Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tyndale

The producer of a new BBC documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England, writing about its subject: "Melvyn Bragg on William Tyndale":
.... Tyndale was burned alive in a small town in Belgium in 1536. His crime was to have translated the Bible into English. He was effectively martyred after fighting against cruel and eventually overwhelming forces, which tried for more than a dozen years to prevent him from putting the Word of God into his native language. He succeeded but he was murdered before he could complete his self-set task of translating the whole of the Old Testament as he had translated the whole of the New Testament.

More than any other man he laid the foundation of our modern language which became by degrees a world language. “He was very frugal and spare of body”, according to a messenger of Thomas Cromwell, but with an unbreakable will. Tyndale, one of the greatest scholars of his age, had a gift for mastering languages, ancient and modern, and a genius for translation. His legacy matches that other pillar of our language – Shakespeare....

For considerable stretches of his short life, Tyndale was hounded across Western Europe by spies and agents from the hypocritical king of England, Henry VIII, the Pope and by the Holy Roman Emperor. It was the Emperor’s net which closed in on him in the end. By then, even to have known Tyndale let alone to have read his New Testament back in England was to make you liable to torture and often death by fire. ....

He has given to literature for centuries a vocabulary and a sense of rhythm and clarity that flows through the work of so many from John Donne to Bob Dylan. (Tyndale, Matthew 20: 16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” Dylan, from The Times They Are a-Changin: “And the first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changin’.”)

And, almost as an accidental by-product, he loaded our speech with more everyday phrases than any other writer before or since. We still use them, or varieties of them, every day, 500 years on.

Here are just a few: “under the sun”, “signs of the times”, “let there be light”, “my brother’s keeper”, “lick the dust”, “fall flat on his face”, “the land of the living”, “pour out one’s heart”, “the apple of his eye”, “fleshpots”, “go the extra mile”, “the parting of the ways” – on and on they march through our days, phrases, some of which come out of his childhood in the Cotswold countryside, some of which were taken from Anglo-Saxon and Hebrew, all of which he alchemised into our everyday language. ....

His major role in what became the King James Bible was erased from the record. ....

His Bible was taken over by a procession of plagiarists during the century after his death, none of whom acknowledged his contribution, all of whom were profoundly indebted to him. Not only was 90 per cent of the New Testament the work of Tyndale, but a similar percentage has been tracked down in the several books of the Old Testament that he was able to translate before his death. The state rejected him in his lifetime and it could be said it conspired to continue that neglect until new scholars in the last century dug up his contribution and brought it to the public. ....

Tyndale deliberately set out to write a Bible which would be accessible to everyone. To make this completely clear, he used monosyllables, frequently, and in such a dynamic way that they became the drumbeat of English prose. “The Word was with God and the Word was God”, “In him was life and the life was the light of men”, and many of his idioms were monosyllabic. The effect of this was immeasurable, not only in England but across the world. .... [more]