The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible
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The King James Bible stands at "the sublime summit of literature in English," sharing the honor only with Shakespeare, Harold Bloom contends in the opening pages of this illuminating literary tour. Distilling the insights acquired from a significant portion of his career as a brilliant critic and teacher, he offers readers at last the book he has been writing "all my long life," a magisterial and intimately perceptive reading of the King James Bible as a literary masterpiece.
Bloom calls it an "inexplicable wonder" that a rather undistinguished group of writers could bring forth such a magnificent work of literature, and he credits William Tyndale as their fountainhead. Reading the King James Bible alongside Tyndale's Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the original Hebrew and Greek texts, Bloom highlights how the translators and editors improved upon—or, in some cases, diminished—the earlier versions. He invites readers to hear the baroque inventiveness in such sublime books as the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, and alerts us to the echoes of the King James Bible in works from the Romantic period to the present day. Throughout, Bloom makes an impassioned and convincing case for reading the King James Bible as literature, free from dogma and with an appreciation of its enduring aesthetic value.
is to say that Yahweh’s caprice destroys Saul by degrees. To be the initial king of the Hebrews is a dreadful destiny. Nothing that Saul could perform or leave undone will lift his doom. The narrator gives Saul no way out. His rages cannot prevail against what can be termed David’s charismatic duplicities, which charm Yahweh and beguile Saul’s children, Michal and Jonathan. Saul’s descent culminates in his most notorious enterprise, the raising up of Samuel’s ghost by the Witch of Endor at the
me, that the child may live? 23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. This is David at his most revelatory, in equal control of his grief and his acceptance of loss. Saul is a tragic ﬁgure, but David incarnates the whole truth of our contrary existences. James Joyce said that Homer’s Odysseus was the most complete man represented in literature, but I venture that David rivals the wily, metamorphic protagonist of
and Isaiah, and so in mere fact are Yahweh and Jesus. William Blake described religion as choosing forms of worship from poetic tales, and who can refute him? The prophets are depicted as extraordinary personalities, Jeremiah and Ezekiel in particular. Some regard Jeremiah as a hero: he seems to me a great poet and a bipolar case history, though compared to the psychotic Ezekiel, another major poet, he may be closer to our fathomings. If Jeremiah and Ezekiel are prophets, then Amos, Micah, and
in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God. 4 Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the L ORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. 5 ¶ For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee. Beulah, the land married to Yahweh, receives exultant
a reader—Jewish, Christian, Muslim, secular—is free to follow his or her own judgment. The KJB, closely following Geneva, catches almost the precise note of eloquence in the Hebrew of chapter 37. One verse at least echoes forever in Western spirituality: And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. In the Psalms and Proverbs, “dry” bones are emblems of despair. Ezekiel (or his school), reacting against the prophet’s earlier negativity, attempts