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16/08/2017
BBC Radio 4

    King James Bible podcasts

    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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