Monday, August 29, 2011


From Saturday's WSJ, "How We Got the Best-Selling Book of All Time," by Leland Ryken.  A couple o' excerpts:
Modern readers are too quick to conclude that with its now-archaic language and grammar, the Bible's style is embellished and formal. But thee and thou pronouns and verb endings like walkest and sayeth were a feature of everyday speech in the early 17th century.

However imitated or parodied, the language is dignified, beautiful, sonorous and elegant. "Godliness with contentment is great gain"—six words and unforgettable. "Give us this day our daily bread." "The Lord is my light and my salvation." The King James style is a paradox: It is usually simple in vocabulary while majestic and elevating in effect.

Many of the formulations are impossible to forget, having passed into everyday English usage: "the land of the living," "at their wit's end," "the salt of the earth," "the root of the matter," "labor of love," "fell flat on his face." When the famous sayings from the King James Version were extracted from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations into a freestanding book in 2005, the book ran to more than 200 pages!

For more than three centuries, the King James Bible provided the central frame of reference for the English-speaking world. Former Yale University Prof. George Lindbeck well claims that until recently "Christendom dwelt imaginatively in the biblical world." During the years of its dominance, the King James Bible was the omnipresent force in any cultural sphere that we can name—education (especially childhood education), religion, family and home, the courtroom, political discourse, language and literacy, choral music and hymns, art and literature. For more than two centuries children in England and America learned to read by way of the Bible. 
Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address contains so many biblical references that someone has written a whole book on the subject. When President Truman lit the White House Christmas tree on Dec. 24, 1945, his address to the war-weary nation included an exhortation "to make real the prophecy of Isaiah: 'They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more'" (Isaiah 2:4).

The influence of the King James Bible is perhaps most profound in the realm of literature. From Milton's "Paradise Lost" to Toni Morrison's "Paradise," it is a presence quite apart from the author's religious stance. In his book "The Bible as Literature," British literary scholar T. R. Henn said it best: "The Authorized Version of 1611 . . . achieves as we read a strange authority and power as a work of literature. It becomes one with the Western tradition, because it is its single greatest source."
I'll confess that I'm VERY light when it comes to reading the Bible and long-time Gentle Readers know that I am not of the Christian persuasion.  But, that said, I am a tremendous admirer of the Bible's language and the sheer beauty o' same.  I'm also a child o' 20th century America and the grateful beneficiary of the virtues and morals conferred upon me by our Judeo-Christian culture.  I hope strident liberals of the atheist/agnostic persuasion read the linked piece; perhaps they'd come to understand why we conservatives... even those of us who do not embrace Christianity... recognize the basic truths and moral guidance contained in the Bible.  There's no better foundation for a nation and you can take that to the bank.

Thus endeth today's sermon.


  1. Wherefore art thou - Où es-tu29 August, 2011 16:27

    I'm not a scholar (but I played one on TV) - OK just kidding - but...

    Here's "youse" poop to digest during whiskey hour, in that Juliet does not say "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art you?"

    The reason is, that "you" was a formal singular. If the person was not a peer or a child, you used "you" and if they were you could use "thou".

    Interestingly, since English is not a Romance language, that it had the two forms of "you" and "thou" first person singular at all. I think it was a Norman Conquest thing (the other Normans).

    In case you're wondering, the plural is "you" so if Juliet was talking to two lovers, she would say "Romeo, Buck, wherefore art you?"

    If you cross the border to Canada you will find they have chosen the "thou" over the "you", in using "tu" all the time.

    While in France and Belgium they are very strict on the use of "tu" and "vous". Pick the wrong one, get a frown. But hey, if you can't piss them off then you don't deserve to be called American.

    Film at 11...

  2. Well... my French teacher in elementary school beat the "tu" and "vous" usage into me at an early age. And she was quite the martinet about language, despite her CONSIDERABLE charms. I've loved that woman (or more correctly: the memory of that woman) for my entire life. She taught me a LOT, not the least of which bein' my first experience with unrequited love.

    That said, your comment made me laugh out loud. You're a peach, "Wherefore."

  3. I think wherefore is a golf term... uhhhh

    Hey is having a free day so I looked up your ship for you. I posted it to "when I was 8" but it said it was moderated. Hope you get it, if not, it was the U.S.S. General H.W. Butner, arrived on 23 October 1953.

    ...ain't the inet cool!

  4. tu tu: How VERY freakin' cool is THAT? I am most amazed at (a) your skill in runnin' this down and (b) at the very existence of such stuff on these here inner-nets!

    You made my day!

  5. PS: I don't understand the moderation thang, but I enabled your comment on the "Eight" post. Thanks yet again!

  6. Funny that so many of our forefathers learned to read using the Bible, yet today if you were to read from the Bible in public school someone would throw a fit. It's as if they think reading from the Bible will make you a Christian or have some influence on you - God forbid! And other literature doesn't influence students? So much beauty, knowledge, language, etc. and it is taboo in public schools, but they require all sorts of crap reading material. Did I just go into a rant?

  7. I believe it was G.K. Chesterson who, in conversation with a friend who was deploring the decline in the belief in God among the general populace that was already well advanced even at that time and who ended by worrying: "My God, it means that they will end up believing in Nothing!" to which Chesterson replied: "On the contrary, my friend, it is even worse, it simply means that they will now believe in ANYTHING!

  8. Buck, your wish for the most liberal atheist to recognize the wisdom in the Bible will fall on their deaf ears. I have unfortunately had a few unpleasant encounters with just that type recently and a more recalcitrant, arrogant, smug group I have never had the misfortune to deal with.

    I grew up reading and studying the KJV and it remains my favorite. The more modern language does help with understanding but the music and poetry of the KJV still holds me in its sway.

  9. Did I just go into a rant?

    There's not a better topic upon which to rant, Lou. I share your feelings completely.

    Virgil: Nice Chesterson quote/story. A pity he was right.

    Buck, your wish for the most liberal atheist to recognize the wisdom in the Bible will fall on their deaf ears.

    I keep hoping, Kris. As the linked piece notes, so much of that wisdom has passed into our language and become common knowledge. I doubt the atheists even realize that. Mebbe if they DID their asshat views would soften... somewhat. But you're prolly right.

  10. After I married the only Mrs W who is gone now with the one I cherish and love I missed the King James Version. We opted for a music and worship we would all enjoy. 1 year old leaned in hard during one song and bit me on the nose. Sunday school for her after that. They used the modern revised version of the book. The King James Version had the full majesty of the English language which I greatly missed.


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