The Prime Minister will send every
school in Britain a copy of the King James Bible – complete with a foreword by
the Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Mr Gove said the Bible was the most ‘important book written in the English language’ and had major cultural and historical significance.
But the move is highly controversial with non-religious groups condemning it as an unacceptable waste of public money.
Michael Gove called the Bible the most 'important book written in the English language'
Critics also mocked the project on
Twitter with former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott describing it as Mr
Gove’s ‘vanity project’.
The Department for Education confirmed that the Bibles will be sent out to over 20,000 schools to mark the 400th anniversary of it translation.
Supporters said the book will help school pupils of all faiths to take pride in the history and culture of Britain.
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Government ministers have always been careful to avoid controversies surrounding religion with Tony Blair’s former communications chief Alastair Campbell famously once declaring: ‘We don’t do God’.
But Mr Gove said: ‘It‘s a thing of beauty, and it‘s also an incredibly important historical artefact. It has helped shape and define the English language and is one of the keystones of our shared culture. And it is a work that has had international significance’.
The third official translation of the Bible into English, also known as the Authorised Version, was commissioned by the Protestant King James I in 1604.
It was completed by 54 scholars working on Hebrew and Greek manuscripts in Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster. It became the official version used by the Church of England and was spread around the world along with the British Empire.
It's a vanity project: John Prescott was quick to criticise Gove's plans
But its popularity has also endured because of the poetry
and the majesty of its language, with many of its original phrases entering
Among the most famous coinages in its 66 books are ‘the powers that be’, ‘the apple of his eye’ and ‘the writing on the wall’.
But Mr Prescott took to Twitter to mock the Mr Gove’s decision to write the foreword.
He said: ‘And Gove gave unto 20,000 schools a bible that cost £10 a piece and the taxpaper wasted £200,000 on a vanity project.’
Other jibes by Mr Prescott included: ‘Hello @god Just wondered if you were happy with Michael Gove writing a foreward to your book?’
A DfE spokeswoman said: ‘We want all pupils to be able to access and understand the great literary and historical heritage of our nation.
‘As many people have noted - from former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion to the director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor - the King James Bible continues to shape our culture.”
She added: ‘It will help pupils - of any faith or none - understand and take pride in the history and culture of this country.
‘It will enable them to recognise the origins of our language, appreciate where the familiar phrases of our literature come from, and understand the roots of our democracy.’
NSS president Terry Sanderson said tens of thousands of pounds could be saved by putting a statement on the DfE website about the 400th anniversary of the translation
But the National Secular Society
(NSS) suggested that the Department for Education could put a message on its
website and save ‘tens of thousands of pounds’.
NSS president Terry Sanderson said: ‘It’s not as if Bibles are in short supply in schools. But if Mr Gove intends to go ahead with this, will he also please ensure that a copy of On the Origin of Species is sent out on Darwin Day?
‘This book is much harder to find in schools and would be in line with his policy of promoting science and evidence-based education. I’m sure that he could write an excellent foreword to this too.’
Richy Thompson, campaigns officer at the British Humanist Association, added: ‘Either the Government is funding this initiative itself at a time when it is making severe cuts elsewhere, or the Church is finding it but using the Government as a vehicle through which to promote Christianity - both are unacceptable.’