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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: August ::
Re: KJV
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0759  Thursday, 13 August 1998.

[1]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Aug 1998 13:13:44 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0754  Re: KJV Team

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Aug 1998 13:55:37 -0400
        Subj:   Surviving documents


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Aug 1998 13:13:44 -0400
Subject: 9.0754  Re: KJV Team
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0754  Re: KJV Team

Andrew Walker White writes, "Hasn't it been established that the bulk
of  the KJV is lifted from a previous, contraband translation by a
fellow named Tyndall?"  Lysbeth Em Benkert writes, "I am a little
surprised that throughout this discussion no one has mentioned that,
despite the fact that there were 54 translators at work on the project
for several years, the King James Bible is still mostly the words of
William Tyndale." Carol Barton writes that Tyndale "translated the OT,
then the NT, but by no means as beautifully from a linguistic standpoint
as the KJV authors did."

None of these propositions is more than partially correct.  Tyndale
translated the New Testament first, as the necessary ground for
Christian doctrinal understanding, and this version was printed,
apparently in sections, first in Cologne and then in Worms, in
1525-1526.  It was denounced as heretical by Cardinal Wolsey, and many
copies brought into England were seized and burned.  Tyndale then
started on the Old Testament, published the Pentateuch and Jonah, and
had apparently completed but not published drafts of most of the
historical books before he was captured in 1535 and executed in Antwerp
in 1536; during this period of life he was also much involved in
religious controversy (including a major long-distance dispute with Sir
Thomas More), which presumably interfered with the labors of
translation.

In the meantime, another scholar, Myles Coverdale, continued the task,
completing Tyndale's unfinished work on the historical parts of the OT
and doing his own versions of the Psalms, the prophets, the wisdom
books, and the Apocrypha; he published the first complete printed
English Bible on the Continent in 1535 and in England in 1537.  This
version was the basis for the so-called Great Bible of 1539 (the first
translation formally authorized by the Church of England), for the
Geneva Bible of 1560 (the most popular of the Tudor Bibles because of
its relatively small format, Roman rather than Gothic type, and
vigorously Protestant notes), and for the Bishops Bible of 1568, which
the ecclesiastical authorities named as the version to be placed on the
lectern of all Anglican churches.  Coverdale's translation of the Psalms
was likewise the basis for the version printed in the Prayer Book of
1549/52.

Tyndale's was thus the dominant voice in about half of the book in all
its sixteenth-century Protestant forms.  But Coverdale's was almost
equally important; it may be that his less dramatic life (he left
England for the Continent to avoid persecution and perhaps death on
three different occasions, but escaped martyrdom, enjoyed a comfortable
old age, and died, presumably of natural causes, at the ripe age of 81)
has procured him a somewhat less conspicuous place in the history of
Biblical translation.

All these versions, together with the best available texts of the Hebrew
and Greek Old Testaments, the Greek New Testament, the Vulgate, Erasmus'
Latin New Testament, Luther's German and other Continental vernacular
translations, even the Roman Catholic Rheims-Douai version of 1582-1610,
plus learned commentaries on particular words and passages in Hebrew,
Greek, Latin, English, German, French, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish, were
used by the men working on the translation of 1611.  When they finished
their job, a good deal of the language of Tyndale and Coverdale
survived, partly because T and C were admired, partly because T and C
had only written what anybody might have written, partly because they
got there first and its usually easier to stay with what is already
there than to do something new, but mostly because those voices were
already dominant in the existing authorized version, the Bishops Bible,
and the King James translators were explicitly instructed to adhere as
closely to the Bishops Bible text as was consonant with linguistic
accuracy and doctrinal validity.

These two concerns dominate all the surviving  discussions of the KJV
translation process, as they dominate the prefaces and other documents
relating to all the earlier and most of the subsequent translations of
the Bible in English and other languages.  Esthetic considerations may,
no doubt, have affected particular translators as they worked on
particular pieces of text.  But they could never be more than secondary
or tertiary; it is for this reason above all that scholars and priests,
not professional writers, were recruited for the task.

David Evett

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Aug 1998 13:55:37 -0400
Subject:        Surviving documents

A recent contributor is surprised that so little documentation survives
for the King James Bible project-a handful of preliminary discussions of
what was to be done and generally by whom, a list of translators, a
couple of accounts of the way groups worked, a few notes from one
participant.  No contemporary notice of the book's publication.  No
apparent splash.  But all that is perfectly normal.  We have very little
preliminary documentation for most such projects, very little record of
non-official events.  Most of what we do know about early modern
writing, scholarly and popular, comes from the published books
themselves.  Of the thousands of scholarly projects, notes survive for
only a handful, if that.  (I personally know of only one.)  We have
pre-publication manuscripts for only a few large works-only a few of all
those hundreds of plays, works of prose fiction, collections of sermons,
how-to-do-it books, histories.  We have only a few hundred private
letters, almost none from working writers.  The vast majority of all the
surviving manuscript items are official documents.  The events that got
recorded were either official events-actions of the monarch, of
Parliament and Council, of the courts; legal moments such as baptisms
and burials; wills and probate inventories-or the kind of things that
make the front page now.  Preliminary materials, private materials,
mostly perished with their writers and doers.

The reasons for this are various.  Documents burned up in burning
houses, in London in 1666 and elsewhere.  Documents got lost or
discarded when buildings were torn down or extensively remodeled.
Pre-high-sulfur paper is durable if properly stored, but paper in
permeable containers in wet attics or cellars gets wet, mildews,
degrades.  Paper is useful for other things besides writing-wrapping
fish, lining boxes, stiffening collars.  And paper that may seem
valuable to a particular person at a particular time may seem much less
so to somebody else later.  How much of the paper you generate will
survive?  How many of us scholars and writers have chucked out boxes of
old notes and drafts when we moved to a new office or house, or just
filled up that file cabinet? How many of us confidently expect our
families, even our universities and libraries, over generations and
centuries, to preserve our files?  Can we be sure that 400 years from
now the foul papers of important contemporary writers now in archival
storage in Buffalo and Austin and London will still be there?  When you
think about it, what is surprising is that we have as much as we do.

Manuscriptophilically,
Dave Evett
 

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