The King James Bible is a book that attracts superlatives. To David Norton it is “the most important book in English religion and culture”, to Gordon Campbell “the most celebrated book in the English-speaking world” and “the most enduring embodiment of Scripture in the English language”. To Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett it is simply the Bible translation that defines Bible translations: “All other versions still exist, as it were, in its shadow. It has shaped, formed and moulded the language with which the others must speak”. No one present at the birth of the KJB, least of all the translators themselves, could have imagined that it would live so long. King James’s offer to commission a new Bible translation had been made quite casually at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, chiefly, it seems, to console the Puritans for their failure to secure any other changes to the religious settlement. To many contemporaries, it seemed little more than a royal vanity project. In the preface to the first edition of 1611, the translators admitted that many people saw no need for a new translation at all: “Many men’s mouths have been opened a good while (and yet are not stopped) with speeches about the translation so long in hand, or rather perusals of translations made before: and ask what may be the reason, what the necessity of the employment”.
more from Arnold Hunt at the TLS here.