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King James Bible podcasts

Tuesday 11 January 2011, 18:24

Paul Sargeant Paul Sargeant

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KIng James Bible frontispiece

How much of King James Bible Day did you catch on Sunday? It was hard to miss with 28 readings across a single day and a star-studded cast: Samuel West, Emilia Fox, Hugh Bonneville, Toby Stephens, Henry Goodman, Niamh Cusack, Rory Kinnear, Miriam Margolyes and others.

There were some interesting perspectives on those famous stories too: Simon Schama and David Lodge on Genesis; Howard Brenton picking apart the parablesof David, Solomon and Job; and the always provocative Will Self musing on the final days of Jesus and the Resurrection.

Altogether it was a fairly epic celebration of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version and it's all available to download for free until Sunday.

It was certainly the biggest chunk of bible that I've heard since school. Except that, like everyone, I've actually been getting little chunks of bible wisdom on a regular basis because the words of the King James Bible have become 'all things to all men'. (1 Corinthians 9.22)

That was made pretty clear in the third of James Naughtie's documentaries on the history of the King James last week, and it's what the short season of programmes was intended to celebrate: the book's enormous influence on the English language.

As Gordon Campbell, Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester, said:

The bible that they heard everyday worked itself into the language and indeed those biblical contexts were often forgotten. So if we say something like 'fly in the ointment', or 'go the second mile', or 'my boss is a thorn in the flesh',... no-one would say: "Ah yes that's a biblical allusion," because those origins have been lost.

All those readings of the King James Bible, in all those churches, over all those centuries have embedded the words and phrases in our linguistic DNA.

The experts in Wednesday's documentary were discussing those phrases in a pub, and we've been tweeting a few more that you might have heard in your local:

Say the times they be a-changing / Though the blind lead the blind - Aerosmith (Matthew 15.14)

An eye for an eye / And a tooth for a tooth / And anyway I told the truth - Nick Cave (Matthew 5.38)

Your spirit's wilting and your flesh is weak - The Human League (Matthew 26.41)

It was a lot of fun tracking down some of the songwriters who have put a bit of bible in their boogie - and some authors who have, directly or indirectly, drawn on words from the King James in their own novels.

The linguist David Crystal, in his book Begat, identifies 257 phrases popularised by the King James Bible that we are still using today - far more than any other book.

I'm sure we missed out some famous ones and didn't even get to use my own favourite: Freddie Mercury repeating 'Another one bites the dust' 16 times in the same song (sadly the King James quotation is 'lick the dust', though the modern variation of 'bite' probably does derive from it.)

All in all, looking at the way its rhythms and phrases have become woven into our everyday language, it's hard not to agree with the sentiment expressed in Matthew 24.35: "My words shall not pass away."

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    Comment number 1.

    I managed to miss almost all of it but the small number of readings that I did listen to were nothing to write home about. I suppose "Bible Day" was relatively cheap to make, but as someone who likes quality programmes on Radio 4 my disdain for Bible Day is understandable. Mark Damazer brought us, for example, the magisterial A History of the World in 100 Objects; Williams brought us this. If Bible Day was the new Controller's best effort I think, as far as listeners are concerned, she should seriously consider trying something else.

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    Comment number 2.

    Yesterday a comment from me in an earlier blog that there was no blog on the King James Bible broadcasts and, lo, now there is. Interesting.

    So why where the podcasts for the James Naughtie documentaries tracing the history and influence of the King James Bible only 30 minutes long, the length of the evening repeat, and not the full 45 minutes of the first broadcast when they are the full length with listen again? And why choose the second documentary as the Radio 4 choice of the week when it was already available. There where plenty of other programmes deserving of that slot.

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    Comment number 3.

    I can only echo what Guy said - the podcast of the documentaries should have been the full 42.5 minutes. We have come to expect that from the nearest equivalent show - In Our Time. That is available in a long and a short form - and the long form is the one that is made available as a podcast.

    It is probably too late to rectify this now - and that is a shame. Those of us who love the podcast service are missing 1/3 of the material that was broadcast. Why short-change a significant section of the audience?

    Although I am an ardent, nay devout atheist, I am a lover of the language and enjoy the richness of the King James translation. It would have been lovely to have more extended extracts (without abridgement) so as to appreciate the full effect the translators were aiming for. Having spent so long explaining the work that went in to creating this iconic version, it almost seems perverse to truncate that for the purposes of radio!

    A miss opportunity perhaps...

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    Comment number 4.

    I listened to a few of them and was reminded of the exceptional beauty of the language used. But I was also reminded that the content is pure drivel -- how can anyone base their understanding of the universe on this silly text?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    My radio is at most times tuned to R4 and I was very pleased when I got home to hear the reading of the Bible. I thought it was going to be just a few minutes, but was so overjoyed that it was an hour's reading. The bonus was that there was another hour to follow at 11pm.

    Just to be able to listen to the Bible being read so clearly enabled me to get a better understanding even of the book that is believed to be closed, Revelation. I hope this could be done more frequently.


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