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The 1762 Parris Edition Part II

April 4, 2017

     F. S. Parris was probably the last editor to have extensive access to the translators' private copies of the original King James Manuscript.  He was the master of Sydney Sussex College at Cambridge.  He was paid 40 pounds for his work in editing the King James Bible.  Not long after his edition came out there was a fire that destroyed almost every bible  in the warehouse.  As a result the 1762 Parris edition is one of the more rare editions of the King James Bible.  Through the auspices of the American Bible Society in New York I was privileged to examine two different editions of that bible.  

     In his 2005 book, A Textual History of the King James Bible, David Norton singles out Dr. Parris as having retranslated in his edition.  I will have more to say on David Norton's work later but suffice it to say that he jumped to that conclusion without sufficiently weighing all evidence.  What Norton did do was to compile places where the 1762 Parris Edition read differently than any previous edition and then he jumped to the conclusion that Parris retranslated.  

     There is of course another reasonable explanation of why a new reading would pop up 150 years after the original printing of the King James Bible.  Dr. Parris sat in the same hallowed halls where both Bois and Ward had worked on the 1638 Cambridge Bible.  There is no doubt that they had their notes and probably complete handwritten manuscripts of the original text. Cambridge is 65 miles away from London and so their notes were not lost in the Great London Fire like the printer's manuscript was.  

     Dr. Parris was to perform a work on the King James Bible with a thoroughness that had hitherto fore evaded all previous editors.  Not only did Parris meticulously update every punctuation and every spelling in the text, he meticulously collated the text as it had survived in the mid 1700's with the notes and manuscripts still extant at Cambridge.  Doubtless he caught many errors that had become universal in printing the King James Bible.  

     In an earlier post I had compared the lack of hue and cry against Dr. Parris's changes to Sherlock Holmes's famous dog that did not bark.  By 1762 when Dr. Parris's edition was released the King James Bible was as embedded into the English psyche as Buckingham Palace, the Union Jack or figgy pudding.   The audacity to arbitrarily retranslate without authorization or warrant would have provoked anger and inquiry.  Nothing like that happened.  In fact in the next century committees were formed to insure  the accuracy of printing and decried all changes to the text.  Those same committees saw Parris's text as the standard.  Davis Norton writes about those committees and yet it doesn't occur to him that they never objected to Parris's work.  Parris did not retranslate.

     A good example of a Parris change is Isaiah 44:20, He feedeth on ashes.  Previously every King James Bible ever printed said, He feedeth of ashes.  The phrase feedeth of  is certainly archaic.  In fact it reads exactly like the Geneva Bible of 1560.  An error of just one letter that rendered the reading to be exactly what almost every reader in England had grown up reading would probably never be noticed unless a particularly dedicated editor sat with an authoritative template.  The most difficult typos to find and correct are those which leave the passage readable and coherent.  Why should we suppose that any editor would seek to eliminate archaic phrases when one of the great charms of the King James Bible is its unique and antiquated phraseology?

     The 1762 Parris edition had a very short lived existence.  It left very few copies for posterity.  Yet, its bold approach at modernizing everything but the vocabulary itself was to pave the way for truly readable King James Bibles that could transform the English speaking people.  It also bears the marks of a man who had access to the exact intent of the translators through their written records.  Those records are lost to us today, perhaps lost in the same fire which engulfed the warehouse full of Parris's work.  From time to time snippets of their notes are found in obscure places in England but they are unnecessary to us.  We have the word of God in a King James Bible and Dr. Parris's work is the 3rd purification of that work.              

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