Monday, April 4, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on the King James Bible

For all his calculated attacks, misplaced facts, overwrought rhetoric, unswerving dogmatism, and unappetizing politics, I rarely miss a chance to read Christopher Hitchens. For a wonderful instance of all the above in full force (and so marked by a characteristically compulsive readability), see his recent article for Vanity Fair on the anniversary and history of the King James Bible.

I'm interested to know which historical facts (if any) he has wrong; but more, I'm intrigued by the questions he raises for biblical scholarship and modern translation practices. What do we lose when we trade literary beauty (and so rhetorical power and lasting impact) for the simplicity of a lowest common denominator readership?


  1. He makes a strong argument. And, I agree with his observations about translations...Bibles that have been translated into modern slang are frequently embarrassing to read (I remember one awful translation including something to the effect that Christ's disciples "cut and run").

    All that being said, the King James Version, like Shakespeare, is impossible for some people to understand. Yes, it can sound pretty. AND it can be incomprehensible.

  2. The King James version may be impossible to understand for an imbecile, but to anyone conversant in the English language it is not difficult at all. The only ones who find it intricate are those with a translational axe to grind.

  3. Those interested in this topic should read the late Dwight Macdonald's essay on revising the KJ version of the bible.