Saturday, 8 January 2011

How to shun an ossifrage.


What connects the following phrases " a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush", " "baptism of fire", and " by the skin of the teeth". The answer is that all these sayings emanate from the Authorised Version of the Bible the 400th anniversary of which publication occurs this year. I therefore welcome events that Churches Together in Leek have planned to celebrate the event. One suggestion is readings from the Bible in the Market Place over the summer.

I hope it goes ahead and I would be willing to volunteer to read. The Authorised Version is also called the King James Bible after the monarch who commissioned the work at a conference held at Hampton Court in 1604. The newly crowned King tried to iron out differences between the Church of England and a dissident sect known as the Puritans and used a new translation of the Bible as a potential unifier. The leading academics of the time divided themselves into committees to tackle the various books in the Bible. It took seven years to create the volume. The Committees in their deliberations succeeded in producing a work of luminescent beauty. Their principal concern of the 47 translators was to produce a Bible that would be appropriate, dignified and resonant in public reading. And in that aim they succeeded, as bystanders in Leek Market Place will be able to appreciate later this year. As a child I was taught some of the great stories in the Bible and I think the Book of Daniel has wonderful tales. It is a pity that many students today are ignorant of this tradition. How can you have an understanding of the works of Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Bach without this grounding?

The men who produced the work had little inkling that the their Bible would be one of the great and influential books in the world. It is estimated that over a billion copies of the AV have been printed since the 17th century. Its language has had also had an impact on the language of the famous. The cadences of the Authorised Version infused the work of many people that followed such as the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King. The later "I have a dream" speech reaches its highest point with echoes of the prophet Isaiah. Some of the language and imagery, I admit, is difficult to comprehend what for example is an ossifrage in Leviticus which one is forbidden to eat.
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But finally there is something wonderfully comforting in Ecclesiastes. "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever" and so does the King James Bible.