Thursday, September 20, 2012

'King James' Redux: Again, Why It Can't Be Trusted

Spiritual master John Phillips, whose research disclosed that the King James Bible was written using a minimal vocabulary of barely 10,000 words, so that even a child of moderate IQ could read it.
It is no coincidence that by far the most extremist, bigoted and refractory Christian sects and preachers place all their stock in one single book: the King James Bible. As I showed in many past blogs, however, this version is so rife with errors and contradictions, most of which are not even annotated for reference, that it's of essentially zero usefulness. Worse, the text is littered with gross transcription and deliberate translation errors that leave it one of the worst ever sources for exploring revelation according to the Christian tradition. This has led many to conclude that it is largely a bible for children or untutored adults with limited vocabularies, especially as it's written with a defined limit of 10,000 words.

One wonders why so many supposedly intelligent people, including Xtians, follow it to the letter, when there's no real upside, and one could as well follow a fairy tale. The only reason I can think of is the one a psychologist friend gave: that they require a security blanket. In this case the KJV provides a mental security blanket so its admirers are relieved of the burden of critical thinking. All they need to do is believe and it's true!

Perhaps the best authority on these issues is former evangelical and current Biblical scholar Bart D.Ehrman (‘Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why’, 2005).  Ehrman correctly notes that first, no stable extant versions of the bible existed before the invention (by Johann Gutenberg) of the printing press. This invention changed the whole game for the production of books, and for the Bible in particular. Before Gutenberg’s press, transcribers produced different copies of the same text by accidental and intentional variations. There was no standard format because obtaining any particular copy was a matter of the luck of the draw. If you were at the right place, and someone had a specific copy you might get one, otherwise you were out of luck. Thus tens of thousands of differing copies with different errors, translations etc. could make the rounds.

With the Gutenberg printing press all that mess became a thing of the past. By enabling the printing of books with moveable type one could finally guarantee every page of every book produced looked the same as every page of every other book- with no variations in wording. Essentially, what was set in print was set in stone.

The first major work to be so printed was Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible which required six full years to produce (1450-1456). In the next 100 years, some fifty editions of the Vulgate were produced by various printing houses in Europe. Not surprisingly, for well over 1,000 years, scholars throughout Europe had come to believe the Vulgate was THE bible of the church. (Somewhat analogous to current evangelicals believing the KJV is the “true Bible” and all others are pretenders or forgeries)

Meanwhile, as Ehrman points out (p. 76) the Greek Bible was thought of as “foreign in theology and learning”. Not until the intervention of a Spanish cardinal named Ximenes de Cisneros, was the Greek Septuagint NT melded with the Hebrew Old Testament, and the Latin Vulgate into one multi-volume edition of the Bible. This edition was also published in a variety of languages. The final edition was ready by 1517, but didn’t actually appear until 1520 since (as a Catholic version) Pope Leo X had to permit it. Distribution finally occurred ca. 1522.
Where does the KJV fit into this picture? It seems that as Ehrman notes (based on his extensive research) the King James is almost entirely based on assorted trsanslators transcribing or translating the wrong text. (op. cit., p. 209). As Ehrman observes (ibid):

“The King James version is filled with places in which the translators rendered a Greek text derived ultimately from Erasmus’ edition, which was based on a single twelfth century manuscript that is one of the worst that we now have available to us!”

As Prof. Ehrman goes on ibid;.)

The King James was not given by God but was a translation by a group of scholars in the early seventeenth century who based their rendition on a faulty Greek text. Later translators based their translations on Greek texts that were better…but not perfect

Now some historical context and backstory:

James VI of Scotland, who came to be King James I of England in 1603, also had a keen interest in religion and commissioned a enclave of experts to Hampton Court near London, in 1604, to arrive at a compromise translation to try to bridge the gap between the Puritans and the Church of England. (It was actually Puritan leader John Reynolds who proposed the new translation as a partial solution to the differences). Thereby the great task of "KJV bible ceation" began!

An immense advantage conferred from the outset (and likely why the KJV outpaced all other versions from the outset) is that the King's printers had a monopoly on printing bibles. And so, by 1650, the KJV had driven the rival Geneva Bible totally out of the market. Who says that monopolies can't work, and that it's always better to have competition?

Back to the project: the translators were all instructed not to translate "church" as "congregation", and to preserve as much as possible the Bishop's Bible of 1568 (then the official English Bible). The translators were also granted wide latitude in how they specifically formed different translations of the text, in many cases being allowed to use the Geneva Bible and some other versions "when they agree better with the text" in Greek or Hebrew.

Another startling historical fact: What eventually became the "King James Bible" by 1526-30 was in fact NOT the original, but rather 75% to 90% adopted from  William Tyndale's English New Testament, published in 1526. This version was actually published in defiance of then English law - so it is amazing so much of it was then incorporated into the original KJV.

Tyndale's tack (as my friend John Phillips earlier noted) was to render Scripture in the common language of his time to make it accessible even to a humble plow boy.  By basing his ms. on Hebrew and Greek texts he'd defied an English law from 1401 that forbade the publication of any English book without Church of England permission.

The putative objectives: the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew, and the New Testament from Greek, were undertaken and respectively assembled by no less than 47 translators in 6 committees working in London, Oxford and Cambridge. The final results emerged seven years later, in 1611.(The exact date when the first edition emerged is uncertain but many celebrate the anniversary on May 2nd).

The point of the preceding historical exploration is to reinforce Ehrman’s key point (much as Oxford scholar Geza Vermes')  that all the differing versions of the Bible have been changed in ways large and small – including: the New International Version, the Revised standard version, the New King James, the Jerusalem Bible, and the Good News Bible.

All therefore bear some level of defect, and the trick is to find one which has the fewest defects or false translations, or mistranslations.

Clue one: the KJV is not that one! (But don't tell fundies that, they won't buy it!)

Note: Thanks to John Phillips to providing background information on the creation of the KJV.

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