Tuesday, September 19, 2017

William Shakespeare's Involvement in the King James Version of Psalm 46: New Evidence?

As I continue to prepare for the role of Friar Laurence in our school's production of Romeo and Juliet, I recalled that there was a theory that maybe the Bard was involved in the shaping of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. If you know me, you know that I feel the need to explore and then present a potential solution on virtually any ancient puzzle I find. So, I clearly now want to weigh in on this one!


Just the Facts, Ma'am!

Here's what it boils down to. William Shakespeare was a writer of note when King James commissioned an English translation of the Bible for the Church of England. He could plausibly have been involved in its production.

It all swirls around the following facts, which, while possibly coincidental, are certainly intriguing.

William Shakespeare was 46 years old when the KJV was completed in 1611.

In the KJV of Psalm 46, the 46th word from the start is "shake." The 46th word from the end (omitting the Hebrew liturgical word "selah") is "spear."

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains SHAKE (46) with the swelling thereof.
...
9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the SPEAR (46) in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. [Selah]

Let's be honest, that's awfully intriguing! Some have suggested that maybe it's not really that big a coincidence, since in the even earlier Geneva Bible (1560) those same words appear in similar positions.

In the Geneva Bible, "shake" is at position 47. "Speare" is at position 44.

Fine, similar, but not at position 46, twice as it is in the King James Version!

Scholars are left to merely ponder the curiosity of the coincidence and decide whether it is so unlikely as to provide proof the playwright somehow crafted that text to leave a clue of his involvement, or whether it is just a quirk meaning nothing at all.


What About "William"?

I suggest that if he really did encode his last name in this psalm as a way to show his involvement, why not also encode his first name? The pieces of his first name are certainly in the translation. The word "will" occurs three times (verses 2 and 10 [bis]). And the words "I am" appear in verse 10. 

I will demonstrate that the position of these words could provide yet further evidence that William Shakespeare left evidence in this text about his participation in the project of the KJV.


Option One: Counting Once Again from the Front and Back

If you count from the beginning of Psalm 46, the word "WILL" is first encountered at position 14.

If you count from the end, and this time include the liturgical word "selah," the "I" of "I AM" occurs at position 32.

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore WILL (14) not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
...
10 Be still, and know that I AM (31, 32) God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

14+32=46!
WILL+I AM=WILLIAM!

Now, keep in mind, the whole "shake" and "spear" thing described above relied on not counting the word "selah."  

So, would the Bard have really encoded his last name with one set of rules and then additionally encoded his first name with another?

The answer could bewhy not? 

He may have produced the final wording of this psalm and knew that it still had to go past a committee of scholars who would object to anything indelicate and unclear in the wording. In other words, he had to be careful and perhaps settled on one fairly clear clue and managed to slip in another that was only suggestive.


Option Two: Count from the Words "Shake" and "Spear"

If you start from the word "shake" in verse 3 and count toward the beginning, you arrive at "WILL" in verse 2 as the 32nd word.

If you start at the word "spear" in verse 9 and count toward the end, you arrive at the "AM" of "I AM" in verse 10 as the 16th word.

32/2=16

Interesting, but I personally find Option One more intriguing.


Conclusions

I find the positioning of WILL and I AM in this psalm to be yet another intriguing proof that the Bard did indeed take part in crafting the text of Psalm 46 and left evidence of that fact. Having spent now just a few days trying to memorize my lines for the upcoming play, I am continually amazed by the genius of William Shakespeare. And if he really did take part in that translation project and really did want to leave clues as to his involvement in the text, there may be much more out there yet waiting to be discovered.

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