The King James Bible in British and American History

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The King James Bible in British and American History

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When King James I of England commissioned the translation of the Bible into English from its original languages, the massive undertaking was accomplished by a large committee of scholars representing the best translative skills then available. For almost 400 years, this monumental work, completed in 1611, has been recognized as one of the premier translations ever undertaken. Although the Bible has been translated into almost every language, this English version remains the most influential of all.

Timewise, the actual translation took three years, as did the review. Then it took another nine months to prepare the new translation for printing. It took nearly seven years in all.

But why is it that the Bible has been so predominant in Britain and the United States? The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy notes that the Bible is “the most widely known book in the English-speaking world ... No one in the English-speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible” (E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph Kett and James Trefil, 1988, p. 1, emphasis added). In Britain it was rated as one of the top 50 most interesting books. In the United States it is perennially a best seller and the single book that Americans say has most influenced their lives.

Is it possible that the Bible has so influenced the people of Britain and the United States because this book is their history book? It not only tells the story of their distant ancestors, but also their future.