2011: King James Version anniversary

Several publications recently published lists of their top stories of 2010, but The Economist tries to predict next year's trends with its "The World in 2011" edition. You can already see this trend coming from upcoming books: marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. Here's The Economist's prediction: "Prepare for a celebration of biblical proportions."

[It's the story of the King James Version of the Bible, which celebrates its 400th anniversary on May 2nd 2011, that is likely to provide the greatest spread of cultural events. Produced during the lifetime of William Shakespeare and John Donne, it has long been viewed as the most elegantly written and poetic of the many English translations, and has given the language some of its best-known phrases: "lamb to the slaughter", "skin of our teeth", "chariots of fire". The King James, also known as the Authorised Version, remains one of the most frequently used Bibles in the English-speaking world, especially in the United States. Barack Obama took the oath of office on the same King James Bible that had been used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861.

Because the 2011 predictions didn't include many religion stories, it was nice to see The Economist at least acknowledge the upcoming anniversary, though I wish it would have provided a little more history of why the Bible was so significant besides its influence on language and presidential use.

I grew up in a church that used the King James Version almost exclusively, so I became used to the thees, thous and begats. Others aren't so fond of the translation and prefer updated versions, so the anniversary will likely set off never ending translation debates.

We're already seeing a few stories with a hook to the anniversary, including one from the U.K.'s Daily Mail on how 51 percent of people under the age of 35 do not know what the King James Version is, according to one survey. NPR looked at how the translation 'begat' English idioms.

One story I enjoyed over the weekend comes from Marc Ramirez of The Dallas Morning News on an artist who has a fatal heart condition and is working on an illustrated copy of the King James Version.

The seventh-generation Texan is patiently crafting a handwritten, illustrated King James Bible, one page at a time. The "illuminated manuscript"--a type of work associated with the Middle Ages before technology made it largely obsolete--is a laborious process, blending calligraphy and illustration: The New Testament's four Gospels took him an average of 18 months each to complete.

It's a Sisyphean task, one compounded by the fact that Pepper, who lives in northeast Dallas, has a typically fatal heart condition that has dogged him since childhood.

So far, in addition to the Gospels, he's finished the Old Testament books of Proverbs, Ruth and Ecclesiastes. He hopes to complete the book of Psalms by Easter.

Further down in the story, you'll see quotes from his United Methodist pastor. On the art/books front, artist Makoto Fujimuru has an illustrated edition of the four gospels coming out and on display in New York City for the next two weeks.

So watch for the King James Version anniversary stories in 2011. Please.

Reporters could always look at the money it makes publishers, the ever-present literary influence, and its historical impact on culture, language, education and religion. Of course, there will be anniversary celebrations, but it will be interesting to see any unique angles they find.

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