Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Bible, The Bard and Beyond

The Bible and the Bard:  probably the most published works in the English language. No other writing has been published as long as these. I’ve been thinking about why they have such durability.

The Bible, certainly the King James version, and the works of the Bard (his plays and his sonnets) speak to us over the centuries, touching that unfathomable part of our consciousness that combines knowledge with beauty, expectation with insight. The meaning of the words, and the very words themselves, might challenge us today, but in their own time they were the language of the people who heard them. And of course, more people heard them than read them because illiteracy was far more common than literacy, sometimes even among kings and queens. That helps explain the original acclaim. But what about today?

We are caught up in a world that emphasizes speed, minimalist communication, cliches rather than thoughtful constructs. ‘Else why would irony be so much of what we trade with others in seeking to share knowledge or ideas or opinions? Why, if one can reduce a response or even a philosophy to a word or two (“duh,” for instance, or “yeah, right”) do we even consider using all of those big words for big ideas? I think that is not a difficult question to answer.

Granted, when King James underwrote the translation of the Bible in 1611, and Shakespeare (1564-1616) penned those still-gripping entertainments, the language used was the language of the people. The whole point of the biblical translation and the plays of Shakespeare was to share with as many people as possible the knowledge, the history, the philosophy of the people who wrote the words. But instead of rewriting Shakespeare for example, the words have been left to be themselves; published today as they were when the author wrote them. And although there have been attempts to modernize the Bard and the Bible, I don’t think they serve.

Serve what, you ask? Serve the purpose of lifting the reader or the hearer to a higher level.

Compare these:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.(Genesis - King James Bible)

First this: God created the Heaven and the Earth - all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. (Genesis - The Message Bible)

We all benefit from rising above the mundane, reaching beyond ourselves.

Beautiful words form the ladder that lifts us.


  1. I cannot say the 23rd Psalm unless it's in the Old English. Nothing else is as beautiful or asks me to spend as much time thinking about it.

  2. Growing up Episcopalian, the nearest Episcopal church was in Hot Springs when I moved here so opted for the nearby Methodist version. After a life changing event, I attended an Episcopal church that had been organized much nearer but.... the prayer book had been modernized. The Victorian era prayers which I could recite verbatim were gone, the "updated" prose had lost its magic. The same can be said for the words of the Bard and King James' scribes. Moi-nonymous.