American Jews and the KJV

RABBI ISAAC LEESER, a respected clergyman, author, translator, and founder of the Jewish Press of America, objected to headings and marginal comments in English language Bibles, such as “The Prediction for Christ” for Psalm 110, “A Description of Christ” for the Song of Solomon, and “Christ’s birth and Kingdom” for Isaiah 9. His solution was to single-handedly translate into English the entire Hebrew Bible (1853) and the Sephardic and Ashkenazic prayer books (1837 and 1848). Mark A. Noll has written about the checkered history of the King James Version in the American Jewish world: For American Jews, the dominance of the KJV posed a special problem because of the way that Protestant marginal notes and Protestant traditions of interpretation Christianized the Hebrew Scriptures. One of the impulses stimulating Isaac Leeser to his pioneering English translation of 1853 was the Christianizing propensity he found in the KJV: “Whenever it was possible for the translators to introduce Christianity into the Scriptures, they have uniformly done so in order ‘to assail Israel’s hope and faith.’” Noll adds, Throughout the nineteenth century, almost all of America’s publicly funded primary schools provided for readings from the Bible. Invariably these Bible readings were from the King James Version which was the nearly universal Bible of choice for America’s Protestants . . . For Jews, mandated readings from the KJV in the public schools were almost always felt as a civil and religious imposition. Readings from the King James Version in public schools . . . and more general efforts of mainstream Protestants to define the United States as a Christian nation . . . sharpened Jewish understanding of what they themselves desired from the Scriptures.

By Ann T. Snyder

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #100 in 2011]

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