Late night and early morning exchange...
No one in the English speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., James Trefil, Joseph Kett, The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)
Clive Hicks-Jenkins vignette for Glimmerglass
Me: I would say that if you can read Shakespeare, well, then you can read anything else in the English language.
RT (who is teaching at the college level in what used to be called the Bible belt): Students, however, remain convinced that Shakespeare did not write his plays and poems in English. It is, apparently to students, a foreign language that no one speaks in the 21st century. Really.
Me: Part of the problem for current students from the deep South is that many used to grow up with the King James Bible or some early translated version (and some with the 1928 revised or the Cranmer Book of Common Prayer.) Accustomed to those, they could read anything. But we can't count on any Bible literacy any more, and we choose to reduce that gorgeous language full of rhetorical tropes to pablum. And now I hear so many complaints that many young people cannot read language that is beautiful and contains depths and long-established rhetorical figures.
Older translations refreshed the target language (English) by bringing in the Hebrew as much as possible. The KJV enlarged not only the language but also the conceptual apparatus of English speakers, as more or less common words and concepts like table and cup and staff took on the religious aura of the psalm.
If we were talking about poetry, it would be a tragedy to keep texts from surprising us, to tell Lear to be just one thing, to do as little as possible.... Clive James' lament returns: translation and linguistic theories emasculate Scripture, depriving it of much of its linguistic, cultural, and political potency, and perhaps even of its religious power...
--Peter J. Leithart, Deep Exegesis (Baylor University Press, 2009)