Saturday, April 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, KJV

I was browsing the electronics section at Walmart this afternoon, looking to see if they carried the third season of Star Trek: Voyager (alas, they didn't), when by chance I stumbled upon an end-of-aisle display belonging to the adjacent books department. There I found, on sale for only $5.00, a hard-bound facsimile edition of the 1611 King James Bible put out by Zondervan in honor of the KJV's 400th anniversary. I was so impressed that I immediately grabbed a copy and called my pastor and my father to ask if they wanted one. (Pastor didn't pick up. His loss.)

Now that I'm back at home, I've been looking through the 1611-2011 facsimile edition. It really is just a photographic reproduction of the original printing, complete with ornate capitals at the beginning of each chapter, Gothic script where s looks like f and the v's and u's seem to have swapped places, thousands of marginal notes, the translators' preface, gorgeous woodcuts, and page upon page of genealogical charts, maps, guides for finding the date of Easter, a guide for reading the whole Psalter in 30 days, and tables of "First Readings" appointed for Matins and Evensong for every Sunday and high feast of the church year. This last piece of info could be quite valuable in tracing the history of the (mostly) Old Testament lectionary, which couldn't have come into use alongside the older Epistle and Gospel series much earlier than this.

One detail on this table caught my eye: a reading from a book of the Apocrypha. I flipped through the anniversary edition, looking for where the King James publishers might have parked the Apocrypha. I couldn't find it anywhere. I finally resorted to reading Zondervan's brief introduction to the book, where they admitted altering the original publication in two ways: (1) by shrinking it down from the massive, podium-dominating tome it was to the cute little fits-in-the-hand keepsake it is now; and (2) by expunging the deuterocanonical books from the record.

I smell a rat.

There's even a page from the old KJV which lists the books of both Testaments, in order, followed by the number of chapters in each book; there is a blank space near the bottom of the page that looks as though the books of the Apocrypha might fit there.

So, Zondervan's tribute to the original 1611 edition of the Authorized Version only carries its page-for-page fidelity so far. It looks to me as though Zondervan has chosen to serve the American Bible Society's vast, Reformed-Protestant conspiracy to erase the memory of the Apocrypha from the consciousness of modern Bible readers. Likewise, it seems to me that this destructively anti-historical agenda fetches a higher priority with Zondervan than faithfulness to the great document it purports to reproduce.

Don't get me wrong. I say this not out of a conviction that the Apocrypha is inspired, Holy Scripture, but because I think people should be free to study it and discuss it in the context where that is best done: namely, alongside God's Word. Surely, fourteen decidedly little books would not have added that much bulk to Zondervan's shrunk-down edition. Plus, given that readings from the Apocrypha are indicated in the KJV lectionary charts they have so faithfully preserved, it seems a bit of a cheat not to include these books. There is some bizarre and perhaps even foolish material in them, but there is also wisdom, narrative of historical interest, and devotional literature that I myself have found illuminating and even comforting. I am not one to bind people's conscience to these deuterocanonical books... but why is the American Evangelical establishment so bound against them?

Anyway, I would love to see Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the Song of the Three Holy Children, and the Prayer of Manasses in the KJV's original Gothic script. For now, I'll have to make do with my thin Cambridge University Press edition of the KJV Apocrypha, notwithstanding its Roman typeface and the comparatively plain drop caps. I'm surprised at how much typesetting means to me...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

i rcvd the book yesterday as a gift from my nephew. the page up front explains why they didnt put the apocrypha in & honestly $5.00! Such a deal! The woodcuts are AMAZING & the genealogies, wow! Sure, i need a magnifying glass, its not 12x17 but, 5.00!!!

Anyway, I agree, happy birthday KJB I wonder how many other books over 400 years old are still being read on a regular basis?