsound soul, here the translation suggests continuity with such vision: the blind and the lame are cured physically to suggest his ultimate, spiritual power to redeem. One place in the Gospels where the poetry is in still more heightened tension with the theology concerns Jesus’ injunction ‘‘This is my Commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you’’ (John 15:13). This great commandment is then immediately juxtaposed to what is, much more ambiguously, a general principle: ‘‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’’ The next verses turn clearly and decisively to Jesus’ unique status at the center of the circle of disciples he is pleased to call friends: ‘‘Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants.’’ Between the universal and the particular, the hinge verse, verse 14, looks both ways: greater love hath no man, in general, and greater love hath no man than what I, Jesus, as a man am doing in laying down my life for my friends. The Greek allows for either ‘‘a certain one’’ (that is, me, Jesus) or ‘‘anyone’’ (Jesus as one exemplar of many for how we should act toward one another). We might think of this as John’s equivalent for what Luke so magnificently elaborates in the Good Samaritan parable: Can anyone be a good Samaritan, or is the parable Christological, pointing, past the failure of priest, Levite, and all people, to one, the only One, who can save his neighbor, and in him all neighbors? That the KJB translators faced this problem may be represented by what they had before them in the Bishops’ Bible and what they could have chosen to import from the Geneva. The Geneva line is clearly universal morality: there is no greater love than ‘‘when any man bestoweth his life for his friends.’’ Any man can do this, and in some sense all men should be prepared to do this. The Bishops’ Bible reading is more ambiguous: ‘‘Greater love hath no man than this: that a man bestow his life for his friends.’’ A man can be any man; but it can also point to a man among men. The same two words must have struck William Blake as he brought his great epic Jerusalem to a close: Jesus suddenly appears, incarnate, before Albion, ‘‘& Albion saw his form, / A man: & they conversed as man with man’’ (plate 96). Jesus then goes on to specify his particular Y

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symbolic identity: ‘‘Unless I die thou canst not live.’’ But he ties this to a general moral principle: ‘‘This is friendship & brotherhood; without it man is not.’’ This great plate, perhaps the most spiritually edifying in all of Blake, spells out what is implicit in the KJB choice of ‘‘a man.’’ The Geneva is not ‘‘wrong’’ in choosing ‘‘any man,’’ but the theology and the poetry both demand a crucial ambiguity here; a single man in particular must be the type for any man. Since no one, not even the Douay-Rheims translators, thought to render agape in the John passage as anything other than ‘‘love,’’ we may turn with perhaps renewed baΔement to one of the oddest choices the KJB translators make, the translation of agape as ‘‘charity’’ in 1 Corinthians. Why, oh why, did they leave us with ‘‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity’’ (13:13)? There are enough egregious Latinisms in the KJB (concupiscence, propitiation, emulation) for us to imagine that they are simply sprinkled like salt on meat, not for good taste but to suggest something old and well-preserved. But since there was neither a ‘‘Vulgate contingent’’ nor a party of translators who had particular reason to want the Latinate Douay-Rheims translation represented, it seems like a more deliberate flouting of common opinion and common sense to choose ‘‘charity’’ over ‘‘love.’’ The Bishops’ Bible they had before them rendered it ‘‘Now abideth faith, hope, and love, these three, but the chief of these is love,’’ and ‘‘love’’ is chief in Tyndale, Cranmer, Coverdale, and the Geneva Bible. In the absence of a more scholarly or political motive, I can only imagine that something about Paul’s emphasis frightened the KJB translators into a terror of misapprehension that ‘‘love’’ would lead to thoughts of divinizing carnal love – or the less specific but still ‘‘vulgar’’ secularization that love, even brotherly love, separate from the love of God, is (in a nontheological sense) ‘‘divine.’’ And yet ‘‘God is love’’ – love, not charity – in 1 John 4:7 and the surrounding verses of that great paean. We seem to be confronting a case in point, perhaps the case in point, where the general principle of translation that one word of Hebrew or Greek should not be slavishly rendered by the same English word becomes a principle to defend and embody at all costs. To my ear, a more pleasing diminishment of Latinity occurs in Romans 14:1, rendered by the KJB, ‘‘Him that is weak in the faith R

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receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.’’ Here, both the Bishops’ and the Geneva are almost unintelligible. The Bishops’ Bible has ‘‘not to judgments of disputing (‘‘judgments’’ rendering literally the Greek diakriseis), while the Geneva gives ‘‘not for controversies of disputations,’’ where ‘‘controversies’’ better indicates what one wished to avoid, though the sense of avoiding disputation with the person weak in faith is not clearly given. Tyndale was more willing to abandon word-for-word translation to make sense of the verse: ‘‘not in disputing and troubling his conscience’’ – almost as pellucid as a modern e√ort such as ‘‘not to criticize his opinions’’ or ‘‘without quarreling over disputable matters.’’ Not as clear as these, the KJB retains something of the poetic ambiguity it may value even when someone is hesitating at the door of the faith community: one should avoid getting into particular points of theological controversy with such a person, and one should avoid giving him the impression that the faith about which he is uncertain is a world or a whirl of ‘‘doubtful disputations.’’ I should think it similarly a matter of aesthetic rather than theological ambiguity when the KJB opts for ‘‘Sin shall not have dominion over you’’ (Rom. 6:14). There was certainly a clarity and immediacy to the less Latinate ‘‘power over you’’ in Tyndale, repeated in the Bishops’ Bible; but ‘‘dominion’’ complicates the question of sin’s lordship by introducing the right of such lordship. Sin shall have no right to lordship over you, and you have no right to let sin lord it over you if you are bespoke, under the dominion of grace. ‘‘Dominion’’ necessarily gets us thinking in terms of a little allegory, with personified forms of Sin and Grace, in a way that ‘‘power’’ does not. Perhaps we need a third category, neither ‘‘aesthetic’’ nor ‘‘theological’’ but ‘‘existential ambiguity’’ for these choices that concern more than theological clarity. Consider the especially lovely choice in Romans 12:3: ‘‘For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.’’ The KJB italicizes ‘‘of himself’’ to indicate that there are no words in Greek corresponding to these. But why were they thought needful? It seems to me that there are two traditions about the meaning of this verse. One is represented by the Bishops’ Bible, going back to Y

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Tyndale: ‘‘that no man esteem of himself more than he ought to esteem.’’ The ‘‘high thoughts’’ of the Greek are here interpreted to be thinking highly of oneself. This is quite di√erent from the Geneva rendering, ‘‘that no man presume to understand above that which is meet to understand.’’ Here ‘‘high thoughts’’ are thoughts that wander beyond God-given limitations – thinking of high things, rather than thinking highly of oneself. What do the KJB translators do? By choosing ‘‘not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,’’ they rest in glorious ambiguity, allowing ‘‘of himself’’ to represent both the error of over-inflated ego and the error of seeking to know more of the mystery of things than is given to us to know. If this is ‘‘existential ambiguity,’’ in the sense of capturing sins in which we sin all, whether we be Christians or no, so is, triumphantly, the KJB version of Paul on original sin: ‘‘As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned’’ (Rom. 5:12). Is original sin a reasonable doctrine we can all easily accept ‘‘for that’’ (because) we are, after all, all sinners? Or is it a particular, zany Christian doctrine that we are all sinners ‘‘for that’’ reason that in one man we sinned all? The Geneva line ‘‘in who all men have sinned,’’ o√ensive to a modern grammarian’s ears, nonetheless opts for perfect clarity on the issue of original sin; the KJB chooses something richer and more strange. The inclusiveness of that ‘‘for that’’ might stand, finally, for the inclusiveness that makes of all men, as it makes of all books of the Bible, one fate, one universal plot, one redemption. In the words of Robert Browning’s Andrea del Sarto, ‘‘A common greyness silvers everything.’’ At the end of God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, Adam Nicolson waxed lyrical in wondrous contemplation of the near-contemporary twin glories of King Lear and the King James Bible. For Nicolson, ‘‘the King James Bible masks its immensely various sources under one certain, all-over musical sonority; everything in Lear falls apart, everything in the King James Bible pulls together; one is a nightmare of dissolution, the other a dream of wholeness.’’ This is accurately and beautifully couched. I wish to add only a note of wistfulness about the ambiguously phrased ‘‘dream of wholeness’’: it may be, for Nicolson, a dream R

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the way one might praise anything one admires as a lovely incarnation of idealized form. That is one dream of a book. But it may also be a dream in the sense of an extraordinarily deceptive, imaginative invention. The ‘‘wholeness’’ that the King James translators made was, indeed, a collective illusion. No wonder it has lasted so long.

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