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Review

Melvyn Bragg lecture on the King James Bible at Ely Cathedral.

By Debbie Davies

MELVYN Bragg’s lecture on the King James Bible provided an illuminating insight into the history and impact of what has been described as “one of the most influential books in the history of the world”.

Bragg talked enthusiastically about the Bible’s chequered past and its political, linguistic and religious impact on society throughout the last 400 years. His pain-staking research and his belief that the King James Bible was the cornerstone for democracy and integral to social movements including the birth of feminism are contained in his new book called The Book of Books.

He began his lecture at Ely Cathedral by describing the long and bloody period more than 400 years ago during which a group of Oxford scholars fought to get the Bible translated from Latin into English in order to bring a greater understanding of the word of God to the masses. The King James Bible was finally published in 1611 long after its main architect William Tyndale had been found guilty of heresy and hanged on the instruction of Henry V111.

The story of the translation seeps into almost every aspect of historical, political and social life. It is the story of Henry VIII’s Reformation, the extraordinary story of William Tyndale, who Bragg describes as a master of the English language evening rivalling Shakespeare, and the profound impact the Bible had on the growth and spread of democracy and social justice.

Importantly, Bragg explained, it took the word of God out of the hands of the priesthood and the ruling classes and made it accessible to the ears and the hands of ordinary, working class people.

Bragg went on to describe the political history of the King James Bible, in particular, the way is was used as a source of propaganda in the English Civil War, how it inspired endless debates about democracy and justice from the American War of Independence to the speeches of Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy.

In a fascinating aside we also learned that what we generally consider to be the modern cliché, does, in fact, have its roots in the King James Bible.

Phrases and clichés such as “the apple of his eye”; “a man after his own heart” and “ye of little faith” are all to be found in the Bible.

The Book of Books is the definitive history of one of the most influential books ever written and in describing its contents Bragg gave us a highly entertaining and thought-provoking insight into his latest work.

The book is aimed at anyone who is fascinated by history, politics, language, world events and in particular those who interested in the growth of democracy. Don’t be put off if you are not someone who has faith, Bragg’s book is aimed at the general reader.

INFO: The Book of Books is available from Topping & Company Booksellers on High Street, Ely.

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