As the King James Version of the Bible celebrates 400 years, scholars hope for a renaissance

Published: Saturday, Jan. 22 2011 11:00 p.m. MST

"The Bible is a book that everybody knows about, and it often sits on the shelf," he said. "I'm not sure people are aware of its history. I think if they were there would be a greater, deeper appreciation of the Bible and what we have."

Each year, the LDS church prints and ships nearly 240,000 copies of the LDS version of the King James Bible, then another 158,000 copies of the Bible paired with the LDS canon of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.

Since July, when the church began producing a stand-alone New Testament, they've printed and shipped 40,000 copies of that, according to the LDS church.

"English-speaking Church members are encouraged to use the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible," said LDS spokesman Scott Trotter. "Although other versions of the Bible may use more contemporary language, in doctrinal matters, latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations."

Spreading the word

Given its miraculous history and almost incalculable impact, Brearley is determined that the King James Bible be returned to the spotlight, at least in England, the country of its birth, he said.

"The King James version is a bit of a prophet without honor," he said.

Brearley's goal for the highly secular country is to get it back into the schools, where it was read to him each morning as a child.

"I feel very lucky that I had the chance to encounter it when I was young," he said. "I got it, kids get it. They might not understand it technically, but they can feel the power of the poetry and these words."

The King James Bible Trust launched their year-long celebration in November 2010, as they gathered at the Banqueting House in White Hall, which was built for King James.

Throughout the year across the world, colleges, congregations, libraries, governments and even airports will be talking about, presenting and displaying information on the KJV.

The Society of Biblical Literature is publishing a short book on the Bible, as well as starting a new website to increase Bible literacy, and BYU will present a symposium on Feb. 23.

When the year wraps up, the Trust has a final program in Westminster Abbey.

"It seems to have kicked up a huge amount of interest over here," Brearley said. "A lot of people seem to be saying, 'How have we let this book, which is as important as Shakespeare, some say more important, how have we neglected this?' And what surprised me was how many people love it who aren't necessarily devout."

Yet not enough people love it, Brearley said.

When the Trust conducted a survey in 2000, it found that 51 percent of Brits ages 18 to 24 hadn't heard of the King James Bible. Only 20 percent of those aged 55 and above were uninformed.

Reading and becoming acquainted with the King James Version doesn't mean one automatically becomes a Christian, or abandons other translations. Instead, it should leave the reader with a greater appreciation for the history of language and culture that has survived for hundreds of years and thoroughly impacted the daily communication of the English-speaking world.

As British poet laureate Andrew Motion is quoted on the Trust's website:

"The King James Bible is a cornerstone of our culture and our language," Motion says. "Whatever our faith, whatever we believe, we have to recognize that the rhetorical power of this book, and in particular its power to fuse history with poetry, connects at the most fundamental level with our own history and poetry."

e-mail: Sisraelsen@desnews.com

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