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Duration: 1 hour

Documentary presented by Melvyn Bragg to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

Melvyn Bragg sets out to persuade us that the King James Version has driven the making of the English speaking world over the last 400 years, often in the most unanticipated ways.

He travels to historic locations in the UK and USA where the King James Bible has had a deep impact, including Gettysburg and the American Civil War and Washington's Lincoln Memorial, site of Martin Luther King's famous speech.

He argues that while many think our modern world is founded on secular ideals, it is the King James Version which had a greater legacy. The King James Bible not only influenced the English language and its literature more than any other book, it was also the seedbed of western democracy, the activator of radical shifts in society such as the abolition of the slave trade, the debating dynamite for brutal civil wars in Britain and America and a critical spark in the genesis of modern science.

Last on

Sat 12 Mar 2011 20:00 BBC Two

  • BBC Radio 4: King James Bible

    BBC Radio 4: King James Bible

    Listen to a three part series in which Jaames Naughtie explores the enduring appeal of the King James Bible, 400 years after its original publication.

    Go to the BBC Radio 4: King James Bible website
  • Photo: Melvyn Bragg

    Photo: Melvyn Bragg

    "The King James Bible came out when the British were already trading with the world and began to accelerate that characteristic. Not only traders but religious groups seeking freedom of worship took the Bible with them. Wherever they travelled and they travelled the globe. The Bible followed and often led the British encirclement of the globe.

    So the Bible became the book of the British Empire and the British Empire was succeeded by an American Empire speaking English. Von Bismark said the defining feature of modern history was that the Americans spoke English. It was an English which largely stemmed from the Bible. In both cases, British and American, the King James Bible version swept round the globe in school assemblies, far flung churches, remotely stationed battalions... it was the Book of the community of English speaking peoples.

    New words - we use them still: "scapegoat", "let there be light", "the powers that be", "my brother's keeper", "filthy lucre", "fight the good fight", "sick unto death", "flowing with milk and honey", "the apple of his eye", "a man after his own heart", "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak", "signs of the times", "ye of little faith", "eat drink and be merry", "broken hearted", "clear eyed". And hundreds more: "fishermen", "landlady", "sea-shore", "stumbling block", "taskmaster", "two-edged", "viper", "zealous" and even "Jehovah" and "Passover" come into English through Tyndale. "Beautiful", a word which has meant only human beauty, was greatly widened by Tyndale, as were many others..."

    Read more of Melvyn Bragg's speech at the King James Bible Trust website


Melvyn Bragg
Gillian Bancroft
Melvyn Bragg
Gillian Bancroft
Melvyn Bragg


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