Probing the Bible

MR PETER Hollyfield’s ‘examination of the facts’ about the 1611 King James Bible (Observer, Letters, March 22) needs some examination itself.

1 He says there was no earlier authorised English version. In fact, Henry VIII inspired and authorised one, later banned by ‘Bloody Mary’.

2 He talks of William Tyndale’s ‘version’. Tyndale never made one: he put out only the New Testament and, separately, various books of the Old.

3 The crucial point: the 1611 translators indeed made much use of Tyndale’s work. But neither his OT translations, based mainly on the original Hebrew, nor theirs owed anything to the Dutch scholar Erasmus. Even Tyndale’s NT, though indeed translated from Erasmus’s edition of the Greek original, drew also on the familiar Latin version, and on Luther’s in German.

4 So, quite flatly, the 1611 Bible was not ‘largely based’ on the work of Erasmus. Let alone on his ‘writings’, except physically, Erasmus no more ‘wrote’ his Greek NT than its editor writes the Observer.

5 Still less ‘on the writings of an illegitimate homosexual monk’. And even if Erasmus was all that – in fact he’d ceased to be a monk long before editing anything – so what? One might as usefully sum up Churchill as ‘a plump old man too fond of brandy and cigars’.

‘Res ipsa loquitur,’ says Mr Hollyfield roughly, ‘the facts speak for themselves’. Not to me his ‘facts’ don’t, even if facts they were.

M.J.Hirst

Parklands Drive, Chichester