Monday, 3 January 2011

Bertolt Brecht's answer was "the Bible"

In the Western liturgical calendar the 12 days of Christmas are drawing to a close and my wonderful "Anderer Advent" calendar is also about to end. Today's photo is of a pile of books and the initial quote comes from Bertolt Brecht who apparently when asked which book impressed him most replied "You will laugh: the Bible". Eva Zeller then uses Brecht's words as the begininng for each stanza of a poem celebrating the Bible. (I suspect I must try toget a copy of her Auf dem Wasser gehen - walking on water)

Meanwhile one translation of the book of books is being celebrated in particular in this new year that has just begun. 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, a translation which has had enormous and lasting impact on the English language. There are many, many events, programmes and websites dedicated to the anniversary - here you can even vote for your favourite English translation of the Bible. Meanwhile before going to bed tonight I shall listen to the first of three Radio 4 programmes on the anniversary recorded at Hampton Court Palace. More about this as the year progresses.
One of the things I was surprised to discover through involvement in ecumenism is that the language of the King James Bible and of the Book of Common Prayer influenced the English language versions of some of the Russian Orthodox liturgies. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom was apparently very impressed with the KJV and preferred to use that translation - it was the approved Bible translation of the Church of England when Bloom arrived in Britain in the early 1950s.
In international meetings I try to make sure we don't use the KJV for public readings in English - the cadences are difficult enough for a mother tongue English speaker to get their tongue around these days. I enjoy reading aloud from it myself if I've had time to prepare but I am just young enough (and my Church of England friends might add - and enough of a heretic!) for it not to have been the English version of the Bible I grew up with - the first Bible I read was (oh double horror of horrors) a silver jubliee edition of the Good News Bible. Years later I was delighted to be able to meet Annie Valloton who did the illustrations and could hold scores of school age children spell-bound as she drew and told the stories of the Book of Books. The French Bible en Français Courant stands the test of time rather better than the GNB.

So which book most impresses you, and do you, like Brecht, assume that others will laugh if you say the Bible?


Anonymous said...

Not sure why you used the 'double horror of horrors' when talking about the Good News Bible. I really love the GNB and it is a really nice-to-read bible that I can actually understand and relate to. I think the understanding the meanings of the verses are so much more important than the flowery language.

I also have the Good News Bible app on my iPhone and read little bits of it all day. You might want to check their site, and see how they bring the GNB alive with the lovely graphics much like Annie Valloton did with the earlier versions.

David Sanford said...

Thanks! A big surprise tied into the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Version Bible:

Two scholars have compiled the first worldwide census of extant copies of the original first printing of the 1611 King James Version (sometimes referred to as the "He" Bible). For decades, authorities from the British Museum, et al., have estimated that “around 50 copies” of that first printing still exist. The real number is quite different.

For more information, you're invited to contact Donald L. Brake, Sr., PhD, at or his associate David Sanford at

Jane said...

Dear Anonymous and DAvid - thank you both for your comments and for the links which I shall check out later this evening.
I loved teh GNB when I was younger it was"my" Bible but later, especially after I got interested in translation myself I can see that it is a bit flat in places as a translation - though when I look back to the NEB that reads in a much more dated fashion than the GNB does.
Anyway thanks for taking teh time to read.