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Four Hundred Years of Tradition
on 23 June 2012
The thinking behind this edition of the Bible is to reproduce the exact text of the first King James version, including all spelling mistakes and even extending down to preservation of the line endings of the original. It also includes all the prefatory matter from the original, such as Biblical genealogies and the original artwork taken from wooden blockwork plates. The only thing it doesn't reproduce accurately is the original use of the blackletter script, since this was felt too difficult or cumbersome for a modern audience to read when compared to the more accessible and familiar roman script which was finally chosen. As a fan of reproductions and facsimiles, I would have been prepared to grapple with the blackletter, but, for most modern readers, I think the decision to go with roman script was probably the right one.
Be prepared for some unfamiliar printing and language forms which differ from modern usage. One is the old printer's transposition of "u" and "v" which was the usual practice during the seventeenth century when this Bible was first printed, and which gives rise to forms such as "euery" for "every" and "vnder" for "under." A similar transposition occurs with the modern "J" which is usually rendered in the seventeenth-century "I" as in "Iewes" for "Jewes." Some modern readers unused to these old practices may find the mental gymnastics involved in making this switch vexing at times, but regular reading soon accustoms the mind to the old ways so that eventually it becomes second nature. You will also find plenty of examples of seventeenth-century spelling and usage here, such as "mee" for "me" and "yee" for "you." On the whole, these are easy to interpret and rarely cause problems to a modern reader.
Oxford have done a wonderful job with the reproduction. The cover is done in a fine-grained leather and the pages use good quality paper (with perhaps a little too much see-through for my taste, but very sturdy). The Bible comes with its own slip case which is a good way to keep the lovely leather covers protected, and, unlike some new slip cases supplied straight from the publisher, this one is loose enough so that you don't have to struggle to get the book in and out, but not so loose that the book will fall out. The edges of the pages are gilt (gold paint only, not leaf, unfortunately!) which has a mildly annoying tendency to make the pages stick together a little, so that on opening or riffling through, there is a faint but distinct snapping sound as the pages separate. This is not a huge drawback and I am sure that, as the book is used more and more, this snapping effect will diminish and disappear over time. The dimensions of the book are bigger than most modern books, but, surprisingly, the weight is not a problem, thanks to the thin but solid paper stock which has been used. Still, you wouldn't want to carry the thing around on the bus.
Speaking for myself and several friends to whom I have showed my new Bible, I can confidently predict that most people will find the text beautifully clear and easy to read. The original page layout which is reproduced here is done in two columns with generous white space around the margins, and with printed borders around the columns. Headings appear as they did in the original at the top of the page, and alternative textual construals of English from the old Hebrew or Greek appear as side notes. The publishers have provided two red ribbon bookmarks sewn into the top of the binding, so you can break off your reading session and return to it later without having to leave the book open on a table (which, over the long term, is not so good for the binding).
For those who grew up hearing the ringing tones of the original King James version from the pulpit or lectern, reading this version is a welcome return to childhood days. There is something about the wonderful turns of phrase and the rhythm of the language that brings back such powerful memories of church and Sunday school. Alas, the language is now verging on the obsolete and, for readers not familiar with the old ways of expression, it does take a certain mental attention before the meaning of the King James text becomes clear. In any case, if the meaning is not clear at any stage, a reader can have a modern translation open at the same time for comparison purposes, which is what I do for a lot of the time. Many literary scholars have made mention of the enduring effect of the King James text on the English language and even today it reads well, despite the old forms it employs. Millions of people today still prefer the King James version for literary or religious reasons, and many others, such as myself, love the memories of the past that it invokes. For anyone who fits these categories, I would recommend this edition as a stylish and easy-to-read edition. It it also a beautiful object in its own right and will look well in any book collector's showcase.