TWELVE CENTURIES OF ENGLISH POETRY AND PROSE by Newcomer, Andrews, and Hall p.44 One of the most important pieces of literature in the English language is the Bible. Its influence has been evident from early in the eighth century when Bede, on his death bed, made a translation of the Gospel of the St. John into Old English. In the time of King Alfred other portions were added; Aelfric (c. 1000) did parts of both testaments; but there was no complete AngloSaxon Bible. During the religious revival of the thirteenth century, there were many attempts to translate the Latin Bible into English; but up to 1360 only the Psalter had been finished. In 1382 John Wiclif and his fellow workers produced the first complete English Bible. The printed English Bible began with the New Testament of Tyndale, 1525. In 1535, Miles Coverdale in a new translation published the first complete English Bible, including the Apocrypha, which the Church allowed to circulate freely. In 1539 appeared the Great Bible, copies of which were placed in all parish churches. The Geneva Bible, 1560, the work of English refugees in Switzerland, issued in a handy edition, was especially accurate. These various translations naturally represented the popular diction of each period. Notably in 1611, came the authorized King James version, still standard today; it was the result of a careful comparison of all previous versions, including the Hebrew and Greek, by all the best scholars of the kingdom. Its influence on the English language has been incalculable. No other book has so penetrated and permeated the hearts and speech of the English speaking people; it is a racial possession, a racial classic. Its effect can be traced on all the great authors. Its language is dignified and poetic, filled with Saxon simplicity and Hebrew imagery. A later version (1885), though perhaps closer to the original Hebrew and Greek lacks the charm of expression of the King James Bible. ADVENTURES IN ENGLISH LITERATURE Classic Edition Harcourt Brace Jovanovich In 1604, only a year after he had ascended the throne, King James I appointed fiftyfour of England's most eminent scholars and churchmen to begin work on a new translation of the Bible. This entailed comparing the various English translations then in existence with the Latin Bibles of the Middle Ages as well as with the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Seven years later, in 1611, the Authorized, or King James, Version of the Holy Bible was completed. Often referred to as "the only classic ever created by a committee,"its uniform excellence and beauty caused it from the start to be acknowledged as a masterpiece, an outstanding literary work whose great popularity persists to the present day. The significance of the King James Bible lies not only in its own intrinsic merits but in the fact that it represents the culmination of many efforts throughout several centuries to provide Englishspeaking people with a Bible written in their own tongue. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, the Bible was written in Latin and was therefore inaccessible to the average man. Though there were several early attempts to render small parts of the Scriptures into English, little of importance was achieved until late in the fourteenth century, when John Wycliffe and his followers produced the first complete transcription into English. This translation of 1382 succeeded in reaching a fair number of people, although the manuscripts were costly, representing as they did enormous amounts of meticulous handiwork. With the advent of the Reformation, which spread throughout Europe early in the sixteenth century, came a new emphasis on the Bible as the ultimate authority on religious doctrine. Simultaneously, therefore, a need arose for English translations which would make the Bible available to a still larger number of people. It was William Tyndale, a leader of the English Reformation, who produced the first printed version of the New Testament in English. Determined to bring the Bible to all men, even "the boy that driveth the plow," Tyndale sacrificed his life to his mission. He printed his masterful translation of the New Testament in 1525 and then, despite the violent religious conflicts of his time, proceeded to translate the Old Testament. He never finished. Imprisoned for heresy in 1535, Tyndale was executed eighteen months later. Various other English Bibles followed, among them Miles Coverdale's version (1535), based partly on Tyndale's translation, and the socalled Great Bible, which was prepared with Coverdale's supervision. Under the auspices of Henry VIII, the Great Bible in 1540 was finally established for use in the churches. It was not until the appearance of the King James Version in 1611, however, that there existed a simple, welltranslated English Bible that was both authorized by the church and generally accepted by the people. The King James Bible was indisputably such a book. Produced with exacting care by the most distinguished scholars, written at a time when the English language was at its height, it communicated eloquently with every age. Its simplicity, beauty, and vigor of language, its sheer poetry, has influenced both English and American literature immeasurably. As generations of readers have memorized it, quoted it, and woven its phrases into their speech, the King James Version has
continued, after more than three centuries, to have a tremendous effect upon our language. Writers of both prose and poetry have consciously or unconsciously drawn upon it for vocabulary and imagery, the rhythm of a passage, or the shaping of a phrase. READING ASSIGNMENT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT [This is a sample of the reading assignments I have used to help students have a better chance to recognize Biblical allusions.] The Bible is one of the foundation stones of Western literature, a foundation stone that is often ignored in public schools today. I have selected several books, chapters and verses which will be useful for you to have read. All are from the Old Testament. Remember that you are reading this to get a background in literature. Take notes on names, places and events. Read the following: GENESIS all by Tuesday EXODUS i-xx by Wednesday LEVITICUS xi 1-10 JUDGES xiv-xvi RUTH optional I SAMUEL xvi 7-xvii by Thursday I KINGS iii II Kings ii 21-25 JOB i-iii, x, xlii PSALMS xxiii by Friday PROVERBS iii 13-18, vi 16-35, xx 1, xxii 1, xxviii 1, ECCLESIASTES iii 1-9 DANIEL v-vi JONAH i-ii by Monday Here is a list of suggested items that you should have in your notes when you are finished. GENESIS 6 steps of creation, Cain + Abel, Noah + his sons, Babel, Lot's wife and daughters, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham and Isaac, all of Joseph's story (skip the begats) EXODUS birth of Moses, why Moses ran away, plagues, origin of Passover, 10 Commandments The rest of the selections are short and should be easy to put into notes. You will be allowed to use your notes on the test, but not on the final exam.