The Bible in English (2)

Appropriately for the year which sees the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible, I’ve finally finished the Bible In English – that’s the book I referred to in my last post by Shakespeare Scholar and Professor Emeritus at University College, London David Daniell. To be honest it’s about as long as the real Bible in English, and has taken me longer to read. But it was well worth it.

One reviewer has said that “great history should be partiale, passionnée and politique. Professor Daniell achieves this superbly.”

That reviewer is quite right. Daniell is clearly passionée – a huge enthusiast for wonderful story of commitment, danger, adventure and politics which brought the Bible to us in our own Language. He has admiration for the Lollards who first brought the Bible in a version of English we would understand, but reserves his greatest praise for William Tyndale, whose translation introduced into English language such phrases as “give us this day our daily bread”, still familiar almost 500 years later. Tyndale died in 1536 as a martyr for his work, praying: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” And yet despite this (because of this?) only three years later the Great Bible, largely based on Tyndale’s work was, under Henry VIII’s command, placed in all parishes in the kingdom. Tyndale’s work also formed the majority of the base of the King James Bible, and perhaps every one of the more than 3000 translations since.

As an English scholar Daniell is alive to how much the Bible (starting with Tyndale) has influenced the English language, and is extremely partiale in expressing opinions about his favourite (Tyndale) and least favourite English stylists. But you always feel that this is primarily not about loving the English Language, or the technicalities of this or that approach to translation. As Daniell says:

Tyndale would have commented that such things matter far less than the truth that “Scripture is a light and sheweth us the true way, both what to do and where to hope.”

As a history of how generations have worked and suffered, sometimes to death, to make that Scripture available to us in a language we can understand, this book is magnificent.


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