I just finished In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture
, by Alister McGrath. There's a bit more repetition in the text than I thought was necessary, but all in all it was a very informative book. The bits I found most interesting were (not surprisingly) those that had to do with the historical development of the English language. For example:
1. The translators of the King James Version (KJV) were instructed to follow the text of the so-called "Bishops' Bible" of 1568, "as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit." The wording of other specific 16th-century translations was also permitted to be followed, where these accorded more closely to the original text than the Bishops' Bible. As a result, the language of the KJV was already somewhat old-fashioned when it was published in 1611. The 3rd person singular present tense verbal ending -eth
(as in maketh, leadeth
) was already on its way out.
2. A fair number of idioms that we use today are actually literal translations of Hebrew and Greek turns of phrase that were introduced into English by the KJV. Among these are "to fall flat on his face" (Numbers 22:31), "from time to time" (Ezekiel 4:10), "the skin of my teeth" (Job 19:20), and "the powers that be" (Romans 13:1).
3. This one I found particularly interesting: How many times does the possessive pronoun its
occur in the text of the KJV?
Only once: "That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap…" (Leviticus 25:5). The reason for this is that in earlier English the word his was used for both the masculine and neuter possessive. The neuter usage of his was dying out at the beginning of the 17th century but still appears in a few places in the KJV, such as Matthew 5:13 ("but if the salt have lost his savour"). In general, the translators avoided using this moribund form, but they also avoided using the newfangled word its. Instead of these, they mainly employed a paraphrase with thereof, as in Exodus 30:2: "A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof…."