Anniversary of the plagiarized version

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and her consort, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, attended services today at Westminster Abbey to celebrate the 400th anniversary the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, a part-time poet himself, spent much time praising the strength of the English language contained in it.

No mention was made that the vast majority all the English words contained in translation authorized by James I came from William Tyndale. According to Tyndale’s modern biographer, Brian Moynahan, Tyndale’s words account for 84% of the King James Version New Testament and for 75.8% of the Old Testament books that he translated. Even the editors of the the Revised Standard Versions said that the King James Version “owed most, especially in the New Testament, to Tyndale.”

Of course a state sponsored religion, like the Church of England, tends to satisfy the needs of its sponsor. And Tyndale’s fate does not reflect kindly on either the Church or the monarchy. Henry VIII, the Anglican of convenience, and the the catholic Holy Roman Emperor Charles V connived to have Tyndale executed precisely for putting the Hebrew and Greek texts into vulgar English. Tyndale’s language, which was praised today before the current monarch, ran afoul of Henry’s 1530 proclamation “for the damning of erroneous books and heresies and prohibiting the having of Holy Scriptures translated into vulgar tongues”—the vulgar tongue in question was the language that the Archbishop of Canterbury today compared favorably to Shakespeare’s.

Tyndale was in Antwerp at the time at the time of the proclamation and out of the reach of Henry VIII. So it took catholic Charles V to arrange the kidnapping that brought Tyndale to Brussels where he was executed in 1536 with the tenderness that is usually extended by the religious against intellectuals who presume to infringe on their monopoly of truth.

“The description and manner of the burning of Paister Wylliam Tyndall” from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Actes and Monuments of these latter and perillous dayes, touching matters of the Church, ... by John Foxe (London: John Day: 1563), p. 519.

“The description and manner of the burning of Paister Wylliam Tyndall” from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Actes and Monuments of these latter and perillous dayes, touching matters of the Church, … by John Foxe (London: John Day: 1563), p. 519.)

A woodcut from the other Authorized Version of James I, Daemonologie. The scene takes place in Scotland where a group of accused witches, identified by confessed witch Geillis Duncaine, are being tortured to confess. refuse to do so before the King and even after being tortured privately in prison. Of course, once their bodies are shaved and searched and the mark of the Deuill discovered, they own up. (Daemonologie In Forme of a Dialogie Diuided into three Bookes by James Rx (n.p.: Robert Walde-graue: 1597), p. 88.)

The other English monarch celebrated today, James I, whose committee of translators relied mostly on the words of the executed heretic, was in the business of religious exegesis himself. In 1597, before his Authorized Version of god’s word, he produced his famous Daemonologie. In this book, the head of the Church of England relied on his own witch hunting days back when he was in Scotland to recommend for the whole kingdom the healthy practice of witch hunting (and burning).

The great 17th century English witch hunting soon followed. Even Shakespeare himself, with words as English as Tyndales, painted a kindom of witches (appropriately in Scotland) in Macbeth. The Puritans, who would kill James I’s son, nevertheless continued the enthusiasm of the father for examining and then killing women. But that is another story, of course. What we celebrate here today is the beauty and power of the language of a man the British monarchy condemned without trial for heresy. The words are now called the King James Version, after a monarch who advocated the religious necessity for burning women as witches.

Darwin was probably turning over in his grave (just beneath today’s festivities in Westminster Abbey).

  1. “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Isa. 48:10 King James Bible

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