Hanukkah and the King James Bible


Around this time of year while Christians celebrate the Christmas season, our Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah– one of their holiest times of the year, forming a major part of their Sacred Tradition. Of great importance, the story of Hanukkah forms a major part of Christian tradition as well, as told in the First and Second Book of Maccabees- except for Christianity’s minority: Protestantism.

Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Second Temple after the Maccabean Revolt. The short version: ancient Israel finds itself under foreign rule yet again, although the ruling Greek Seleucid Empire tries and assimilates the Jewish nation by desecrating the Temple in Jerusalem (and closing other places of worship), outlawing Judaism and by force try to get the population to adopt a new religion (sounds similar to the English Reformation doesn’t it). The Maccabean Revolt is successful and the Temple is cleansed and rededicated: allowing for the survival of the Jewish nation who did not have to wait long afterwards for the coming of the Messiah.

The events in the Books of Maccabees set into motion many events of great importance to the New Testament: for some examples it changed the landscape of Judaism leading the formation of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and it changed the political landscape which lead to the Roman Empire conquering the Holy Land and the rise of Herod the Great. The story of Hanukkah plays a vital role in Salvation History.

And yet Protestants threw out the the deuterocanonical Old Testament books- well they replaced the Alexandrian Canon once used by the majority of Jews, which Christians had always used, with the Palestinian Canon Rabbinical Judaism put together after the destruction of Jewish Temple in 70AD- after the foundation of Christianity. The ‘Reformers’ did this partially because one of the Books of Maccabees had a prayer for the dead, something which always existed in Catholicism as it existed in Judaism. So The ‘Reformers’ switched to what “The Jews use” to oppose what the Jews do themselves.

Strangely the 7 Books deemed non-canonical were kept in many Protestant Bibles up until the 19th century, and they were even permitted to be read in the services of the Church of England in times past. Yet as the logical conclusion of “Bible Alone”- these books were eventually dropped from being included in Protestant Bibles: well that and saving money on printing costs, and in the King James version case to help sell more copies to other Protestant groups in the English speaking world.

My point is as with every book of the Bible: before it was Sacred Scripture, it was Sacred Tradition. The story of Hanukkah was enshrined in Christianity via the two books of Maccabees- so much so that even Protestants who denied their canonical status took centuries to get them out of their Bibles. Why would such a monumental time for Israel have no monument? Why would it be the one time Israel was under foreign rule, that almost wiped out Judaism, and the Temple itself was so violated, that that would not be worthy of being recorded in Salvation History?

As my Ordinary Mons Harry Entwistle says, the Personal Ordinariates are the only places for true and authentic Anglo-Catholicism in its fullness. Strangely there are Anglo-Catholics who belong to church bodies who use the King James Bible which leaves out the deuterocanonical books- to them I say, leave the last aspects of Protestantism behind and come home to the Ordinariates.

8 thoughts on “Hanukkah and the King James Bible

  1. My dream is that one day the Catholic Church will approve a King James Bible Catholic edition that will include these books (in beautiful poetic English) and have ample footnotes that will explain where the KJV translation is offside. But the poetic language of the KJV, like that of the Book of Common Prayer, is foundational to the culture of the English-speaking world. And for such things as Lessons and Carols, no translation can replace the KJV’s. I would also like to see a Catholic Book of Common Prayer, with exactly that title.

    Thanks for this post, Simon!


    • Sitting on my scripture bookshelf next to my copy of the so-called “Authorized Version” (officially so-called because King James authorized it), there’s a small volume titled “The Apocrypha of the King James Bible” (or something similar) that I found in a Christian bookstore a few decades ago. I believe that this volume is still in print. I always examine several translations when studying scripture, and the “Authorized Version” is one of them.

      That said, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) is the official the successor to the “Authorized Version” — and it is available in a “Catholic Edition” (CE) that includes the whole canon of scripture.

      As to a Catholic edition of the Book of Common Prayer, the original Book of Divine Worship promulgated for the parishes erected under the so-called “Pastoral Provision” actually was precisely this. Coopting the title of the Anglican book would cause confusion, so the Vatican undoubtedly will continue to insist on a distinct title until the reconciliation of the entire Anglican communion — which obviously grows progressively more distant as various provinces of the Anglican Communion continue to institute supposed “reforms” that they perceive as “progressive” but that take them further and further from orthodox Christianity.

      I also would like to see all of the Divine Worship rites collected into a single volume with an affordable price point, organized in the same manner as the Book of Common Prayer. However, that requires promulgation of the Divine Worship version of the divine office and perhaps a few additional rites that do not yet exist in the current Divine Worship family.


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  2. If you go into some old Anglican Churches and rummage around you will find the old Bible that once stood on the lectern. Sometimes it is in two volumes and sat on a rotating double lectern that looked like a hen house. Invariably one volume would be the Old Testament and the other the New Testament, And it is the Authorized Version, commonly called the King James Version. Between the Old Testament and the New is bound in a set of books called the Apocrypha, and in there you will find the First and Second Book of Maccabees. In the Book of Common Prayer, which you may also find in an old church there is a lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer, and there you will find some appointed lessons from these books and from other books of the Apocrypha, including I and II Maccabees. In Article VI of the Articles of Religion, these books are listed with the note that they are read for example of life and instruction of manners, but they may not be appealed to in order to establish any doctrine. Here Anglicanism was standing firmly on the side of the reformers who would only allow an appeal to the canonical books of the Old and New Testament.

    The Hebrew Bible, what is called the Mazoretic text, was established by rabbinic scholars as late as the 10th century in an effort to eliminate corruptions which crept in during the Babylonian captivity. In the Hellenistic period Greek speaking Jews and Christians used a collection of books called the Septuagint, or “Seventy Scrolls” Some of the books included were Greek translations from Hebrew originals, and others may have been translated from Aramaic or some other semitic language. Others may have been written in Greek. This was the Bible of the early Christians, and the books of the New Testament were added to it. The history of the establishment of the canon of Holy Scripture goes back to the fourth century. Jerome considered some of the books to be apocryphal. Councils and Synods over time accepted the books as “deuterocanonical” meaning a second canon. The result is that Orthodox Church accepts all the books of the Septuagint, The Catholic Church accepts most of them, and the Protestants will not accept any of the books that are not in the Hebrew Bible. Interestingly, the Anglicans, while not accepting the deuterocanonical books to establish doctrine, do use them for worship and for lectionary readings. The Apocrypha, if included in Protestant Bibles, has more books than the Catholic Church recognizes as canonical and fewer than the Orthodox Church.

    Catholic Bibles have the deuterocanonical books included and interspersed within the Old Testament. An interesting point is the Book of Daniel. The Greek version of Daniel includes some material that is not in the Hebrew version, and Catholic Bibles have always printed this material together. This includes, by the way, the canticles Benedictus es and Benedicite which we use at Morning Prayer. There are two books of Ezra included in the Protestant Bible, but the Apocrypha has the third and fourth book of Esdras. They are not in the Catholic Bible, but are in the Apocrypha as I and II Esdras. Readings from these books are included in the Prayerbook lectionary.

    The Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition of the Bible is a wonderful book. Most Anglicans have switched to the RSV for reading in Church, but there are certain passages from the King James Version that are so familiar that some of us feel jolted when we hear a version that doesn’t sound quite right. Fortunately we are allowed to use texts from the King James Bible in the Ordinariate. While the Psalms are taken from the Coverdale Psalter, as they were in the Prayerbook, the Canticles come from the King James Bible. The Last Gospel is also from King James. The Decalogue is based on the King James version. Any of the minor propers not from the Psalms is based on King James. So we already have a lot of the King James Bible incorporated in our liturgy.

    Do we need to have a King James Bible-Catholic Edition? I think it would be nice, but I don’t think I will ever live to see it. The King James Version is a masterpiece of English literature, and while it is archaic, it has not become unintelligible to modern hearers. For those who were brought up hearing it’s sonorous cadences and sometimes quaint phraseology, it has become part of our spiritual lives. Some of us may have memorized passages from the Bible. I think the Ordinariate could start working toward having a King James- Catholic Edition. Here is a suggestion: In the Catholic Church we have a Gospel Book that is used to read or sing the Gospel at Mass. Why not edit a Gospel Book based on the King James version and ask Rome to review it for doctrinal error? If they find anything we could substitute the wording of the Douay version for the offending passages. After we do that, we could do the same with the Epistles. Then we could edit a version of the Old Testament with the deuterocanonical books included, all King James version. Send it to the Vatican bit-by-bit so we don’t overwhelm them with work. My bet is there is very little in the King James version of the Bible that so favors a Protestant doctrine that it would have to be replaced with something from the Douay.

    C. David Burt


    • Thank you for the reply to my article, you raised many good points being covered in my book I am currently writing. There are just two points which I would bring up:

      The 70 referred to in the Septuagint is the 70 Jewish scripture scholars who translated it into Greek from the original Hebrew: the tradition is that they were all sent to do their own translations and when they were all finished and came back together found that all their translations were identical which was seen as a sign from God. The New Testament used the Septuagint overwhelmingly in its references, dovetailing perfectly with that translation as it was specifically written for communities who used it. St Jerome centuries later used the Hebrew Old Testament for his translation which was only adopted by Western Christianity because it was approved by Papal Authourity- so if Protestants really wanted to be faithful to the Earliest Church, they would use the Septuagint.

      Secondly, and I state this for readers who are unaware, regarding the Hebrew Bible: while the Septuagint OT used the Alexandrian Canon, for more than a century after the founding the Church, the Rabbis who took over leadership of Judaism from the Priests after the destruction of the Jewish Temple, were still putting together what texts they considered as canon- this became the Tanakh. In the 10th Century the Masoretic texts were created by changing the alphabet used for the Tanakh from ancient Hebrew characters to use Persian characters: which included adding vows into Hebrew. Before this Hebrew, then a dead language used only for religious texts, did not have written vows instead relying on the Rabbis to know what vows to use. Modern Hebrew, the official language of the state of Israel, is a fair modern reconstruction using other languages like English, French and German to fill in the gaps.

      There is a logical disconnect between Protestants rejecting Christian sacred/oral tradition, but accepting Jewish sacred/oral tradition as the texts that built Protestantism were the Masoretic texts (that rely on accepted Jewish tradition), not the original Hebrew (which is still not what the Early Christians used).

      I have often thought, as there are multiple approved Catholic Bible translations that there should be one with the Septuagint: I can’t say I ever thought of a King James Catholic version before, and you have set out a good road map for this- although could it really be considered the “King James” version: it was not only a translation, but a statement of a new Protestant faith against the “Old Religion” of Catholicism. What I am saying is it might have to be called something else as it is the poetic language which is what is cherished in the Patrimony, not the (Protestant) translation itself which has been revised multiple times since.


      • Dear Simon,

        Thank you for your reply and correction. I am very interested to hear that the translation of the Septuagint was viewed as a sign from God in Jewish tradition. The Greek Orthodox Monks consider the Psalms from the Septuagint to be be actually inspired by God and an improvement over the original Hebrew text. The notion that God continues to actively reveal the meaning of His message to mankind through the work of translators who go about their work not only with rigorous scholarship, but with prayerful reflection is a comforting thought. Now at Christmas, as we enter liturgically into the mystery of God’s ultimate revelation of himself in churches throughout the world, we hear again the words of angels, shepherds, and magi, translated for us down through the centuries by men of faith and prayer, now into thousands of different languages, in word and song, speaking of the profoundest mystery of our being. And we too, as we hear the words from “Divine Worship: The Missal”, in our own familiar sacral language, find ourselves drawn more deeply into the awe inspiring meaning of the reality behind the words of St. John as he wrote, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

        Protestant Bibles, starting with Luther, included the Apocrypha in a separate section. It was only in the 19th century that they started omitting the deuterocanonical books. There were four translations or versions of the the Bible in English prior to the King James Version: Tyndale 1525-1536, Coverdale’s Great Bible 1535-1539, The Bishop’s Bible 1538, and the Puritan’s Geneva Bible 1579. The first Catholic Bible in English was the Douay-Rhems 1582-1610. The King James Bible was completed in 1611 and was translated by 47 scholars from Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. Obviously it was a more scholarly translation than had ever been done before, but although the new translation had been urged by the Puritans, at the insistence of the King, it reflected the ecclesiology of the Church of England. The Authorized Version has stood the test of time, and many feel that it is an inspired translation.

        While we might not want to call it The King James – Catholic Edition, the concept is clear and it sounds like a worthy project for someone.

        A Blessed Christmas to all,

        David Burt


  3. Further to my comment on the other, later, thread, but more relevant here – the two major different Protestant “families,” the Lutherans and the Reformed, although both of them rejected the “Catholic” OT Canon, had rather different approaches to the subject. The Reformed, virtually from the beginning, rejected the deuterocanonical books utterly, believing that “only those books written in Hebrew were canonical, and only those books in the Jewish Canon had been written in Hebrew” (which was more-or-less the view of St. Jerome, alone among Church Fathers); and so, logically enough, advocated (and practiced) the removal of these books from their versions the Bible. (The rejection of the canonicity and “dogmatic” authority of these books was also a feature of Anglican churches from 1559 onwards, although they were – this was a constant complaint of the so-called “Puritans” – retained in “authoritative versions” of the Bible.) Lutherans retained them as “good to read for edification and manner of life,” but following their view that those books about whose canonicity there ever was doubt in the Early Church cannot be used to establish doctrine – and some Lutherans have applied this to some NT books such as the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation – they refuse them authoritative status. It was only with the rise of (largely Protestant) “Bible societies” in the 19th Century which promoted the widespread dissemination of Bibles and which as a matter of theological principle excluded the deuterocanonical books that these books became unknown to many people otherwise reasonable well-versed in the Scriptures.


    • I will say both as I believe that all of it is in the Books of Maccabees, but there are other Jewish sources that detail it- as Judaism, like Catholicism, is Scripture and Tradition.


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