The King James Bible isn’t just a Bible—in English, it’s the Bible. It’s no longer the most read or bestselling, but the quotes everyone knows—“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, “An eye for an eye”, “I am my lover’s, and my lover is mine”—come from the KJV. When someone is lampooning biblical language, they don’t satirize the milquetoast prose of the NIV; it’s the King’s English all the way. And that’s without even touching on all the literature it has, and continues to, inspire. The King James Bible is one of the crowning achievements of the English language, and its enduring power testifies to this.
The King James Bible After 400 Years seeks to engage with its legacy, not so much on religious grounds but on social and literary ones. This isn’t an attack on the historicity of the Bible or an expose of the difficult passages. It’s (mostly) laser-focused on the past, present, and future of the King James Bible itself. All of the essays are interesting and thought-provoking. I particularly enjoyed “The materiality of English printed Bibles from the Tyndale New Testament to the King James Bible”, on the different bindings and printings of the versions leading up the King James Bible, and “Postcolonial notes on the King James Bible”, which, although it maintained the volume’s academic tone, did cause me to reflect seriously on respecting other cultures when presenting Christianity.
The essays in the literary section were of consistently high quality as well, although James Wood’s “To the Lighthouse and Biblical language” seemed like Wood had written an essay on To the Lighthouse and added in the KJV-referencing content in order to qualify it for this book.
If this sounds dry to you, it probably will be—I was excited by the title and the list of contributors and found it all very engaging. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the King James Bible, religious history or literary criticism. Everyone else might be better off just reading a couple Psalms before bed.