Monday, March 08, 2010

KJV and me

The King James Version has had an immense impact on literature in English. Take, for example, this exchange (from Right Ho, Jeeves, also used as the opening riff of a Mark Steyn piece):

“Is he still upset about that income-tax money?”

“Upset is right. He says that Civilisation is in the melting-pot and that all thinking men can read the writing on the wall.”

“What wall?”

“Old Testament, ass. Belshazzar’s feast.”

“Oh, that, yes. I’ve often wondered how that gag was worked. With mirrors, I expect.”

There are a few phrases that I hold in my heart, waiting for my chance to drop them into conversation. One of these phrases is, of course, "I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin on the mountainside," which sounds like the Bible but isn't. Another of these phrases is "Old Testament, ass."

Anyway, Robert Alter has written a book about the KJV's impact on American lit in particular (HT: JT). Sounds entertaining. I'm doing that whole "read the Bible in a year" thing for the first time, and I decided to read the KJV because I'm largely unfamiliar with its "cadences and diction". I know a verse here and there, mostly from hearing them quoted by people from an earlier generation. It's striking how difficult it is to understand Paul's letters. The company I work for was born out of a man's desire to make Paul's letters understandable for his children. Take a slog through Romans in the KJV and you'll understand why The Living Bible was a hit.

There are some awesome phrases in the KJV, though. My current favorite is:
All that openeth the matrix is mine.
(Actually, I should admit that I'm mostly listening to the KJV while doing the cooking and the washing up. You can go to BibleGateway to listen to Screwtape read it.)

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Right Ho, Jeeves! has probably my favorite J&W scene/moment, where it is revealed that the old wastrel Bertram Wooster was awarded the Scripture prize at school. Of course, then his character is called into question by a drunken newt lover...

And in college, my roommates and I used to say "smote his ruin on the mountainside" all the time.