Religion Today

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

King James and His Bible

King James grew up as a king. After Queen Elizabeth executed his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, when he was just one year old, he became King of Scotland and the heir to the English throne after Elizabeth’s death. He was raised by a team of Scottish Presbyterian ministers under the control of his regent but, upon his ascension to the English crown in 1603, he seemed more attuned to English religious politics.
Less than a year after his arrival in England, at a conference in Hampton Court Palace, James officially launched the translation project that would become the King James Bible. The complex’s status as a favorite dwelling of King Henry the VIII, the founder of the English church, would not have been lost on the attendees.
The new translation was intended to be a unifying factor, not between Scotland and England, but between the warring factions of the Church of England. In the oversight of the project, James favored the establishment bishops, but one-third or more of the 48 “Translators” (as they were known) had Puritan beliefs. Most were connected with Cambridge University, a hotbed of Puritan theology at the time.
The most popular Bible among English Christians at the time was the Geneva Bible, which Puritan scholars had composed in Geneva during their exile from the persecution of Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”) in the 1550s. Its popularity had soared at the end of the 16th century because the Bishops Bible of 1568, the Church’s official Bible, had met with derision. As Adam Nicholson observes, it was “pompous, obscure and often laughable.” Instead of the well-known phrase “Caste thy bread upon the waters,” for instance, it gave “Lay thy bread upon wet faces.”
But James could not simply follow the people’s choice, for the Geneva Bible contained extensive interpretive footnotes, many of which were anti-monarchical, denying that kings and queens had the right to rule. Given that, in 1598, James had written a ringing defense of the “divine right of kings” to govern in his “True Law of Free Monarchies,” this was an anathema.
The new Bible translation would draw upon the best of these two works, while going back to the best Hebrew and Greek manuscripts then available. It would undergo several stages of review to ensure both accuracy and understandability. It would be both a pulpit Bible and a people’s Bible: pleasant to read aloud and to oneself.
The new translation did not immediately gain acceptance when it was published in 1611. Like the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate and many modern translations, people preferred the versions with which they were familiar. But, within a few decades, it had replaced the Bishops Bible and surpassed the Geneva Bible. It was brought across the Atlantic and became America’s Bible, both for English churches that came here and the churches that originated here, such as the Mormons.
The King James Version was the dominant English-language Bible for 350 years and had no significant rivals until the Revised Standard Version appeared in the 1950s. Since then, many new translations have been published, but the KJV remains the most popular book in the English language.
In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the KJV, the University of Wyoming will host an exhibition and series of six lectures during October. It will open Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7, with a talk by Dr. Philip Stine, a former translator and executive of the United Bible Societies, who will discuss the origins and impact of the KJV.
The exhibition, called “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” can be seen in Coe Library. It was created by the Folger Library for the National Endowment of the Humanities and the American Library Association.
To accompany this, the Toppan Library of the American Heritage Center will exhibit Bibles from its rare books collection, and the Albany County Public Library will host a display of Bible translations through the ages. For more information, go to and click on the Manifold Greatness link under “Dusty Shelves.”  The events are co-sponsored by the Wyoming Humanities Council and UW's Religious Studies Program.
Note: This article drew from Adam Nicolson's, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, and Philip C. Stine, Four Hundred Years on the Best Seller List.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Political Conventions and Revival Meetings

Americans are enduring two weeks of political conventions with speechifying cheering, waving, interviews and smiles. It is an old-time political event, a gathering designed for the people present rather than the larger TV viewership or an Internet audience. For decades, news people have lamented that the convention is just not made for television, and that the parties' efforts to jazz it up simply emphasize how far it falls short.
So, when and why did political conventions originate? The first political convention was held in 1831 by the small Anti-Mason Party, followed by the National Republican Party (no relation to the modern Republican Party). The Democratic Party held its first convention in 1832.
While the stated purpose of the events was to nominate each party’s presidential candidate, that was just a formality for the National Republican and the Democratic parties; their candidate choice was known well before the meeting, with the National Republicans nominating Henry Clay and the Democrats choosing the sitting president Andrew Jackson.
The real reason for these conventions was to rally the voters behind the party and generate enthusiasm for its candidate for president. They needed their members and supporters to go out into the rest of the country to persuade people to vote for their candidate.
To accomplish this, conventions took on the form that we still see today. It is a form that had its origins in religious revivals and the extended camp meetings that had been taking place since the late 1700s.
Camp meetings were held in rural areas and, since the assembled participants had usually traveled a day or more to reach the meeting, they had to camp for its duration.
The activities consisted largely of non-stop preaching, with ministers from different denominations often giving hours-long sermons one right after another. These were interspersed with frequent hymn singing and calls for conversion.     
The sermons set a revival’s tone and the crowd responded. Over days, the religious emotion heightened, with increasing numbers redirecting or recommitting their lives to God and Christianity.
The preachers tended to follow a similar set of themes. They helped their listeners to imagine what their future would be like without God and then what it could like with God, especially with regard to eternal life in heaven after death. As crowd members talked among themselves, this message was reinforced. Sometimes, there were testimonies from the crowd itself. More and more people believed the message and then took action and dedicated their lives to walk with Christ.
These three steps of imagination of the future, belief in the Christian message, and dedication of one’s life were repeated over and over again from evangelizing gathering to camp meeting to revival session.
These were nearly always capped with the admonishment for those enthused by the gathering to go out into the world and win new disciples for Christ. They should continue working to win souls among those who had not attended the revival.
Political conventions have followed this model of the revival meetings. They bring together people from far away and entertain them with large amounts of speechifying, drawing upon speakers from many walks of life and regions of the country.
These orators talk about the future, getting their listeners to imagine how their lives will be improved if their candidate wins the election and how bad it will be if the other guy wins. Across the speeches, the audience comes to believe that their future is best served by the chosen leader and that he or she can win the White House.
By the end of the convention, the participants commit themselves to getting their candidate elected. They leave with a dedication to achieving this goal and with the aim of persuading others to vote for their candidate.
Political conventions thus work through the same three stages found in revivals: imagining future possibilities, believing in their shared choice, and dedicating themselves to supporting their candidate. After the meeting is over, they are expected to go out and win over others to their position and vote for their nominee.
Thus the thoroughly secular political conventions organize, enthuse and excite their members through the same strategies used in religious revivals. These techniques may be centuries old, but television and the Internet cannot substitute for face-to-face interaction. The social power of a crowd cheering for a shared goal remains a powerful force.

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