Online magazine Vice calls Harold Bloom “the preeminent literary critic in the world.” It’s hard to argue with that. This writer, critic, professor, and staunch champion of classic literature is one-of-a-kind. My friend Lloyd loves him, and talked to me, in particular, about one of Bloom’s most popular works: The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.
My only other exposure to Bloom, until recently, was his work Jesus and Yahweh : The Names Divine. Although the subject of that work was investigating what we really know about Jesus, the author spent some time expressing his love for the Old Testament, the Jewish Tanakh. (This was also my first exposure to the idea that Bathsheba could be the author of the Torah, the first five books of the bible. A bit more on this controversial idea here.)
Knowing he placed the Old Testament up there with Shakespeare (or is that other way around?), I was not surprised to see Bloom’s latest work staring at me from the library stacks. (Although I was excited.) The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible is the author’s celebration of “the sublime summit of literature in English.” Bloom also includes Shakespeare in this “sublime summit” for both the works of the Bard’s major phase and the KJB emerged during the same time period, 1604-1611.
Bloom reads passages from the KJB alongside those of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, as well as the Tyndale and Geneva Bibles, to illustrate how the KJB translators improved or diminished the text.
During the journey, we discover how Songs of Solomon inspired poetry and Shakespeare, how God’s voice changed from mocking to “threatening rhapsody” in Job; and we meet the strangest, but perhaps the most literary, Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
Tyndale is the master translator in this picture, and his Bible and other works influenced the KJB translation:
The inexplicable wonder is that a rather undistinguished group of writers… brought forth a magnificence almost to rival Shakespeare’s. Without Tyndale as fountainhead, it could not have been done, but Tyndale’s powerfully rugged prose is very unlike the orchestration of the sentences of the KJB.”
Yes, orchestration. There is beauty here. Millions of people read the King James Bible for its religious dogma and spiritual inspiration, but Bloom says we should look at it a different way as well: as a masterpiece of English literature.