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400 years and counting: A King James party fit for the queen

400 years and counting: A King James party fit for the queen

A gaggle of Church of England clergy and English monarchy gathered in Westminster Abbey, London, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the institution of the King James Bible, The Guardian’s Stephen Bates reports.

The ceremony, with the full pomp of the Church of England in its most shimmering gold vestments, had the archbishop of York reading the Gospel – in the authorised version of course – the archbishop of Canterbury preaching the sermon and the dean of the abbey pronouncing the blessing. There was even a Catholic cardinal – “a Popish person at home” – Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, former archbishop of Westminster, whose presence the translators would definitely not have approved.

The service was the culmination of a year marking the anniversary of the translation, produced over seven years between 1604 and 1611 by teams of Jacobean bishops, academics and theologians – the loved and the loathed, the abstemious and the alcoholic – who argued, intrigued and conspired to produce a text which would be read aloud in Anglican churches across the world, scarcely amended, for most of the next four centuries….

The abbey was a suitable place for the service because it was there that the compilers met, in the Jerusalem Chamber, to test their translation by reading it aloud before it was sent for printing.

About the book itself, National Geographic lately muses,

You don’t have to be a Christian to hear the power of those words—simple in vocabulary, cosmic in scale, stately in their rhythms, deeply emotional in their impact. Most of us might think we have forgotten its words, but the King James Bible has sewn itself into the fabric of the language. If a child is ever the apple of her parents’ eye or an idea seems as old as the hills, if we are at death’s door or at our wits’ end, if we have gone through a baptism of fire or are about to bite the dust, if it seems at times that the blind are leading the blind or we are casting pearls before swine, if you are either buttering someone up or casting the first stone, the King James Bible, whether we know it or not, is speaking through us. The haves and have-nots, heads on plates, thieves in the night, scum of the earth, best until last, sackcloth and ashes, streets paved in gold, and the skin of one’s teeth: All of them have been transmitted to us by the translators who did their magnificent work 400 years ago.

The extraordinary global career of this book, of which more copies have been made than of any other book in the language, began in March 1603. After a long reign as Queen of England, Elizabeth I finally died. This was the moment her cousin and heir, the Scottish King James VI, had been waiting for. Scotland was one of the poorest kingdoms in Europe, with a weak and feeble crown. England by comparison was civilized, fertile, and rich. When James heard that he was at last going to inherit the throne of England, it was said that he was like “a poor man?…?now arrived at the Land of Promise.”

Epistle Dedicatory to the KJV


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