This year marks the 400th anniversary of the creation of the King James Bible. Though it is not the translation that I use personally in my study, it is a HUGE part of our Western heritage. Even those who don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God can’t deny that it is one of the greatest works of English prose ever written. The account of its development is a remarkable story with widespread religious and political implications around the world.
To tell this story, two fascinating documentaries have been released in the last few months. The first one I watched (though the second to be released) was KJB: The Book That Changed the World. The other is the similarly-titled KJV: The Making of the King James Bible.
Though the subject of both films is the same, the presentation could hardly have been more different. In KJB, John Rhys-Davies (probably best known as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies) is the host, and puts in a performance that makes this anything but a typically dry documentary! His energy and excitement seem quite genuine, and make the story come alive as he tours historical sites where important events took place.
Rhys-Davies’ narration is mixed in with several live-action sequences, where actors re-create dramatic scenes from history. At times it feels more like a documentary about the life of James I than about his Bible, but then again, it’s difficult to tell where one story ends and the other begins. After all, this translation would never have happened without the unique leadership of the Scotch-English king.
In providing the historical background for the translation project, the film lingers on events such as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (a terrorist plot on the scale of 9/11) and on the political ramifications of the differences between Puritans, Anglicans, and Catholics… which would later plunge England into a bitter civil war despite King James’ efforts. For a documentary, this movie is never short on action! You can get a bit of a fell for the film by watching this trailer:
Whereas KJB focuses on the historical significance of King James’ translation, KJV focuses on the translation process itself. There is some mention of pertinent historical details, but most of the documentary consists of comparisons between other Bibles available in the English language prior to 1611 (including the Bishop’s Bible, the Geneva Bible, and others) and how the translators reached the great compromises made in the “Authorized Version”.
This film points out that in the collaboration between representatives of the Church of England and the Puritans, great effort was made to preserve ambiguity in the text, allowing readers to potentially reach different conclusions rather than providing specific interpretations of difficult doctrinal issues for them (which had been a criticism of earlier translations). Word choice was also important, as the KJV was designed to sound good when read aloud; much of England’s population was illiterate. This explains the unmistakable beauty and phrasing of the King James text!
Both films include commentary from respected biblical and historical scholars, and are well-researched and well-directed. I recommend both of them; when watched together, they will give you a very well-rounded look at the creation of the King James Bible, with very little overlap between them. If you only watch one, however, I suggest it be KJB. It is both informative and entertaining, and is the better produced of the two. It is also more than twice as long yet nearly half as expensive! For those in Cookeville, I have both, and you’re welcome to borrow them if you like.
If you’re interested in owning these two documentaries, you may purchase them from Amazon at these links: