In a past life, back as a college student at the University of California, Berkeley (go Bears!), I spent my morning hours at Cafe Strada, sipping my latte with marshmellow-thick foam, and read, read, read. I was an English major and stayed one until graduation. So I always have an eye out on how literature might possibly intersect with anything I do as a New Testament scholar and theological educator.
So, I discovered from Alan Jacobs the following testimony from debut writer Sarah Perry (author of the favorably reviewed After Me Comes the Flood) on how her Christian upbringing and commitment to the classics (including the King James Version of the Bible) made her a better writer.
|Here is a link to the guardian article by
Sarah Perry on how the KJV and the classics made her a better writer
What caught my eye was her playful snub at modern works (I’m thinking: Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, and all the dystopian novels that my teenage sons currently like to read) because the writing, style, prose and poetry of Brontë, Austen, Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Bunyan and a host of others were just so much better. After mentioning how she memorized Tennyson and kept Sherlock Holmes beside her pillow, she has these poignant remarks on the elegance and lyric prose of the King James translation:
- Above all – committed to memory, read aloud at mealtimes and prettily framed on the dining-room wall – was the King James Bible. It was as constant as the air, and felt just as necessary, and I think I know its cadences as well as my own voice. The effect on my writing has been profound, and inescapable: I soaked it all up, and now I’m wringing it out. My obsession with rhythm and beauty comes, I’m sure, from memorising the King James Bible’s peerless prose, and having grown up in the shade of sin and the light of redemption I suppose it’s no surprise that my debut novel After Me Comes the Flood has been called uncanny, sinister, strange (though I never intended to write that way – it’s just how my eyes were put in)…
In an earlier day, when I first starting teaching my Greek exegesis class, I used to criticize the KJV for its reliance on an inferior manuscript tradition (Textus Receptus) which made the dubious longer ending of Mark 16 part of its text, or the longer confession of the Ethiopian eunuch a part of the Acts 8 narrative.
Though I have not changed my mind about the text-critical problems of the KJV, I do agree with Sarah Perry wholeheartedly about the beauty and literary elegance of the King James Bible. We ain’t writing half as good as the team of English translators of the KJV (pardon my slang). Though the KJV reflects bad Greek (manuscripts), it is excellent English. One only has to read the Psalms in KJV and compare it to the modern translations of the NIV, ESV or NRSV, and while the latter reads like prose, the former sails in the winds of poetry.
And for the parents out there, this article is greater ammunition to get your kids to read and read well. I had my youngest son read this commentary by Perry. Now he’s reading Orwell’s 1984 and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to see how the current fad of dystopian novels was fathered by an earlier and greater generation of writers. Ad Fontes!