In my last article on in this category, “Translating the Bible into English”, I discussed the enormous lengths people went to translate the holy book of Christianity into English, with the aid of Melvyn Bragg’s book on the subject The Book of Books. However, in Bragg’s text he also writes about how many figures throughout modern history were inspired by the King James Bible – the first English translation of the Bible commissioned by a ruling monarch, King James I. In this article I hope to discuss some of these figures.
One key figure in history said to have been greatly inspired by the King James Bible is Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97). She is commonly considered to be the first feminist of modern times and she argued in her ground-breaking essay, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, that women had natural, God-given rights, just as men did, based upon her reading of the King James Bible. As Bragg writes, Wollstonecraft had “proposed a revolution, on Christian principles,” drawing on “radical elements of Christ’s teachings in the New Testament which pointed the way to equality and a society released from traditional hierarchies.”
Another important person in history who was driven by the King James Bible was William Wilberforce (1859-1833). Wilberforce was an anti-slave trade campaigner and Member of Parliament who managed to push through an Act in the UK Parliament “which abolished the slave trade in 1807.” Bragg tells us that he read the King James Bible every day and that it was this “disciplined daily reading” which gave him “such strength that he turned against the morals and manners of the age in which he lived and set out to change them.” And his was through his incredible speeches in the House of Commons, “grounded in the morality of Christ’s teaching in the New Testament” which “won the day” for the abolition movement.
The King James Bible also inspired the language and personal philosophy of many writers, right up to the 21st century. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, a novel about civilisation and humanity’s potential for barbarity, Bragg argues is steeped in the creation story in Genesis from the Old Testament and Revelation from the New Testament. Similarly the poetry of T.S. Eliot was profoundly influenced by the Christian ideas present in the King James Bible, whose work was often deeply theological and philosophical. Other writers whose work was influenced by the King James Bible according to Bragg include: C. S. Lewis, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas and Wilfred Owen.
It was also of great inspiration to the Pilgrim Fathers, some of the first people from England to travel to and make their home in America. They were deeply devout in their religious belief and their reading of the Geneva Bible (almost the same as the King James Version) led them to believe that they were God’s chosen people, as the Israelites were in the Old Testament. Chosen to create a new Protestant English nation away from what they perceived as the evil of Catholicism in England and much of the rest of Europe.
Image: By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) (originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons