Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Robbery: Stripping Women of the King's Bible for 400 Years

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.
    --Hannah More, "Introduction" and "Thoughts on Conversation," Essays on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies, 1777
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:

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 ...."


Theophrastus said...

Of course, the KJV translators relied on medieval Jewish commentaries (particularly Radak), and they state their indebtedness the Rheims Bible, so in that way Jewish and Catholic perspectives were represented.

Of course, Jews had long since been expelled from Britain, and recusants being prosecuted, so words were their only representatives. However, you'll be pleased to know that gay translators (and a gay royal sponsor) are well represented on the KJV committee.

Women were not allowed at Cambridge until 1869 and not allowed at Oxford until 1879. So asking why women were not involved in the translation team is a little like asking why Americans weren't allowed in the translation team.

I'm impressed you still take note of royalty. I'm a believer in republicanism, but it seems that you prefer the spirit of the Guardian's April 1st editorial.

Theophrastus said...

By the way, for those not in the know, the list of people given by JK (Margaret Reynolds, Ania Loomba, Elizabeth Ammons ...) are all Norton Critical Edition editors -- none of who specialize in Jacobean prose or Biblical translations. Clearly, the Norton editors aren't sexist, but apparently we're working on a quota system here.

Herbert Marks has been working on this edition for over a decade (and he is Jewish, like Bloom and Alter -- I don't think Hammond is although he spent a fair amount of time at Manchester's Jewish Studies Centers), Hammond has been working on this topic (KJV literary analysis) at least since his first book on the subject in 1983, but his work on the volume was interrupted (I can't find his obituary, but seem to remember that he died), so they brought in Austin Busch (who got his doctorate at Indiana, where Marks teaches.)

Kristen said...

I'm not familiar with the other women mentioned, but to the best of my knowledge Ann Nyland is a specialist in Biblical translation.

Wayne Leman said...

Third, there's the matter of the "the common man [and woman-W.L.]" whom Wayne Leman suggests "should" be able "to read" the King James Bible right away.

They sure don't today. I wish we could know if they did in 1611 and after that for a while.

Wayne Leman said...

Dr. Nyland is a specialist in the Classical Languages, Greek and Latin. She had made her own translation of the Greek New Testament.

J. K. Gayle said...

Reminding us that Jews, Catholics, Americans, especially Jewish women, Catholic women, American women, were not allowed in the translaiton process other than by their words in some cases and by their somehow "represented" "perspectives" in fewer cases - this is exactly my point. But of course women in 1611 were not allowed to be scholars or even students at university. (It wasn't even until 1873 that women in America were allowed to study alongside men in college west of the Mississippi River; that's when the institution where I work now opened its doors in Texas to both males and females as AddRan College of Women and Men.) This is also my point. How represented could the perspectives of women be among the male only translators of a power hungry elitist and racist and sexist sponsor, the King of all France and Britain?

Yes, Theophrastus rightly notes the names of women editors of the Norton Critical Series. If we need Biblical specialists, then why not Athalya Brenner and Amy-Jill Levine, who have done a number of respective editorial projects with both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament? I'd even love to see Toni Craven and Carolyn Osiek of my own employer's divinity school work on the project.

Yes, as Kristen and Wayne note, Ann Nyland is a specialist too. And not only has she produced a translation of the Greek New Testament but she's also published a translation of the Hebrew Psalms (also referencing its translation into Greek).

On the question of whether the 1611 KJV was first understood by women and by men in general in Great Britain, I think David Crystal has shown (in that work of his quoted above in the epigraph) that the language was definitely unique in many cases. It raised the bar for literature. It probably did what Dante's Commedia did for Italy and Italian and what Luther's Bible did for Germany and for German. The KJV probably helped solidify English as an internationally recognized language proper and in some ways helped legitimize the spread of English colonies and British Christianities. Robert Alter and Willis Barnstone in their respective work suggest there was an immediate contrast between the KJV and other bible translations it was revising, namely the Tyndale Bible but also clearly the Geneva Bible. The commoner who could get his own copy could probably appreciate how refined the language of the KJV was in 1611. The female commoner, such as Hannah More, could still appreciate the language some century and a half later, although female royalty, such as More's contemporary Lady Holland, seemed not as familiar with the Bible and objected to some of the language it had produced. Whether one is a Royalty watcher or a Republican - as if one must always and only be either one thing or that opposite -- I think history shows that women have been excluded from English Bible translation even by representation of a woman's perspective.

Theophrastus said...

I think you all badly misunderstand the role of the Norton edition of the KJV. It is a commentary on the KJV as literature. Thus, one wants English professors -- particularly English professors who have studied translation as literature (especially true of Gerald Hammond, who helped pioneer the field, and also true of Herbert Marks who has published extensively in the field.)

A. Levine and A. Brenner already have their own commentary series, and at least Levine has participated in a number of existing popular study Bibles. A. Nyland (who is, by the way, a horrible writer) has her own annotated translation of the Bible. None of them have published anything about Jacobean literature.

We already have many theological commentaries on the Bible -- what we are lacking is a large number of literary commentaries on the Bible. Alter mocks theologians for their bad writing skills -- if we hope to appreciate either the Bible or English Bible as a literary masterpiece, we will get little assistance from theologias.

Now, as I pointed out above, women were not allowed into Cambridge until 1869 and Oxford until 1879. Thus I was surprised when JK goes and raises the argument "But of course women in 1611 were not allowed to be scholars or even students at university." What I learned from this is: J. K. doesn't actually read comments -- he just writes.

Now, in JK's weltanshauung, since women's involvement in early modern literature was limited, we should simply ignore the period wholesale (except, of course, for politically correct pronouncements). One presumes that since women were not allowed to act in theater, we should similarly burn our copies of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, Middleton, Fletcher, Beaumont, Webster, Ford, Kyd, Dekker -- and even women authors of drama such as Elizabeth Cary.

Why isn't JK braying about the lack of women translators of Homer -- Chapman, Hobbes, Dryden, Pope, Macpherson, Cowper, Morrice, Buckley, Smith-Stanley, Cayley, Butcher, Lang, Bateman, Butler, Murray, Bates, Rieu, Lattimore, Graves, Fitzgerald, Mandelbaum, Reck, Fagles, Lombardo, Johnston -- every last one is male. Does that mean we give up reading Homer in translation? Or does that mean that we try to educate a new group of women who can, in the future, produce translations that will compete with these classics?

It is a common-place observation that sexism existed in the past and exists today. A series like Norton Critical Editions has been in the forefront of hiring women editors. But apparently JK would have us boycott them because apparently every volume requires female editorship.

Similarly, JK can't resist getting a dig in at Harold Bloom (who proposed in The Book of J, incidentally, that part of the Hebrew Bible was written by a woman, and who works with one of JK's favorite translators, David Rosenberg). What is Bloom's crime? Merely that he has a Y chromosome.

But this brings me to my most serious criticism. JK made the point, in his original post, that we should not buy the KJV because women earn less than men, and thus copies of the KJV are more expensive for them. (Why a woman could not go to the library is never considered by JK.) By this logic, of course, we should never read any book.

Finally, JK concludes his original post with sycophantic fawning over the royal family. How he reconciles this with his egalitarian themes is left unexplained.

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Theophrastus said...

* The Norton Critical Edition series has used many women editors. Brenner, Levine, and Nyland are not specialists in English literature at all, and thus would be unlikely choices for editor (and we already have ample commentaries from them, so such a Norton volume would likely add little new.)

* (Referring to a point accidentally erased by JK:) While gender inequality in pay is a real concern, it is hard to understand how it creates a unique issue with purchases of the KJV.

* TCU was not the first western US college to have coeducation classes -- and it does not claim to be (its Wikipedia page claims only that it was "one of the first"). The University of California admitted both men and women as early as 1870, its second year.

* My irony above about American contributors to the KJV was missed. There were no American universities in 1611. The first permanent English settlement, Jamestown, in the New World was not made until 1607, three years after the KJV translation was begun.

* JK finds no contradiction between in claiming to be both a republican and royalty watcher -- as if the House of Lords was the same thing as the House of Commons. In other words, JK is acting like a Canadian. Aristocracy is fundamentally at odds with human egalitarianism. I would like him to explain why the Middleton-Windsor wedding is more important than, say, the the Schwab-Gertsacov wedding. I suspect that the latter was more entertaining (and at least the notion of a flea circus raises some interesting philosophical points.)

J. K. Gayle said...

Dear blog readers,

First, My apologies for posting, for trying to get one of the images a decent size for you, and for inadvertently deleting half of what I'd written after three of you had commented and even referred to some of the deleted materials. I've done my best to reconstruct much of what I originally wrote - and actually cropped one of the images and added it also, zoomed in.


Please know this: I read everything you write. I appreciate every comment and every word! Theophrastus, yesterday when I was unable to reply, left many. Most now are deleted. One he's left, with various bullet points.

I always learn from Theophrastus. One thing I appreciate about him also, that I watch him modeling, is self editing. He's selective in what he responds to in my posts at least. And he's corrective of his own typos. And he's sensitive to the logos, the pathos, the ethos, of his own rhetoric, which sometimes he himself will "scale back." Sometimes, I wonder if he reads everything I write in my posts, if he's writing to write his own points. He has used the word "hijack" before in a self-referential comment at this blog recently. I don't see him doing that here so much. In all fairness, I've linked to his early announcement of a very important event. All that said, I'm learning from him. And I won't, for time sake, and for my own blogpost purposes, always be able to respond to his various criticisms of me. If it were his blog where we were having this "conversation," then I think I might be more inclined. But he's come over here. And the minutes I can give to all the issues he raises are limited. I had wanted to post another post this morning but am finding all of his deleted comments and now the public one to consider responding to.

So, as if it could be a wider conversation that might include many more of us, I'm going to respond some. If it's only Theophrastus and me talking here, then we both lose what we might gain. I am extremely happy that Wayne has commented. And Kristen always asks good clarifying questions and makes helpful points when she comments. Thank you all again.

J. K. Gayle said...

Now, I guess I should make clear I am not Canadian. :)

And since we're talking about Canadians, then you may be like me in that you like how Suzanne blogs at Suzanne's Bookshelf and once some time ago at the now male-only-authored Better Bibles Blog. She is one of many women who blog about the bible but who are ignored by readers that push the monthly Top 50 Biblioblogger list. Some who have made it there, do tell us
how lonely that can be. One of the general points I was trying to make in my own blogpost -- and do please understand that this is just a blog, and it's just me, and I'm always just trying to get something up there all too quickly, and trying to make it more readable, and thinking about you all the while that I'm doing it. Please forgive me if I'm not myself blogging like a Norton Critical Editions editor might require if I were writing for you there. I was once upon a time an acquisitions editor for a publisher; but then I started blogging I guess. Anyway, enough about me. I was really thinking about you, and how lonely some of you are. And how I miss your voices too! The silence of women in our society is deafening! My wife is a professional writer, a working mom. We have a son, and we have a daughter, and we have another daughter. We are concerned about the inequities, the silencing of women, the constant pushback against individuals whose bodies are sexed female. One of the books she's had me read recently is Mary Pipher's "Reviving Ophelia." Sadness. It was published years ago and is still relevant today, because very very little has changed.

Anyway, i think we were talking about me being a Canadian. I'm not, Theophrastus. But since you bring up Canadians, now I'm thinking about Anne Carson.

Now wouldn't Anne Carson, a literary person, an acclaimed literary person, wouldn't she make a great editor for a Norton Critical Edition? Not because she's Canadian, although that might be refreshing since she's got some relationship to the UK and its royalty. Not because she's a woman, although how aware she is of Aristotle and his sexism, of the Greek of the bible, of the Hebrew Bible, and how it speaks to lonely women, sometime leaving them lonelier. Yes, i believe Anne Carson would be a fresh voice if she were invited to say something about translation. Yes, I know. She's both a practitioner and a theorist. She might know a little about translation that could inform literary readers of the King James Bible, even in a Norton Critical Edition. But why limit the editors to Anne Carson? How about Letty M. Russell? Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, with Shelly Matthews? Have we really heard too much from Athalya Brenner and Amy-Jill Levine? How about we hear then from Adele Berlin? How about Carol Meyers? Paula Fredriksen? Adela Yarbro Collins, Mary Douglas, Adele Berlin, Elaine Pagels, Susan Niditch, and Marianne Meye Thompson? Does Phyllis Trible have no expertise with "literature"? How about an African American woman's perspective? Naomi P. Franklin? Yes, I know the protest. We must have literary types, not religious feminists and womanists if we allow women to edit a Norton's Critical Edition. Is a comparative lit person not English-departmenty enough? Is Ilona N. Rashkow too impossible? What about a post-colonial perspective on the King James Bible? Would we allow Musa W. Dube Shomanah to say anything?

I'm really not trying to be difficult. I think the situation of woman exclusion from certain specified arenas of scholarship is already difficult enough. (Yes we do well when we read a Koran translated by a woman; yes, we all do well when women translate Homer. We don't have to bray about it, but the silence is loud.)