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One the of the most significant influences on Shakespeare’s works is the Holy Bible. There are references to biblical characters and even specific Bible verses found throughout Shakespeare’s works. Of course the original Bible was not written in English, but famous translators of the Bible including John Wycliffe who created the first modern English translation of the Bible produced from the original Biblical languages. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the Protestant Reformation fueled more Bible translations to be created, including Erasmus’s version, who wrote a New Testament in 1519, which was the source book for Protestant reformist Martin Luther when he translated the text into German in the mid-16th century. Subsequent editions of Erasmus’ text also provided source material for William Tyndale whose English translation of the Bible has been called the most influential single translation of the Bible ever made into English, an opinion backed up by the fact that King James’ version of the Bible, published in 1611, is over 90% copied straight from the Tyndale Bible. All together, there were at least 9 English Bible Translations completed in the early modern period, and of those, three were published during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Here today to take us back to the 16th century and explore the history of the Bibles being translated, and their significance, are experts in the history of Bible translations, Jacobus and Cynthia Naudé. 

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Jacobus Naudé and Cynthia Miller-Naudé are both senior professors in Hebrew at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Their areas of expertise include Biblical Hebrew (that is, the Hebrew of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible) as well as translation studies, in general, and Bible translation in particular. They served as translation consultants for the Dinka Cam Bible (in South Sudan), which will be published in 2024. Jacobus was a member of the editorial committees of the 2020 Afrikaans Bible translation project for the Bible Society of South Africa. They have published widely on the history of English Bible translation, ideology and theology in Bible translation, semiotics and the cultural dimensions of Bible translation, and metatexts (or, paratexts) in Bible translation. Jacobus serves on the advisory boards of the Handbook of Translation Studies, Handbook of Terminology and The Bible Translator. Cynthia serves on the advisory board of the Journal of Translation Studies in Africa and formerly served on the Committee on Translation Policy for the United Bible Societies and as an advisory member of the Committee on Translation and Scholarship for the American Bible Society.

Places to connect with Jacobus and Cynthia Naudé:

Jacobus Naude, Research Gate

Cynthia Naudé Research Gate

I’ll be asking Jacobus and Cynthia Naudé about:

  • I was able to find at least 9 translations of the Bible produced between 1500-1800, and it seems to have been dangerous work to produce them. William Tyndale, for example, was executed while translating his version of the Bible. With English versions of the Bible already existing before Tyndale (Wycliffe’s Bible was completed in the 14th century), why was it so important to people like Tyndale to go these great lengths to see the project completed? And Why were so many people after him willing to continue the work. I mean, on a practical level, wasn’t one English translation sufficient? Why wasn’t everyone just reading Wycliffe’s work and calling it a day?
  • Which of the translations of the Bible considered “early modern Bibles” were actually printed for the first time during Shakespeare’s lifetime?
  • We know that the King James Version was published in 1611, but it is also almost a complete copy of the Tyndale Bible. Why did James go to the trouble of producing the King James Version if he was just going to reproduce Tyndale? What are the major differences between these two that made the King James version necessary? 
  • …and more!

Books and Resources Jacobus and Cynthia Naudé recommend:

Further reading (all available on Research Gate under Jacobus Naudé):

Additional works on early English Bible translations:

Visual extras inside this episode:

  • 1560 Geneva Bible
  • Original Wycliffe Bible
  • 19th century painting of John Wycliffe
  • 16th century portrait of William Tyndale
  • 16th century Gospel of John
  • 1611 King James Bible
  • Portrait of Tyndale from Foxe’s. Book of Martyrs
  • 16th century woodcut of Tyndale’s execution
  • 16th century Great Bible
  • 16th century Bishop’s Bible
  • 1609 Douay-Rheims Bible
  • Comparison of Shakespeare’s text to Scripture
  • An 18th century reprint of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer
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