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A Study of the King James Version of the Bible

Lecture 1
PREPARING THE WAY--THE ENGLISH BIBLE BEFORE KING JAMES
THERE are three great Book-religions-- Judaism, Christianity, and
Mohammedanism. Other religions have their sacred writings, but they do not hold
them in the same regard as do these three. Buddhism and Confucianism count
their books rather records of their faith than rules for it, history rather than
authoritative sources of belief. The three great Book-religions yield a measure of
authority to their sacred books which would be utterly foreign to the thought of
other faiths.
Yet among the three named are two very distinct attitudes. To the Mohammedan
the language as well as the matter of the Koran is sacred. He will not permit its
translation. Its original Arabic is the only authoritative tongue in which it can
speak. It has been translated into other tongues, but always by adherents of
other faiths, never by its own believers. The Hebrew and the Christian, on the
other hand, but notably the Christian, have persistently sought to make their
Bible speak all languages at all times.
It is a curious fact that a Book written in one tongue should have come to its
largest power in other languages than its own. The Bible means more to-day in
German and French and English than it does in Hebrew and Chaldaic and
Greek-- more even than it ever meant in those languages. There is nothing just
like that in literary history. It is as though Shakespeare should after a while
become negligible for most readers in English, and be a master of thought in
Chinese and Hindustani, or in some language yet unborn.
We owe this persistent effort to make the Bible speak the language of the times
to a conviction that the particular language used is not the great thing, that there
is something in it which gives it power and value in any tongue. No book was
ever translated so often. Men who have known it in its earliest tongues have
realized that their fellows would not learn these earliest tongues, and they have
set out to make it speak the tongue their fellows did know. Some have protested
that there is impiety in making it speak the current tongue, and have insisted that
men should learn the earliest speech, or at least accept their knowledge of the
Book from those who did know it. But they have never stopped the movement.
They have only delayed it.
The first movement to make the Scripture speak the current tongue appeared
nearly three centuries before Christ. Most of the Old Testament then existed in
Hebrew. But the Jews had scattered widely. Many had gathered in Egypt where
Alexander the Great had founded the city that bears his name. At one time a third
of the population of the city was Jewish. Many of the people were passionately
loyal to their old religion and its Sacred Book. But the current tongue there and
 
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