Though I am sometimes reluctant to admit it, there really is something 'timeless' in the Tyndale/King James synthesis. For generations, it provided a common stock of references and allusions, rivalled only by Shakespeare in this respect. It resounded in the minds and memories of literate people, as well as of those who acquired it only by listening. From the stricken beach of Dunkirk in 1940, faced with a devil’s choice between annihilation and surrender, a British officer sent a cable back home. It contained the three words 'but if not…' All of those who received it were at once aware of what it signified. In the Book of Daniel, the Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar tells the three Jewish heretics Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that, if they refuse to bow to his sacred idol, they will be flung into a 'burning fiery furnace.' They made him an answer: 'If it be so, our god whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and he will deliver us out of thy hand, o King. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.' A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it 'relevant' is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare. 'Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,' says the Book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter?
Christopher Hitchens