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King James Bible podcasts

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Paul Sargeant Paul Sargeant 18:24, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

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."


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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...

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Comment number 6.

    How much did we hear? You couldn't miss it, every time you switched on the radio there was yet another piece of 2000 year old fiction. No other book has been treated this way so the excuse that the programming was for literary purposes doesn't hold water. I can only assume that the BBC is demonstrating its usual religion fanaticism.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thank God there is no God.
    What a dreadful,horrible,cruel, concept to believe in.


  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    Why did it break the house rules? Quoting the bible? Pointing out the absurdity of exodus? Not using a capital g for god? You are silly so no doubt you will block this too.

  • Comment number 11.

    Oh, I get it, you did not like me referencing (good pc word = jargon) monotheists of all kinds as being tainted by the pentacheuch and offering up daughters.

  • Comment number 12.

    Free speech? The BBC. Not here.

  • Comment number 13.

    Publish the original post or live in disgrace. I have read the house rules and the only one it might breach is the prohibition on offending people. All free speech offends someone you very silly person. I would be offended by that last remark if it were directed at me but I would not have any cause of action in defamation nor would I attempt to censor the person who made the statement. It would be "fair comment" even if untrue. Get it yet.

  • Comment number 14.

    Jews, Christians and Muslims are all very mice people by definition. They do not believe in their sacred texts. Otherwise, they would not be what the first sentence says they are. QED

  • Comment number 15.

    I am now bored.

  • Comment number 16.

    "There are lots of good bits in the King James version. The best thing about it, however, is that reading it shows how hilariously stupid it is to be a theist (mono or multi). Read all about Abraham and his chats with god you dimwits. Omniscient? All knowimg? Did not know how many righteous people there were in Sod Them? Bartered it down to ten and then saved the one who offered up his daughters to be raped as fair recompense for not bumming the guests? Oh ye stupid jews, christians and muslims:

    Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. (KJ 19.36)

    You have all signed up to the pentacheuch and therefore all of you miserable little sinners ought to be on the Sex Offenders Register. See, I can use capitals when I want to. I can't be bothered with apostrophes, tho'."

    Just helping out.

  • Comment number 17.

    Quotation marks work!


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