Wednesday, July 23, 2014

God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible

In God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible,  Adam Nicolson tells to compelling story of the translation of the bible into English commissioned by King James.  This bible, of course, would become the beloved version in the English speaking world.

Nicholson tackles the subject from all sides.  He is interested in the details of translation.  It was done by committees, and committees reviewed the translations before the final product was approved.  We know a great deal of some of the men who translated the works; they were important members of the seventeenth century church of England.  But for many others, we know only a man, or perhaps native city. Nicholson takes the scant evidence left of their working methods and clarifies it for his readers.

The King Jame Bible was truly the work of a culture, not the brand of a single person.  And in that, Nicolson finds it genius.  At the time, the Church of England was being rocked by early stirrings of Puritanism.  They wanted a bible close to the source material that downplayed the roles of bishops and official clergy.  King James had no interest in this, and commissioned the bible, in part, to trump other translations that promoted radical Protestantism. 
Yet there were moderate Puritans on the translation committees.  They made their mark on the work.  And therein lays its great strength.  The King James Bible, behind its apparent uniformity, expresses a range of opinions, reflected in the translator’s choices.  This gives the work a depth it would not otherwise have.

The translation also reflects a particularly rich period in English.  When it was started, Shakespeare was writing his last plays, and English was in a rapid period of expansion, adding new works and modes of expression.  Nicholson shows the place of the King James Bible at the time of its composition, and its influence over the subsequent development of the language.

Nicholson does a thorough job of researching this topic.  For the layman in this subject, this is the go-to book.

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