Bucher, Martin, Webster host panel on King James Bible exhibit

Alexis Herrick February 13, 2013 0

A faculty panel titled “Shakespeare, Literature, and the Language of the King James Bible” took place at 4 p.m. on Feb. 6 in the High Library. The audience, completely engaged in the discussion, could be found raising hands, laughing, and interacting with panelists in a unique and thought-provoking way. The panel included discussion topics pertaining to the recent addition of the traveling exhibit, “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible.”
The panel was composed of three Elizabethtown College faculty members: Dr. Christina Bucher, professor of religious studies; Dr. Louis Martin, professor of English; and Dr. Suzanne Webster, associate professor of English.
Webster began the discussion with the trials and tribulations that led to the creation of the King James Version of the Bible. She brought up a somewhat controversial topic, discussing the use of difficult translations as a means of asserting authority over people in the past. Popes and members of higher religious authority wanted to limit the amount of translation that the common person could understand in order to have more control over the thoughts of their people. Though more and more of the population became privileged enough to understand the language of the Bible, the words were still archaic and difficult to understand.
Webster also spoke on whether or not marginal notes should exist in the Bible. During the formation of different translations of the Bible, this was a much-discussed issue. The problem was that all people would not have understood certain common words translated in the Bible. Putting synonyms for words that people may not understand could preserve the original text and just serve as an aid in the margins. However, many people felt this was destructive to the word of God, and it led to new translations.
Additionally, Webster used a PowerPoint presentation as a visual aid to show some of the different translations she discussed throughout her presentation. She informed the audience that the King James Version was created to be understood by all people and made worshiping God a far less difficult task for those who were less intellectual. “Such language speaks to all, even the vulgar,” Webster read from one of her last slides.
“I hope this presentation has provided some food for thought about the translations process,” she said. She concluded by highlighting the importance of this topic and its effect on religion. According to Webster, translators throughout history changed their minds about the importance of exact translation of the Bible. They realized that by using a simpler translation, they could encourage more people to read the Bible and strengthen their faith.
Martin spoke next about Biblical influence on the literature of Shakespeare. He informed the audience that Shakespeare very frequently used the Bible in his works. Martin said that the Bible “derives the central ideas and images that run all of his plays.” Shakespeare frequently included allusions to the Bible, and his great tragedies are inspired by the stories of God, sinful behavior and forgiveness. He presented many examples of these connections to the audience, reading directly from the Bible and from different works of Shakespeare.
He also emphasized the fact that Shakespeare did not actually use the King James Version, but rather the Geneva Bible. It was the most popular and accessible Bible version in England during his time. Martin spoke about the importance of this text being relatable to the common person, just as Webster did. He then read passages from the Bible or from the works of Shakespeare, in which a common phrase was used. One example of this was the phrase “a two-edged sword.” The phrase “dead as a doornail” had the panelists and audience laughing in unison.
Bucher spoke of her own experiences with the King James Version and of what translations she felt were most accurate. She informed the audience that she had grown up learning from the King James version. She displayed a few pictures of some elaborate Biblical illustrations from other versions of the Bible that she may have enjoyed better as a child, since the version she’d grown up on had bored her. When she finally purchased the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, she started to become more interested in studying the Bible itself. She spoke of the marginal notes that had previously been discussed and informed the audience that they invaluably aided in her understanding of the text.
She displayed a number of Greek and British translations and showed the audiences the differences between them. Bucher compared the historical books and the prophetic books of the Bible and showed the audience how varied the accuracy of these works was.
“There is no single translation that is perfect,” Bucher told the audience. She believes that exact translations are better for studying, but “functional equivalence is better for actual understanding.” She believes that the King James version is not the best Bible for the purpose of studying, but that no person should ever limit himself or herself to one translation of a work of literature.

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