Cultural literacy?

by Les

I submitted a piece to an online writing group recently, including the following excerpt:

[The cat] jumped into his lap and after circling once curled up and closed his eyes. [He] stroked the animal absently, and the cat started to purr. Food, shelter, family, and a cat. What more was needed? Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.

One critique made this comment:

I really like the last 2 sentences, seems like a quotation, but I don’t remember one like this.

That surprised me. The person making this comment is well-educated and speaks English as his first language. The quote is from the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most widely quoted passages in the Christian scriptures.

Perhaps it is a matter of translation. When these words are quoted, the English version used is most commonly what is known as the King James Version, originally published in 1611:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of it selfe: sufficient vnto the day is the euill thereof.

No, that doesn’t sound right. What most people recognize is the 1769 spelling update of the 1611 translation:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

That’s the same as I quoted, with the exception of one word. My character does not have a perfect memory.

There are two issues here: the reader not recognizing the quotation, and the writer (me) quoting a published work without attribution. I used this quote in a passage written in the point of view of a specific character, a character whom I had established as a practicing Christian, and presented this as one of his thoughts. He would likely think of quotes from scriptures he had learned as a child, and as he learned to read in the late 1970s this might be the version he remembered. As for no attribution: this is fiction. Who ever read of a fictional character quoting the origin of phrases he remembers unconsciously?

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