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The King James Bible stands at "the sublime summit of literature in English," sharing the honor only with Shakespeare, Harold Bloom contends in the opening pages of this illuminating literary tour. Distilling the insights acquired from a significant portion of his career as a brilliant critic and teacher, he offers readers at last the book he has been writing "all my long life," a magisterial and intimately perceptive reading of the King James Bible as a literary masterpiece.
Bloom calls it an "inexplicable wonder" that a rather undistinguished group of writers could bring forth such a magnificent work of literature, and he credits William Tyndale as their fountainhead. Reading the King James Bible alongside Tyndale's Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the original Hebrew and Greek texts, Bloom highlights how the translators and editors improved upon—or, in some cases, diminished—the earlier versions. He invites readers to hear the baroque inventiveness in such sublime books as the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, and alerts us to the echoes of the King James Bible in works from the Romantic period to the present day. Throughout, Bloom makes an impassioned and convincing case for reading the King James Bible as literature, free from dogma and with an appreciation of its enduring aesthetic value.
From the Author:
From the Introduction:
The largest aesthetic paradox of the KJB is its gorgeous exfoliation of the Hebrew original. Evidently the KJB men knew just enough Hebrew to catch the words but not the original music. Their relative ignorance transmuted into splendor because they shared a sense of literary decorum that all subsequent translators seem to lack. Miles Coverdale, bare both of Hebrew and of Greek, set a pattern that Miles Smith perfected. It is another of the many paradoxes of the KJB that its elaborate prose harmonies essentially were inaugurated by Coverdale’s intuitive journey into the poems and prophecies his master Tyndale did not live to translate. We have Tyndale’s Jonah and a medley of prophetic passages, eleven from Isaiah, in the Epistle Taken out of the Old Testament. How wonderful it would be to have Job, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah from the hand of Tyndale, though probably that would have prevented Coverdale’s astonishing flair for style and rhythm from manifesting itself. This flair was unsteady, yet at its best it gave us something of the sonority we associate with KJB.
Tyndale, Coverdale, and the Geneva translators (including their best Hebraist, Gilby) all possessed the gift of literary authority. Their revisionist, Miles Smith, explicitly displays his sense of style in the 1611 preface, “The Translators to the Reader,” and implicitly stands forth by his editorial responsibility for the ways in which the KJB men handle their inheritance from previous English Bibles. Again paradox intervenes: from Tyndale through KJB the quest is to get closer to the literal sense of the Hebrew, while the consequence is to increase a cognitive music farther and farther away in regard to the Hebrew Bible’s relative freedom from metaphors. Since all metaphor is a kind of mistake anyway, even the plain errors of the KJB sometimes add to the resultant splendor.
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