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This report is taken from PN Review 166, Volume 32 Number 2, November - December 2005.

Common Ground Neil Powell

Switching on the radio just too early for the weather forecast the other morning, I caught an exchange between John Humphrys and a man whose name escaped me (it was before seven) but who was described, ominously, as a 'Thought for the Day' contributor. They were talking about something called The 100-Minute Bible. Humphrys asked, I assumed with ironic intent, whether his guest had actually read the Bible. No, the other cheerfully replied; he did have one of those month-by-month Bibles, but he'd never got beyond January. So hadn't he ever, continued Humphrys, tried to read all the way through the King James text? There was a little gasp, between outrage and amusement, before he responded: Good Lord, no. (I think I've added the Good Lord myself, but the next sentence is verbatim.) 'We've all moved on a bit since King James.'

I kept coming back to this: wondering, in the fruitless way that accompanies shaving and bathing and dressing, what the man actually meant. I still don't know. Did he mean that the stories told and the moral instruction thus provided by the Bible have been somehow superseded (in which case he perhaps wasn't the right man for this particular interview)? Or was he suggesting that the language is out of date and no longer worth bothering with? In that case, he'd presumably have been equally certain that we've 'moved on' from Shakespeare - or, to broaden things out a little, no doubt ...


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