The KJV, Our Real ‘Shared Text,’ Hits 400 Years

We talk here about Harry Potter as a ‘Shared Text,’ meaning that it serves, because so many people have read it, as a common reference for discussion, almost a shoe-horn for getting into larger topics and as a language or experience for facilitating exchange of ideas. The Hogwarts Saga only has this function, though, because the Shared Text of Western Civilization, the book known as “The Book” and “The Holy Book” or more commonly The Bible, has lost much of its power via commonality and reverence even among  serious readers.

Allan Bloom noted this in his Closing of the American Mind:

As soon as tradition has come to be recognized as tradition, it is dead, something to which lip service is paid in the vain hope of edifying the kids. In the United States, practically speaking, the Bible was the only common culture, one that united simple and sophisticated, rich and poor, young and old, and – as the very model for a vision of the order of the whole of things, as well as the key to the rest of Western art, the greatest works of which are in one way or another responsive to the Bible – provided access to the seriousness of books. With its gradual and inevitable disappearance, the very idea of such a total book and the possibility and necessity of world-explanation is disappearing. And fathers and mothers have lost the idea that the highest aspiration they might have for their children is for them to be wise – as priests, prophets or philosophers are wise. Specialized competence and success are all that they can imagine. Contrary to what is commonly thought, without the book even the idea of the order of the whole is lost….

I do not believe that my generation my cousins who have been educated in the American way, all of whom are M.D.s or PhDs, have any comparable learning [to that of my uneducated but pious grandparents]. When they talk about heaven and earth, the relations between men and women, parents and children, the human condition, I hear nothing but clichés, superficialities, the material of satire. I am not saying anything so trite as that life is fuller when people have myths to live by. I mean rather that a life based on the Book is closer to the truth, that it provides the material for deeper research in and access to the real nature of things. Without the great revelations, epics and philosophies as part of our natural vision, there is nothing to see out there and eventually little left inside. The Bible is not the only means to furnish a mind, but without a book of similar gravity, read with the gravity of the potential believer, it will remain unfurnished. (Mind, pages 57, 60)

There is a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version (KJV) in 2011 and I urge everyone, believer or non-believer and the majority in the luke-warm space between those categories, to read this version this year, if only to evaluate Bloom’s important thesis about the consequences in the mind “unfurnished” by a book of such gravity.

The depths of Harry Potter, after all, are only pointers and signs to the reality reflected in the KJV and fostered — by reading it again and again — in the human heart.

Articles about the 400th Anniversary:

In the New York Times: The King James Version at 400

In Books and Culture: Anthropologists Discover the Bible (‘On Biblicism’)

The Celebration’s Own Web Site:

BBC: How the KJV Changed the Way We Speak

American Culture: A Defense of the King James Bible

NPR: A Snarky Critique of the King James Bible (“not original”)

Amarillo Globe-Times: Rich History, Detailed Accuracy of KJV

NPR2: Lasting Impact of King James Version

Reading the King James Version in 2011

An Online Plan: Day by Day (check this out!)

The One Year Bible: King James Version (Tyndale on Amazon)

Three Books About the KJV:

God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible

Coined By God: Words and Phrases from English Translations of the Bible

In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture


  1. Great references, Professor. Thanks!

    As an aside, have you ever had the fun of playing “Who said that?” when you decide if a familiar quotation is from Shakespeare or the Bible? It is amazing how intermingled they can have become – even for those of us raised on the KJV from our mother’s knee.

    It remains my favorite translation for reading and research as there is a tremendous amount of ancillary materials and scholarly apparatus available.

    For instance, this site: has an enormous technical resource capability, all keyed to the KJV. From there one can branch out into current scholarly materials, but what a beginning.

    Long live the King!

  2. This is a wonderful post! Thank you, Professor, for bringing the references to our attention. I am going to print out the list and make concerted effort to read each one this year.

    Inked…I, too, enjoy the KJV for study and memorization…our Pastor uses the NKJV and highly recommends it.

    The WORD rules!!

  3. Amen! Happy 400th Birthday KJV! Thanks for this post, John.

Speak Your Mind