How has the Geneva Bible shaped history?

Controversial, influential, widely read - the King James Bible appeared 400 years ago

Cambridge (Great Britain) - Almost 100 years after the Reformation, a Bible was created in England that set standards in the Anglo-Saxon world and has not lost its influence on cultural life to this day. But why did she show up so late? One of the main demands that arose from the Reformation was a translation of the Bible into the language of the people. "Sola scriptura" - 'solely from (Holy) Scripture', as Martin Luther put it, should salvation be conveyed. While in the Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent (1545-1563) it was once again affirmed that the correct interpretation of the Bible could only be carried out by ecclesiastical authority, Protestant theologians of all directions agreed from the beginning that everyone should Bible must be available in his mother tongue. In all countries and regions that had become Protestant, Bible translations became an absolute necessity from the time of the Reformation. In Germany there was the Luther translation (complete 1534), in French-speaking Switzerland there was the Bible de Genève (1535), which was influenced by Calvinism. This Bible was translated into English and traded in England under the name Geneva Bible (1557). As much as there was agreement in Protestant theology that there had to be Bibles in the vernacular, they quarreled about - the footnotes. In the footnotes and comments on the Bible verses, the respective theological position could be expressed.

As an Anglican, King James I did not want to throw all of the old Catholic elements overboard, but only wanted to reform them. He found the Geneva Bible, which was influenced by Calvinism, too radical and therefore commissioned a new translation of the Bible in 1604. For the translation, he demanded, among other things, that footnotes should only be used to explain words, that the individual translated chapters should be approved by the entire team of translators and that further scholars should be consulted if disagreements persist.

"The key thing about this translation is that it brought together the best of 16th-century translations, filtered out the good and forged new phrases when they were better than the old ones," says Adam Nicholson, who runs the exhibition on the making of the King James Bible opened in the Cambridge University Library. "The best experts in Hebrew and Greek were entrusted with the task and were supposed to try the impossible: extreme fidelity to words, combined with extreme clarity and melodic language."

Similar to Luther in his translation of the Bible, the scholars of the King James Bible did not shy away from plastic expressions. For example, Psalm 72: 9 says: "They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust." ("Those in the desert will bow down before him, and his enemies will lick the dust"). This corresponds to the modern phrase "bite the grass". The King James Bible also contains very rough vulgarisms, which are translated neutrally or veiled in other editions of the Bible. So it says in the translation of 1 Samuel, chapters 25, 22: "So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall. " While Luther also translated this passage with "God is doing this and even more to the enemies of David, where I'll leave someone to piss on the wall from everything he has until light of the morning", later editors of the Luther translation set for "who piss on the wall" a shameful "one who is male". The King James Bible has preserved these vulgarisms in the version of 1769 that is still in use today. Many of these expressions have survived in the English language to this day, but hardly anyone is aware of them.

After its publication, the King James Bible was still controversial. The Puritans in particular continued to be faithful to the old Geneva Bible. But in the end the King James Bible, with its sometimes powerful and sometimes poetic language, was able to assert itself and gain influence in the cultural world. Georg Friedrich Handel, for example, composed his "Messiah" on the basis of the King James Bible.

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