• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Bibles for Schools “Presented by the Secretary of State for Education”

Political Scrapbook reports:

Bibles commissioned by Michael Gove and distributed to every state school in the country have a direct reference to him on the spine, Political Scrapbook can exclusively reveal. In an act of breathtaking hubris, the tomes bear the prominent wording “Presented by the Secretary of State for Education”.

The Bibles are copies of the King James Bible, printed by the Oxford University Press and distributed to commemorate 400 years since the first edition of 1611. The books come with a letter from Gove; according to an extract quoted in the Guardian:

“I believe it is important that all pupils – of all faiths or none – should appreciate this icon and its impact on our language and democracy,” it says. He adds that the gift has been funded through the generosity of private sponsors “who share my view that this book has a unique place in our nation’s history and culture”.

It’s not clear from this whether Gove has used the letter merely to puff his own “view”, or whether he cites scholarly assessments, which would be more to the point. The Department of Education website has a list of relevant “Quotes by secular commentators” (scroll down; “Quotes from religious leaders” gets top billing), appropriately beginning with David Crystal, author of Begat: the King James Bible and the English Language. The site also announces that

Our intention is to create a lasting legacy of the anniversary and to stimulate discussion and learning across the curriculum.

We hope teachers and pupils will be inspired to explore how this book has influenced our nation’s history, language and culture over the past four centuries.

However, the project has come under criticism as being superfluous to the needs of schools, and it seems to me that there is something overly ideological about a religious text being distributed to schools with a stamp of official political approval. As one teacher at a church school writes on the TES Forum (also quoted by the Guardian):

 I feel the inscription on the side is more to do with this project than the actual ‘gift’.

I find myself less impressed, though, by complaints that the KJV is too difficult for pupils to engage with (inevitably, “inner-city” children are cited here). Of course parts of the book are difficult and obscure (indeed, Ronald Knox enjoyed pointing out that the KJV translation of Amos 4:2-3 is gibberish), but it’s not the case that the KJV is generally inaccessible or unteachable. Much of the text is actually an easier read than Shakespeare.

Also, Political Scrapbook‘s mockery is somewhat overegged; there is no indication that Gove’s name is printed in the book, and Gove appears to have dropped a plan, reported last year, to add “a two-line introduction” or foreword (shades of “with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor”).

The Guardian notes some of the project’s donors:

They include Lord Stanley Fink, the former co-treasurer of the Conservative party who was once chief executive of the listed hedge fund Man Group… Lord Robert Edmiston, a motor trade entrepreneur … Ramez Sousou of the private equity firm TowerBrook… Michael Farmer, the Conservative party co-treasurer and City financier… Lord Harris,… the chairman of Carpetright.

The Liberal Democrat donor Paul Marshall… and his wife have also donated funds for the scheme, as has Sir Peter Lampl, the founder of a private equity firm.

I previously wrote about Farmer here.

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