Begat in Battersea

From a first time visitor to St. Mary’s

As a first-time visitor to St Mary’s church, I was not only fortunate enough to hear a beautiful performance by the Battersea choir, but to see a first edition 1611 King James Bible and hear its relevance to modern society outlined in an engaging talk by renowned linguist Professor David Crystal.

Based on work in his recent book Begat, Crystal brought the Biblical language to life. He traced expressions coined by King James’s translators in the printed Bible that were altered from the Wycliffite text. Crystal demonstrated how these phrases begat other phrases: reinterpreted by authors, journalists and politicians over the centuries and used in advertising and films in subtly different contexts. He made us consider how a change of just a couple of words has such a large impact on the overall meaning of a phrase.

One of the most memorable examples was Wycliffe’s ‘am I the keeper of my brother’ altered by King James’s translators to ‘am I my brother’s keeper’ and as Crystal demonstrated, used today in novels, films and advertisements such as My Sister’s Keeper. I am firmly convinced that no one will forget the transformation of ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ in contemporary journalism about heart conditions  – ‘blessed are the pacemakers’ – or the use of ‘Holier than thou’ in the context of a body-piercing studio.

Crystal is a great speaker, humorous and lively, whilst audible even from the back of the balcony. He invited us to ask questions, which led to further interesting discussions and proved that people really had been engaging with his talk.

As a newcomer, I enjoyed the insight into the history of St Mary’s gained from the exhibition and the wonderful sense of community demonstrated around me that evening. I left the event feeling that the recently restored Bible was in a perfect setting to foster much more interest and discussion surrounding both its history and its language.


Amy Ellis Thompson