Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Review: The King James Bible Word Book

This is an older book, but it can readily be purchased new or used at Amazon, Abe Books, Ebay, and so on. It is ostensibly a book to help the reader better understand the difficult words of the King James Bible, and may likely be purchased for that reason. Ostensibly. Remember that.

The King James Bible Word Book is advertised and described thusly at Amazon:
“English has changed dramatically since the introduction of the King James Bible. The original words often fail to make sense but the beauty of the poetic style reaffirms your love for the King James Bible. This Book will help you make sense of the often archaic language. A delightful and authoritative guide, this source book illuminates the 1611 text for the 1990’s readers. Fascinating, brief articles explain over 800 terms of the KJV that have either fallen into disuse or have taken on a dramatically different meaning. Includes a comprehensive index of over 2600 entries.”
This book was first published in 1960 under the title The Bible Word Book: Concerning Obsolete or Archaic Words in the King James Version of the Bible by Thomas Nelson & Sons. The “Publisher’s Preface” added in 1994 claims “Readers of the King James Version...need an authoritative guide that will help them make proper sense of the words and phrases that are rarely or never used by speakers of English today, as well as alert them to expressions whose common meanings today differ from the those of the past.” This redirects the purpose from the original intent, which is noticeable in the original “Authors’ Preface.”  The Bible Word Book was not created as a KJV tool, but was part of the published promotion for the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (RSV). The publisher, Thomas Nelson & Sons, was also the publisher of the RSV and co-author Luther A. Weigle was chairman of the committee that created it. (I have not found biographical information on his collaborator, Ronald F. Bridges.) It became more obvious as I began to scan the definitions in The King James Bible Word Book. I noticed with almost every word listed there was a reference to the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The authors prefer recommending the RSV over actually helping the KJV reader. Over and over the book reinforces that the King James is archaic – even wrong – and readers are steered to the RSV. If folks wanted the RSV words, they would buy the RSV and wouldn’t need this book!

If you are interested in using the KJV and studying its words, don’t waste your money on this book. If you really must see it, the 1960 edition can be seen “Full view” at HathiTrust. According to Bible Martin H. Manser’s I Never Knew that Was in the Bible! is a revision of The King James Bible Word Book. Nelson’s King James Bible Word Book of April 2002 by Martin Manser may be an update as well.

Other and better source books are available for those who really want to study the King James words, such as Archaic Words and the Authorized Version by Laurence M. Vance. According to Vance “This [648 page] book is unique in that it seeks neither to criticize nor correct the text of the Authorized Version.” For a small and inexpensive book, with brief definitions (much like a thesaurus), there is 4,114 Definitions from the Defined King James Bible by D. A. Waite, Jr. It is paperback and only 86 pages and could be carried in or with one’s Bible if the purchaser so desired. A King James Dictionary: a Resource for Understanding the Language of the King James Bible by Philip P. Kapusta takes a neutral position. That is, unlike Vance’s book, it is simply a dictionary and is not advocating for or against the primacy of the KJV – “...our purpose is to help those who, after four-hundred years, still desire to make the King James Bible a part of their regular reading (p. 10, “Introduction”). The “Look Inside” feature at Amazon gives a glance at its guts. What can be seen in the preview are simple straightforward definitions.

Thumbs down on The King James Bible Word Book by Bridges and Weigle!

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