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John Layfield:  Scholar, Explorer, KJV Translator

    You never know the connections someone has.  Case in point:  John Layfield (? – 1617).  The first two parts of his story is fascinating enough, but wait to you get to the third part, and learn how the three are intermingled.

    In 1596, the Earl of Cumberland (of England) led an expedition to Puerto Rico.  On board were the various sailors, soldiers, cooks, etc., and the Earl’s chaplain, our man John Layfield.  Layfield wrote a journal during the journey.  He saw the Caribbean as it once was, unspoiled beaches, untimbered forests, and unlimited wildlife.  His journal records the following:   “The soil is very fat, even in the most neglected places, matching the Garden-plats in England for a rich black mold . . . These hills are covered with very goodly green trees, of many sorts. . . . [These trees] are youthfully green, and none without some fruit or other. . . . Now, fruits of the land are abundant in number and measure, very excellent . . . a woody pineapple is of an exceeding durance and lasting.  The taste of this fruit is very delicious, so as it quickly cause a fullness.  For I cannot liken it in the palate to any (me thinks) better than to very ripe Strawberries and Cream . . . I have seen some a quarter of a yard long at least, and in proportionate thickness . . . Lemons I did not see any, yet they say there are some, but of limes the number is numberless; and as for Oranges, truly I think they are the best tasted, and most goodly in the world.  For both their sweet and sour oranges are full of most delicate and taste-pleasing juice, and besides they are the goodliest both in color and greatness, that ever I saw. . . . The land as watered with very many other rivers, and riverlets and springs without number. . . . The plains and lawns of the main land are graced with much variety of many kinds of fruit.”

   Back in England, he returned to his old job, as a well-respected scholar; he worked at Cambridge University and eventually was a founding member of Chelsea College.  That is quite enough for any person, but then he picked up another job.

    In 1604, King James decided that England needed an official English version of the Bible.  He appointed about fifty scholars for the task, divided into six groups with each responsible for part of the Bible.  John Layfield was placed on the team responsible for the first twelve books of the Old Testament. 

    And so it was that John Layfield, the explorer who caught a glimpse Eden by viewing an unspoiled Puerto Rico, was partly responsible for the verses in the King James Version which described the Garden of Eden:  “[And after God created the animals,] God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. . . . And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  And a river went out of Eden to water the garden.”

    Who better to have had a hand in the translation of the Garden of Eden story than a man who had previously seen a real life example of the Garden of Eden? [This analysis was derived from Adam Nicholson’s God’s Secretaries:  The Making of the King James Bible.]

©2008 Mark Nickens

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