Thursday, August 11, 2011

Death by Committee

Parshat VaEthanan
Shabbat Nahamu
11 Av, 5771
August 11th, 2011

400 years ago, a group of bishops under the guidance of one of England’s most quirky and brilliant kings, James, came together to create an English translation of the Bible, now known as one of the great masterpieces of English literature. Originally without title (other than Holy Bible, of course) this translation is known to us as The King James Version.
The King James was such a powerful force in the English language that the turns of language invented therein are a lasting part of our life, four centuries later: “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” “a drop in the bucket,” “a fly in the ointment,” “labor of love,” “skin of your teeth,” “the powers that be,” and on. A full list of these phrases can be found here
            The story of the King James’ creation is extraordinary. It was written by committee: six directors and 48 separate translators. Those who have sat on boards should imagine accomplishing anything with 48 separate members, let alone translate the entire Bible.
            Moreover, Jacobean England was a religiously fractious time. Not only had England just separated from the Catholic Church only sixty years before, but there were significant divisions within England: The established Church of England, reforming Puritans, outlawed Presbyterians, and Calvinists.
Yet out of this mess came what became known as the English Bible. And as one who works in committee regularly, all I can say is – I would give almost anything to know their secret.
Adam Nicolson wrote God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. And here’s what he writes, “The currency of this world was talk between people who had known each other all their lives, and the intimacy of those relationships was crucial to the nature of the conference…and to the qualities of the Bible that would eventually emerge from it…These were the people in whose hands the future of the Church of England lay and they all knew each other. They were deeply opposed on important issues but a single envelope, what would nowadays be called a single discourse, contained them, and much of the peaceableness of England can be explained by that.” (46-47)
It matters not that we disagree with each other. It fact our disagreement may be a great asset. What matters is that we know each other well, intimately, and that our issues are shared issues. The unity of shared life is far more important than the unity of our thoughts. 

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