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A book that brought God closer

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"It's a fait accompli. The King James has lost its dominance in the life of the church," adds Thomas Kidd, senior fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. "We can never go back to the one translation."

Scholars have welcomed many newer translations, which are able to draw on new biblical research and better source materials – manuscripts unknown four centuries ago, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But what's lost, Dr. Kidd adds, is the sense of one common text whose words help form a common vocabulary for Christians and the culture in general. In many churches, "When there's a Bible reading from the pulpit or in Sunday school many of the people who are following along [in their own Bibles] are not reading from the same translation anymore," he says. "It didn't used to be like that at all."

The KJV's 400th anniversary is a bit like the birthday celebration of a beloved elderly relative, says Timothy Beal, a professor of religion at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland and author of "The Rise and the Fall of the Bible." "There's this little poignancy in the celebration that maybe this isn't going to go on forever."

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