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Book Review: Verily, Verily: The KJV – 400 Years of Influence and Beauty

Jon M. Sweeney

Zondervan, March 2011, 224 pp., $18.99, http://www.zondervan.com

Recommended. This book will give you an engaging walk-through of the history, cultural impact, idiosyncrasies, and contemporary relevance of the KJV.

Jon M. Sweeney’s Verily, Verily is a popular-level primer on all things Authorized King James Version of the Bible. His topics are diverse: The history of the translation (my favorite), the humor of the text, the lasting impact of the text, prominent figures who have enjoyed and been shaped by the text, standout verses of the text, and proverbial sayings from the text. Throughout all of these chapters, readers are treated to Sweeney’s friendly, enthusiastic tone. He proves to be a compelling guide.

When I began reading this text, the KJV held no appeal to me. I thought of it as a relic. But Sweeney began capturing my imagination as he retold the history of translations leading up to the KJV. I felt as though I was at the Council of Constance seeing Pope Urban VI angrily declare Wycliffe a posthumous heretic; I watched as Tyndale heroically ran a printing press by moonlight in some nondescript warehouse; I breathlessly witnessed the first meeting of great minds from around the Britain as they were sorted into committees and painstakingly began the careful work of translation that King James I had decreed for them.

Though the chapters describing this history were most engaging for me, I was also intrigued by how many figures over the four centuries had been touched by the KJV in some way; as an English teacher, the literary figure stood out to me: Dickens, Dickinson, Twain, Eliot, Auden. Then, as I read through some of the proverbial wisdom contained in the KJV, I found myself longing to memorize the verses as they were penned in 1611!

But to get to these treasures, you have to allow for Sweeney’s beliefs and opinions. For example, in discussing the mood of the KJV, Sweeney believes that “if you want to experience more of what it might have  been like to be standing by the Sea of Galilee or in the Temple of Jerusalem, I believe that the older the English the better.” Though Sweeney is undeniably passionate about his topic (as should any writer be), he is not a KJV-only advocate, and his passion is endearing.

Sweeney ends by describing his time reading 10 pages of the KJV per day, and he couldn’t have chosen a better note to end on. I don’t know when I’ll do it, but now, for the first time, I have a desire to read the KJV through.

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About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at TeachingtheCore.com. He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

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