Lady Holland visited Lord Macaulay one day in May 1831, and they had a genteel discussion about words in English that she found distasteful, such as influential, gentlemanly, and talented. Macaulay picked her up on talented. Didn't Lady Holland know that it came from the parable of talents in the Bible? 'She seeemed surprised by this theory,' he later remarked in a letter to Hannah More, 'never having, so far as I could judge, heard of the parable of the talents.' And he adds: 'I did not tell her, though I might have done so, that a person who professes to be a critic in the delicacies of the English langauge ought to have the Bible at his fingers' ends.'
--David Crystal, "Prologue 1," Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language, 2010
AS a farther confirmation of what has been advanced on the different bent of the understanding in the sexes, it may be observed, that we have heard of many female wits, but never of one female logician—of many admirable writers of memoirs, but never of one chronologer.—In the boundless and aërial regions of romance, and in that fashionable species of composition which succeeded it, and which carries a nearer approximation to the manners of the world, the women cannot be excelled: this imaginary soil they have a peculiar talent for cultivating....
but were the [female] sex to be totally silent when any topic of literature happens to be discussed in their presence, conversation would lose much of its vivacity, and society would be robbed of one of its most interesting charms.The virtues of the King James Bible -- produced 400 years ago in 1611 -- are being celebrated. Wayne Leman is encouraging a "happy birthday" celebration because ostensibly the KJV affirmatively answers the "controversial question [that] had been dividing nations: should the common man [and woman-W.L.] be able to read God’s Word?" And Theophrastus is expressing happiness because the "editors working on" a two-volume Norton Critical Edition of the KJV "are top-notch," and in 2011 will likely produce what should become the "standard secular teaching text on the King James Bible," very probably including an "explanation of archaic terms and phrases [that] may prove useful for ordinary readers." If the historical moment four centuries ago really was for openness and for democracy with respect to common literacy, then let's celebrate. If the future brings more accessibility and explanation for more people, then let's celebrate even more. But, while we're planning the Royal parties, we readers may want to be fully aware:
--Hannah More, "Introduction" and "Thoughts on Conversation," Essays on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies, 1777
The King James Bible has a sexist and elitist history. And we might not see it getting too much better any time soon.
First, there's the King who commissioned the translation to consider. James, at age 23, married a 14-year-old, Anne of Denmark. Well, of course, it was a marriage to strengthen political power, as was so common for the royalty. So she was a convenient means for furthering the goals of empire building. And the rumor among historians who sift through his correspondence and that of other good looking young men he so much hung around with is that she was not even his type. At age 1, he was King of Scots, and at age 37, he was finally King of England and King of Ireland also, so that he began calling himself "King of Great Britain." As a 38-year-old, the King of Great Britain also called himself the "King of France." And that's when, as he worked for power in the churches of the various countries he was king of, he started the plans for a new Bible translation to replace the ones different peoples were reading. He selected the men to translate his Bible very carefully, making sure that none of his religious enemies had any influence there. Before he was 45, the Authorized Version rolled off the presses of Robert Barker, the King's Printer.
Second, there's the translators. As the project Wayne links to shows, there were "47 scholars":
[update: oops! while trying to show some of the images better, I inadvertently deleted half of this post. Below is an attempt to reconstruct that to the best of my ability, remembering what and how I wrote as best as I'm able.]
The forty-seven scholars who finally produced the King James Bible were not Jews. None was Catholic. None was from France. None was from any place that the British crown might venture into or later colonize or evangelize: Africa, the Americas, vast Asia, Australia. And none of the 47 was a woman. In fact, that "sex [would] be totally silent when any topic of literature" related to this King's Bible translation project.
Third, there are those who could actually get their "fingers' ends" on that Bible.
Again, going to Wayne's source, we find that there is a difficulty of access for women in particular.
On May 2nd, 1611, who in Great Britain could afford even a 10 Shilling loose leaf copy as it came off the presses of Robert Barker, the King's Printer?
Well, if you were a military captain, then you might earn 10-12 shillings in one day. You, a man of such a position, might not eat for a day, might want to forgo any expenses, might want to dip into your savings equal to a day's work. And, then, on May 3rd, you could buy any copy of the King's Bible available.
And if you were a mere laborer, a different kind of man (but not a woman), then some merchant might let you purchase a Bible. He'd part with it provided you paid him the equivalent of two week's of your work. Hence, you could have your Authorized Bible on around May 16th.
However, if you were a "female," a servant of a military man or perhaps even a man of the laboring class, then you could earn enough shillings to buy a Bible. Would a man sell one to you? If he were mercenary and entrepreneurial, then he might be selling bibles to women. And if so, then, after half a year, provided you didn't spend your earnings on food or clothing or your husband or your children, provided you really owned shillings all your own, then you might be able to buy your Bible. You might if you spent no money that you worked for for six long months. Then you could negotiate to buy a Bible on around November 2nd, 1611.
So that's some of the who, the how, and the how much of the King James Bible on May 2, 1611. It was a Royal, a political, an elite, a highfalutin, an expensive affair, that kept at bay the influences of the enemies of a religious king and of his Church and that kept this literature with a certain slant, the printed book itself, out of the hands of commoners and women, who were uneducated.
Now as we fast forward to 2011, some 400 years ago this month, we notice how commoners today in England aren't all taken with the Bible of King James. In particular, we see how another James, at the Royal Wedding of his commoner sister to a Prince, read not from the KJV but from a more inclusive English translation of the Bible, not an Authorized Version but an American one, which addressed not just the brethren but brothers and sisters in an appeal to diversity and unity and humility and democracy and perhaps republicanism more than elite monarchism.
This commoner, standing in the Church of England, did not read:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, your reasonable service....Rather, in the only scripture reading of the ceremony, he let the Bible say:
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.And you can hear him too [here, after a 30 second ABC commercial]. And the Royalty watchers listened.
So that's this past week, as we look back some 400 years of England's and the world's having the King James Bible.
Now we look forward. There's the announcement Theophrastus has brought. It's the announcement of the "Norton Critical Edition of The English Bible, King James Version, appearing on the four hundredth anniversary of the great translation." We read promotional statements from Harold Bloom and Robert Alter. We anticipate the wonderful and competent and capable editorial voices of Herbert Marks and Gerald Hammond and Austin Busch.
But where's Margaret Reynolds, Ania Loomba, Elizabeth Ammons? Where's Marie Borroff, Laura L. Howes, Grace Ioppolo? Why the silence from Susanna Rowson, Jennifer Panek, Susan McReynolds Oddo? Do the Norton publishing editors and acquisition editors not want Leah S. Marcus? Why the silence from the likes of Alice Levine? Is she unqualified to work on the King's Bible, as literature, in a critical edition, to come out later in 2011?
So we think again only of that "imaginary soil they have a peculiar talent for cultivating" when the unmarked they is always and only the "brethren" and not also the "brothers and sisters." We hear again the silence. We wonder why now women still must be "totally silent" on this celebrated "topic of literature." Without a woman's voice how much of our conversation will lose its vivacity? How much of society has been "robbed of one of its most interesting charms."
And so now there's more than ever that "appeal, to you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God ...."