Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gove and the King James Bible

The title page to the 1611 first edition of th...
The title page to the 1611 first edition of the Authorized Version Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have been neglecting my blog, so am a bit late to the party on this story. However, I've just had the chance to take a look at the copy of the Authorised Version (aka AV or King James Bible) which has been placed in schools by Michael Gove. Oddly supported by Richard Dawkins and funded by philanthropists, the £370,000 plan has put a reprint of a 1611 version in every English school. You can even buy your own on Amazon.
The edition used (details can be viewed here) has the original spellings and typeface, as well as the original misprints. As a result, the phrase"love of Christ" looks like "loue of Chrift".

I am entirely convinced by the case for ensuring that school students encounter the literature that shaped our language. Shakespeare, the Authorized Version and even the Book of Common Prayer have all done so. However, I wonder what lasting value it will really have in primary schools, where children are still learning to read and to spell. If about 1 in 6 adults struggle to read, how many 8 year olds are going to manage early 17th century English? I suspect it will sit on many shelves largely undisturbed, apart from an occasional perusal by a curious teacher.

My main problem with this whole endeavour is that it reinforces the idea that the Bible is a museum piece frozen in time, and that somehow nothing has happened since. It may even give the impression that the AV is the 'original' or even 'proper' Bible. In fact it has predecessors in English, and was translated around 1500 years after the last of the documents it contains were written. Yet despite all the historical, literary and even ethical problems it presents, the Bible is still a living document for the Christian community. I'm not sure Mr Gove has done us any favours there.

A second more practical observation is that the edition distributed is printed in... China. It's a pity that celebrating such a national achievement couldn't even have given a UK-based printer the work.
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