image: Wikimedia commons (link).
October 6 is the traditional date upon which the execution of William Tyndale is remembered (even though there is some evidence that he may have been executed on a slightly different date).
William Tyndale was responsible for translating the scriptures of the Old Testament into English directly from the Hebrew -- for the first time -- and for translating the scriptures of the New Testament into English directly from the Greek -- and with a level of skill and power that was unsurpassed by anything that had come before, with a style that would be directly incorporated into nearly every English translation that would come afterwards, including the Geneva Bible, the King James Bible, and even more "modern" interpretations.
Translations of the sacred scriptures into English were forbidden at the time, and Tyndale spent much of his life as an outlaw and an exile from England, and was eventually betrayed, imprisoned, and finally publicly degraded and executed in a most violent manner, first garroted (strangled with a rope or chain) and then set on fire, at about the age of forty.
The impact of Tyndale's work, and of the English translation that he gave to the world, would be difficult to overstate. The fact that he was translating the scriptures into English made him an outlaw, but it was the accessibility of his translation that changed history.
John Wycliffe (1320 - 1384) and his followers ("the Lollards") had made translations into English before Tyndale -- and the possession of these translations carried a death penalty -- but they did not have the deep background in Biblical languages that Tyndale possessed, and they did not have Tyndale's genius for the English language. Here is a comparison of the Wycliffe and Tyndale translations of the famous story of Adam and Eve and the Serpent from the book of Genesis, presented in David Daniell's 2001 biography of Tyndale:
Genesis 3 begins in the Vulgate 'sed et serpens erat callidor cunctis animantibus terrae, quae fecerat Dominus Deus. Qui dixit ad mulierem . . . ' The earlier Lollard versions had variations on 'But and the adder was feller than any lifers of the earth, the which made the Lord God. The which said to the woman . . .' which is the Vulgate put into English by someone, it must be felt, with a shaky hold on even late fourteenth-century English. The second, Wyclif B, version is better, with roughly 'But and the serpent was feller than all the living beasts of the earth, which the Lord God had made. Which serpent said to the woman . . .' Tyndale's 'But the serpent was subtler than all the beasts of the field which the Lord God had made, and said unto the woman . . .' speaks even to the late twentieth century. This is not only because with minor changes it is taken into the 1611 Authorised Version, and is even recognisably behind such modern versions as the 1989 Revised English Bible: but because, as before, it both translates the original Hebrew instead of the later Latin, and is in a recognisable English. Scholars of the Hebrew text can see the Hebrew forms still present [. . .]. 285.
Of Tyndale, David Daniell writes:
That Book was made by Tyndale in the language people spoke, not as the scholars wrote. At a time when English was struggling to find a form that was neither Latin nor French, Tyndale gave the nation a Bible language that was English in words, word-order and lilt. He invented some words (for example, 'scapegoat') and the great Oxford English Dictionary has mis-attributed, and thus also mis-dated, a number of his first uses. But more importantly, he made phrases which have gone deep into English-speaking consciousness. 3.
In a 2012 biography, David Teems explains:
The following expressions made their first appearance through Tyndale. And while old and well rehearsed to you and me, to the English believer in 1526 they were astonishingly new.Behold the lamb of GodI am the way, the truth, and the lifeIn my father's house are many mansionsFor thine is the kingdom and the power and the glorySeek, and ye shall findWith God all things are possibleIn him we live, move, and have our beingBe not weary in well doingLooking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faithBehold, I stand at the door and knockLet not your hearts be troubledThe spirit is willing, but the flesh is weakFor my yoke is easy and my burden is lightFight the good fightxx
And that is just a list of the phrases Teems selected as good examples -- literally hundreds of others could be cited (including "the powers that be") which remain part of the culture and in common use to this day. David Teems also cites the saying that "Without Tyndale, no Shakespeare" (xxi).
Why was the translation of the scriptures into the common language such a forbidden act that doing so -- or even having a translation in one's possession -- was punishable by death?
The answer is complicated, and a full answer would involve a study of the cultural and political and religious currents that had been swirling and shaping events for many centuries leading up to the execution of William Tyndale, but the short answer most certainly involves control, and specifically the control of minds, a business at which both the religious and the political forces had been hard at work for quite some time.
The standard narrative of the struggle between Tyndale and the powers that finally arrested and executed him usually involves the specific practices of the church at the time, some of which involved the control of the populace using claims and proclamations which were not backed up by actual scriptural texts. This certainly played an important role in the story, and also opened the door to the larger question of whether or not the religious authorities derived authority from the scriptures themselves or if they were an authority in and of themselves.
Tyndale's answer to this debate is what got him condemned for heresy -- and some apologists for his execution have actually argued that he was not in fact executed for translating the scriptures, but rather for heresy, as if executing a man or woman for so-called "heresy" is not as heinous a violation of natural universal law as is executing a man or woman for translating a text!
But, the traditional narrative regarding the execution of Tyndale usually frames it as part of the intense struggle taking place within literalist Christianity in western Europe at that time and in the following centuries -- and while the sudden availability of an excellent translation of the scriptures did indeed have a profound impact on that struggle, I would argue that to the extent that the followers of Tyndale's position in the ensuing centuries only embraced an even more virulent form of literalism based on their access to the texts themselves, the real genie that Tyndale had let out of the bottle remains unappreciated!
This is because the real danger in giving access to the texts themselves may in fact lie in the possibility that careful examination of the actual ancient stories in the Old and New Testaments will reveal the fact that they are not literal at all -- and that they in fact are built upon celestial metaphor almost from first to last!
[Note to literalist readers: at this point in the discussion, evidence will be introduced which may be disruptive to the belief that the scriptures are primarily intended to be read literally. Those not prepared to encounter such arguments and evidence may wish to stop here rather than proceeding further.]
For example, in the passage involving Adam and Eve and the Serpent cited above in the Wycliffe and the vastly superior Tyndale translations, careful consideration of this text coupled with familiarity with the constellations Hydra, Virgo, and Bootes in the night sky -- and their motion from east to west in that order -- could trigger the astounding realization that the entire story of the stealing of the fruit, the casting out from the Garden of Eden, and the positioning of cherubim with a flaming sword at the "east of Eden" are all clearly celestial in nature, and directly describe the motions of celestial figures in the northern hemisphere!
To see more explanation of this celestial connection, see part 2 of my series of short videos entitled "Star Myths and the Shamanic Worldview," and for some examination of the incredible message that these stories built upon the stars may have been intended to convey, see some of the following videos (there are currently five in the series, with more to follow).
The point to be made is that, without access to the actual texts, it would be much more difficult to perceive the celestial foundation of these Biblical myths -- a celestial foundation they share with other myths and sacred traditions from around the world (a fact which in and of itself has revolutionary implications).
Is it possible that at least some of those who worked so hard for centuries to keep the texts largely secret and out of the hands of the masses of the people, forbidding their translation out of languages which were only understood by a very few, understood this aspect of the ancient scriptures?
Is it possible that they understood that the profound message conveyed by these ancient texts is a shamanic message, and that they understood that shamanic knowledge and shamanic practice can actually effect changes in our material world -- and they wanted to deny that knowledge and the accompanying shamanic techniques to all but a very select few?
It is a fact that -- just like translations of the ancient scriptures into the common language of the people -- shamanic drums have often been strictly forbidden to the people, perhaps for the very same reason (the scriptures are actually shamanic -- so they, like drums, are to be kept out of the hands of the people, according to those who have declared a centuries-long war on shamanic knowledge and by extension on human consciousness).
For other posts which present evidence to support this conclusion, see also "The Cobra Kai sucker-punch (and why we keep falling for it, over and over and over)" and "Graham Hancock identifies war on consciousness: TED confirms that he's right."
I believe that the achievement of William Tyndale may well be understood fully only in this light (even though Tyndale himself would no doubt have rejected this interpretation, being by all accounts and by his own published writings a strong literalist Christian who would not agree that the stories are celestial and convey a message which can at its core be described as deeply shamanic) -- and that the threat which he clearly posed can perhaps best be perceived only when this dimension is understood.
Finally, I believe it bears repeating that, even though the centuries-long excesses of some literalists, and the deeply misguided and sometimes extremely violent and tyrannical and oppressive actions undertaken by some in the literalist camp (and condoned or passively supported by many others in the same camp) have done tremendous harm, and in fact continue to do so, and despite the fact that some literalists attempt to excuse or condone these violent and tyrannical and oppressive actions by referring to the scriptures, these literalist excesses do not mean that the ancient scriptures themselves are flawed.
On the contrary, I believe that all the sacred scriptures and sacred traditions of humanity are precious, and that when properly understood they are, in the words of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, "an ancient torch that was lighted for our guidance."
The gruesome murder of William Tyndale was a violation of natural universal law. But the accomplishment of William Tyndale's life can be seen as a tremendous victory in the struggle against the forces of suppressing human consciousness.
He was truly a champion of the idea that the ancient scriptures are an inheritance belonging to all of humanity, and not to some chosen few, however they may be defined.