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Book Review: The Treasure of God’s Word: Celebrating 400 Years of the King James Bible by Jack Countryman

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Yesterday the weather was atrocious. But at its spectacular best, I can stretch my arms and fairly grab the hills that surround us.

Coming from England to live in ‘God’s Vineyard’ deep in the Northern Galilee, it takes little imagination to understand why the biblical Psalmist wrote his heart-stopping verse while tending flocks in the region.

It also becomes clear why so many scriptural analogies of Man and God refer to the shepherd and his flock and why indeed the landscape serves as the backdrop to so many of the stories best loved by the followers of the three major monotheistic faiths.

But in our ambiguous era of virtual reality it is a modern miracle that the Bible remains such a source of objective interest, let alone spiritual support.

I began musing on all this when I learned that we were about to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of The King James Version of the Bible.

In the U.K. where the ‘Authorised Version’ was first published in 1611, the celebrations were marred slightly by secularists unhappy that BBC Radio 4 devoted almost a full day to the anniversary. On Sunday 09 January, a relay of well-known figures gave 15-minute readings of 28 passages over 16 hours from early morning until midnight.

The complainants argued that the allotted airtime was excessive as almost all regular broadcasts were dropped from the schedule to make way for the readings, with breaks only for the most popular Sunday shows.

However, a BBC spokesman said: “The King James Bible is generally accepted to have had a significant impact on our language, the arts and music. A 400th anniversary is a rather special landmark, and we feel it is appropriate that the BBC sets aside part of one day’s scheduling to mark such an event.”

But there are no crises of conscience when the first issue of the first edition of the ‘Authorised Version’ appeared in London printed by Robert Barker.

Now I have a charming 400th anniversary edition which probably escaped the BBC’s attention.

The Treasure of God’s Word: Celebrating 400 Years of the King James Bible has been compiled by Jack Countryman and published by Thomas Nelson Inc., in Nashville Tennessee, U.S.A.

This handsome, slim leather-bound gold-tooled edition includes  many favourite passages from both the Hebrew Bible (‘The Old Testament’) and The New Testament, showing the exquisite Jacobean translation at its best.

I am unsure that it is a totally accurate reflection of the original Hebrew but I can’t argue with the famous English literary scholar, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch who described the King James Version as “the very greatest” literary achievement in the English language.

Much of the language is sublime and it is no coincidence that Shakespeare – who was still living and working when the first KJV Bible appeared – is considered the other major partner in shaping the English language as we know it now.

The Treasure of God’s Word may be aimed at Christian readers but for this Jewish one from a nominally Orthodox background, many of the selected passages from the Psalms, Isaiah, and Proverbs are a renewed delight.

I am pleased to see at casual reading, that the passages selected are similar to those in the Hebrew-English version of the Hebrew Bible given to us by the Christian educational but non-evangelical organisation Bridges for Peace shortly after we arrived in Karmiel.

The selected verses are divided into sections named “God’s Love”, “God’s Righteousness”, etc., and the book also includes helpful chapters on the origins of the KJV, an explanation of “The Apocrypha of the KJV”, and the various revisions in 1638, 1769 – when it was standardised – and the 19th and 20th centuries.

There are also interesting sections on the KJV’s influence on English writing since the 17th century and its use in everyday life. But it is most intriguing to note that Thomas Nelson was also responsible for the New King James Version – which replaces archaic pronouns and verb endings with modern equivalents. This appeared in 1980 and 1982.

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About Natalie Wood

Born in Birmingham, England, U.K., I began working in journalism a month before the 1973 Yom Kippur War began. I emigrated from Manchester to Israel in March 2010 and live in Karmiel, Galilee where I concentrate on creative writing, running several blogs and composing micro-fiction. I feature in Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoirs On Jewish Life and contribute to Technorati, Blogcritics and Live Encounters magazine.