On this day in 1611 the King James Version, also known as the Authorized Version or King James Bible, was published under the patronage of King James I of England and VI of Scotland (1566-1625). The text, which is an English translation of the Bible, had an enormous influence on English literature and was used as the reference sacred text until the twentieth century.
How the King James Bible came to be
Even though James’ predecessor Queen Elizabeth I had succeeded in reinstating Protestantism as the official religion of the state, there were still religious groups, such as the Puritans or the Calvinists, who questioned the power of the Anglican Church. That is why when James was crowned in 1603, there were several versions of the Bible, among which the most well-known were the Bishops’ Bible (the most popular among Protestants) and the Geneva Bible (created by Calvinists). The latter posed a threat to the political and religious stability of the kingdom, as it questioned the King’s power.
In 1604, aiming to consolidate his power and get rid of the religious differences in England, King James authorized a commission to work on a new translation of the Bible. During the following years, several theologians and scholars translated the Old Testament from Hebrew, the New Testament from Greek and the Apocrypha from Greek and Latin. They also based part of their translation on the one made by William Tyndale back in 1525, who translated the New Testament from Greek into English.
The publication of the Bible
In 1611, the first two editions of the King James Bible were published, which later became known as the “He” and “She” Bibles due to the different versions of the final clause of Ruth 3:15. It was the first time since the 3rd and2ndcenturies BC that a translation of the sacred text had been carried on under royal sponsorship.
The new Bible quickly gained popularity throughout Europe, as it was the most accurate translation that had been published up to that moment. Due to the fact that it was written in English, the population could now read it and understand it. Soon, its poetic language and rich imagery made the King James Bible become the preferred version among many. Moreover, because printing had already been invented it was easier to make copies of it. All of these factors contributed to the democratization of the text, which until then had been solely under the control of the Church.
The impact of the Bible
Right after its publication, the King James Version had an enormous impact on Protestantism, especially in the English colonies in North America where the Puritans, Presbyterians and Methodists all started making use of it. As a result, the Anglican Church lost a great part of its authority in these territories. Back in England King James’ aim of solving the religious differences by publishing the Bible failed. These disputes led to the English Civil Wars (1642-1651) which ended with the beheading of the King’s son, Charles I.
Nowadays this text remains highly popular among Bible readers despite having more accurate translations available. Its language has also been a source of inspiration for many different artists and famous personalities such as Handel, Martin Luther King and Ernest Hemingway. Still, the most direct proof of its influence in the English language can be found in expressions such as “an eye for an eye” or “a fall from grace”, which were included in the King James Version of the Bible.
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