Bible Sunday Songs of Praise


Bible Sunday

Aled Jones introduces hymns inspired by The Bible, and discovers how the 400-year-old King James version continues to inspire our culture, language and music.


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Transcript


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It's an epic tale of the struggle between good and evil.

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Telling stories of love and hatred,

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sex and violence...

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..self-sacrifice and betrayal.

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It's not just a good book -

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it's THE good book.

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Today is Bible Sunday, when many Christians celebrate

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the biggest-selling book in the world -

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The Holy Bible.

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Tonight, congregations from all over the country

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sing songs of praise inspired by some of the Bible's most beautiful poetry.

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And a performance from Grammy Award winners The King's Singers.

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Made of up 66 books written by many different authors

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between 2 and 3,000 years ago, the Bible as we know it today

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has been translated into more than 2,000 different languages.

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This year, we're celebrating the 400th anniversary

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of the most famous of all English translations -

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the beautiful words of the King James, or Authorized, version,

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were translated from the original Hebrew and Greek

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by a group of scholars based in Westminster, Cambridge,

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and here in Oxford.

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Colleges including St John's and New College provided

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their finest Old and New Testament scholars for this mammoth task.

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Interpreting the word of God in poetry and music is, of course,

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what hymns and psalms are all about.

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So let's begin with words based on Psalm 150, O Praise Ye The Lord!

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As a novelist and scriptwriter for film and television,

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Frank Cottrell Boyce knows what makes a convincing story.

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I think first and foremost,

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what's great about the King James

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is that wherever you open it, it feels like someone is talking to you.

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It may be someone from the past,

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and you might have to listen a bit harder than you would listen to me,

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but it's a person speaking to you.

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For any written thing to walk off the page into the real world -

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that's the thing you're aiming for,

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and I think the King James does that time and time again.

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For me, if there was nothing else left

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apart from the fact of Jesus' life and the story of the Prodigal Son,

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that would be enough, to me.

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I think the Prodigal Son is an astonishing thing.

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As a writer, it's miraculous. It's one paragraph long,

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but it's more emotionally complex than any Shakespeare play

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or any novel that you read.

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Everybody feels this sort of amazing rush at the end

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when the father runs to meet his lost son.

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Everybody recognises all the emotions in it - sibling rivalry,

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and love of a parent.

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It's this amazing moment in human thought,

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that you will call God "Father".

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He won't be some avenging thing that you've got to placate,

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it will be someone who's waiting for you, who's desperate to see you,

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who loves you more than you can possibly imagine.

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Time and again, the Bible speaks of the good shepherd

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searching for his lost sheep to welcome them home.

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Psalm 23 has been made into one of our most beloved hymns.

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Its familiar lines are a paraphrase of the words

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and imagery used in the King James Version.

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Right at the heart of Christianity is the Easter story.

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It's the ultimate example of devoted self-sacrifice.

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But who would have thought that a book with such a message of love

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at its heart could have caused so much strife?

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There's a connection in my mind between the historical context

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of the King James Bible and the Easter story itself.

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St James's Piccadilly is an oasis of calm amidst the noise

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and conflict of central London.

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Theologian Lucy Winkett is the rector of this busy parish.

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The King James Bible straddled two centuries of horrendous

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religious conflict in this country where Catholics and Protestants

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were attacking one another and burning one another.

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The King James Bible is right at the heart of that maelstrom

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of religious conflict.

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And the Easter story itself is a four-day story

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of dreadful political manoeuvring

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and abusive actions by religious leaders

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to bring this innocent person to the point of crucifixion.

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There is a kind of a link between those two stories,

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centuries apart as they are.

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As a courtier of King James I, the composer of our next hymn tune,

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Orlando Gibbons, experienced the political unrest

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that gave birth to the King's version of the Bible.

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In later centuries, wordsmith Charles Wesley

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and his brother John also lived through turbulent times.

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Wesley's words remind us that, as Christians,

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we're required to reflect our faith in all aspects of everyday life.

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As well as presenting the BBC Proms,

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journalist and classical music enthusiast Katie Derham

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is also a member of the King James Bible Trust.

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By happy genius, the 47 scholars who sat down to translate

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the Bible into English happened upon forms of words

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that lent themselves to not just reading out loud, but to being sung.

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Composers have always wanted to set wonderful words to music,

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they are always looking for sources of inspiration -

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poetry, plays, dramas.

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Wonderful composers, music we're very familiar with

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if you enjoy going to church or listening to choral music,

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and they're all using these words from the King James Version.

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Let's take Handel, for example.

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Some of his most wonderful, famous anthems - Zadok The Priest,

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sung at every coronation - words from the King James Version.

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Messiah - we all know the Messiah.

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That's entirely from the King James Version.

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# And the glory The glory of the Lord

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# And the glory The glory of the Lord

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# Shall be revealed

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# Shall be revealed

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# Shall be revealed

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# And the glory The glory of the Lord

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# And the glory The glory of the Lord

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# Shall be revealed

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# Shall be revealed

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# And the glory The glory of the Lord

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# Shall be revealed

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# And all flesh shall see it together

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# And all flesh shall see it together

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# For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it

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# And all flesh shall see it together

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# For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it

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# And all flesh shall see it together

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# And all flesh shall see it together

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# For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it

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# And the glory The glory of the Lord

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# And all flesh shall see it together

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# The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it

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# And the glory The glory of the Lord

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# Shall be revealed

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# And all flesh

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# And all flesh

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# And all flesh

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# Shall see it together

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# For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it

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# The glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed

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# And all flesh

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# And all flesh

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# And all flesh

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# Shall see it together

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# The glory, the glory The glory of the Lord

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# And the glory The glory of the Lord

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# Shall be revealed

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# Shall be revealed

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# And all flesh shall see it

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# Together, together

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# For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it

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# For the mouth of the Lord

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# The mouth of the Lord

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# Hath spoken it. #

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Ready? And...

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THEY SING

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The King James Bible Trust held a competition

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to encourage young composers.

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Chris Totney won the Royal School of Church Music category

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for a simple four-part anthem

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with words taken from the King James Version.

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I think it's very important to bring music into the Christian faith.

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The sort of choirs that would sing my piece

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are parish church choirs, possibly even school choirs,

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and amateur choirs who would like

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to include a sacred piece of music in their concert, maybe.

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I love the fact that something so ancient as the King James Bible

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can speak to people today.

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The words "the mystery of Christ" really made a statement,

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and encouraged one, I thought,

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to ponder what that sort of thing might mean.

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I think the opportunity to write this composition

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has probably deepened my own faith.

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That's probably because faith, for me, is based on experience,

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and I'm very lucky in an environment like Dauntsey's School

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to be able to work in so many different walks of the school community,

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whether it's a classroom situation, musical activities outside

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of teaching time, just making a difference to an individual

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or whether it's enjoying a concert performance.

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# I have long time holden my peace

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# Now will I cry... #

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The texts I chose for this piece, there are actually three of them.

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One from Isaiah, one from Revelation and one from the Book of Colossians.

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I just love the way that they go together as one seamless story.

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It's as if there's this person who has been waiting

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very patiently to find the right moment to speak,

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and when they finally do speak out, then Jesus leads them

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to the water's edge and leads them over

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across the water of life and into a new world

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where they can go out and serve and be helpful to others.

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That refrain, "let there be light",

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is just one of the many phrases

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made famous by the King James Version of the Bible.

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I'm surprised every time by how fresh the language is,

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how rich and lyrical and beautiful it is,

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but also how very "un-churchy" it is in many ways,

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and how many phrases that we use in everyday language

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have come from this document

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that was translated by committee - imagine that! - by 47 scholars

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400 years ago.

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Phrases that we use every day - "casting pearls before swine",

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"the apple of his eye", "Jezebel",

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"as old as the hills", "an eye for an eye".

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And I think it fertilised English culture,

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and I think a lot of the things we love,

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whether it's a cup final or a coronation

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or whatever it is, there's bits of the King James DNA in there.

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It's got a kind of rhythm of speech

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that sounds like someone talking,

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and then suddenly a ringing phrase will come out of it -

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"abide with me, because the evening is coming"

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and just the way it will suddenly give that little twist

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where the phrase will just lodge itself in your head

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out of something very ordinary.

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# Abide, O Lord

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# Abide with me. #

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After the invention of the printing press,

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scribes no longer had to copy out the Bible by hand,

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and the scriptures could be mass-produced across the globe.

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A new project commissioned from the Queen's scribe,

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the Saint John's Bible, will be the first illuminated manuscript Bible

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to have been made since the Middle Ages.

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I am now the ultimate cliche.

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The bald-headed old guy who sits at his desk and is writing a Bible.

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Calligrapher Donald Jackson and his team have now completed

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their millennium project for the Benedictine monks

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of Saint John's University in Minnesota.

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Ever since I was a small boy, when I was encouraged to do calligraphy

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and decorated letters at school,

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one of the ideas at the back of my mind was I would love

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to write and illuminate the whole Bible.

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It's a calligrapher's dream. It's a calligrapher's Sistine Chapel.

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How do you make something look sacred, as in a sacred text?

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That is my job, to interpret that

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in a way which you can read clearly in a modern day.

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What calligraphy has, which type does not have,

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is it has connection. It has a sense of touch.

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You are maybe not aware of it intellectually,

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but on one level you are drawn to the fact that somebody's breath

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went into every mark,

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somebody's hand made every shape.

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Some of the stories and some of the texts

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seem so insane to a modern person.

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They have so little relevance on the surface.

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But once you delve into it, the one thing

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I would say about the whole experience

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is how utterly pin-sharp relevant are those Bible stories,

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those texts, for the present day.

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So often you look and read a page out of the Bible

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and it's just like looking at the nine o'clock news.

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There's war, there's threats,

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they're full of love, they're full of hate.

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For instance, the parables about forgiveness.

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I always felt that that Prodigal Son needed a good smacking -

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in other words, it made me angry.

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While I was doing that, it was a very short time after 9/11,

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and I found myself saying, "What is impossible to forgive?

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"What would I find it almost impossible to forgive?"

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And I found myself putting in an image, a reference,

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of the Twin Towers in gold in the background

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of the illumination for the Prodigal Son.

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How do you forgive the unforgivable?

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And it came to me as I did it,

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the words "you are going to have to love your way out of this one.

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"You can't hate your way out of it."

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# This is the truth sent from above

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# The truth of God, the God of love

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# Therefore don't turn me from your door

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# But hearken all, both rich and poor

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# The first thing which I do relate

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# Is that God did man create

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# The next thing which to you I'll tell

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# Woman was made with man to dwell

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# Thus we were heirs to endless woes

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# Till God the Lord did interpose

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# And so a promise soon did run

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# That he would redeem us by his son

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# And at that season of the year

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# Our blest redeemer did appear

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# He here did live and here did preach

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# And many thousand he did teach

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# Thus he in love to us behaved

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# To show us how we must be saved

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# And if you want to know the way

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# Be pleased to hear what he did say. #

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Blessed Lord,

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who hast caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning,

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grant that we may in such wise hear, read, mark,

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learn, and inwardly digest them,

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that by patience and comfort of thy holy word,

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we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope

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of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our saviour Jesus Christ.

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Amen.

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The Bible is so much more than just a dusty old book -

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the way God's word has been revealed throughout the ages,

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by the Old Testament prophets, by Jesus himself,

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and by those who followed him,

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still has a massive influence on millions of people

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all over the world.

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Next week on Songs Of Praise,

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my special guest is the tenor Alfie Boe.

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In a classic rags-to-riches story,

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Alfie was talent-spotted whilst working in a car factory.

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Now he's a West End star.

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He talks to me about the importance of his faith,

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and he performs some of his favourite hymns and songs.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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