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March 20, 2003
Literacy and trouble

Well, it's just before midnight as I write, and I'm nowhere near done with my travel preparations, so here I am, still wide awake.

And I'm watching a fascinating last-minute change to the TV schedule in the form of a documentary about William Tyndale, the first man to translate the Bible into English. Dynamite. No time for a prolonged discussion of this, but one little phrase caught my attention, even as I sat typing something else, about the war that people say is about to happen.

People learned to read, just so that they could read Tyndale's Bible.

The "powers that be" (William Tyndale's phrase as well as ours) knew at once what a dangerous man Tyndale was and what a dangerous book his Bible was. Because of it, people were learning to read. And people who know how to read are an order of magnitude more powerful and therefore more dangerous and troublesome to those powers that be than are illiterates.

Indeed, you can plot the course of modern history by studying literacy rates in different countries. As soon as large numbers of people get literate, trouble. This never fails. Never. German Reformation. English Civil War. French Revolution. Russian Revolution. Islamofascism. And there's more to come after that.

I don't have time to elaborate, but I'll try to do so when I get back from my trip to Poland.

Well, that was Thursday. I wonder if I will be able to manage Friday as well.

UPDATE 12.30 am. Apparently the 1611 Bible, the so-called King James Bible, is largely the work of Tyndale. about "80 per cent", so they said. I didn't know that. I thought the Authorised Version was the work of a committee of Shakespeare's contemporaries.

TV. You learn something new every day.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:07 AM
Category: Literacy

Tyndale was killed in 1536 for Lutheranism (England had seperated from Rome but Henry VIII considered Lutherans a danger to his supremacy of the English Church). Before he died in 1547 Henry had taken most of Tyndale's work and had it printed as the Great Bible. In turn this was adapted to the Authorised Version presented to James I.

Comment by: Harry Payne on March 21, 2003 10:57 AM
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