A net of complex currents flowed across Jacobean England. This was the England of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Bacon; the Gunpowder Plot; the worst outbreak of the plague England had ever seen; arcadian landscapes; murderous, toxic slums; and, above all, sometimes overwhelming religious passion. Jacobean England was both more godly and less godly than it had ever been, and the entire culture was drawn taut between the polarities.
This was the world that created the King James Bible. It is the greatest work of English prose ever written, and it is no coincidence that the translation was made at the moment “Englishness” and the English language had come into its first passionate maturity. Boisterous, elegant, subtle, majestic, finely nuanced, sonorous, and musical, the English of Jacobean England has a more encompassing idea of its own reach and scope than any before or since. It is a form of the language that drips with potency and sensitivity. The age, with all its conflicts, explains the book.
The sponsor and guide of the whole Bible project was the king himself, the brilliant, ugly, and profoundly peace-loving James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England. Trained almost from birth to manage the rivalries of political factions at home, James saw in England the chance for a sort of irenic Eden over which the new translation of the Bible was to preside. It was to be a Bible for everyone, and as God’s lieutenant on earth, he would use it to unify his kingdom. The dream of Jacobean peace, guaranteed by an elision of royal power and divine glory, lies behind a Bible of extraordinary grace and everlasting literary power.
Adam Nicolson is the author of Seamanship, God’s Secretaries, and Seize the Fire. He has won both the Somerset Maugham and William Heinemann awards, and he lives with his family at Sissinghurst Castle in England.
©2003 Adam Nicolson (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“This scrupulously elegant account of the creation of what four centuries of history has confirmed is the finest English-language work of all time is entirely true to its subject: Adam Nicolson’s lapidary prose is masterly, his measured account both as readable as the curious demand and as dignified as the story deserves.” (Simon Winchester, New York Times best-selling author)
“So few documents have survived this labor—apart, of course, from the translation itself—that piecing together the tale is at least as much a matter of intelligent guesswork as of hard research. This is what Adam Nicolson has done, and he has done it extraordinarily well.” (Washington Post Book World)
“An astonishingly rich cultural tour of the art, architecture, personalities, and experiences of Jacobean England: high and low entertainment, high and low churchmanship, courtiers, schoolmasters, and ecclesiastics. [Nicolson’s] picture is beguilingly full.” (Times Literary Supplement (London))
Fascinating book on how the translation was accomplished. The author fully develops the history, the context of the 'why' (to, in essence, end the war between the factions supporting the horrid Bishop's translation and the anti-king Geneva bible), the politics, and the budget. It would be a worthy read if it were written on any literature. Classically, even those not given to following the words of the bible, have always called the KJV 'great literature.' It is! And this book shows us how that came to be.
Out of the extravagant court of King James, surrounded by clusters of 'spangle babies' (men and women made juvenile by money), came the king's desire to bring unity to the nation, a nation with rising literacy.
Great scholars across the spectrum were consulted. Yes, even moderate Puritans (but no Presbyterians!). Unofficially, even men at the extreme ends served as consultants to the translators when they were truly expert in a subject. The translators brought prodigious linguistic scholarship to the project, able to tease nuance and subtleties from the original texts.
To loosely quote the author: The beauty of this project is the end result by a committee - a system not designed for genius or great works. It was the organization that was the genius. The translation committee was divided into 6 subcommittees. Each committee had assigned sections, and member was to work alone until he finished his part then review with other members of his subgroup. Each committee had oversight over all the others.
What is amazing is to see how men of so varied opinions, with vigorous and even fierce disagreements, could develop this beautiful and fairly accurate translation. The author weaves their backgrounds in beautifully so you truly understand them as men, not names in a history book.
I was surprised at another reviewer's comments on the "dark" stance of the author vis-a-vis this translation. After hearing 2 lengthy interviews with him and reading the book, I have to say I don't see that at all. The pace slowly gathers all the stories together, so it starts slower. But I definitely did NOT find it monotonous.
The timing was impeccable. It was finished in 1611. By 1614 Parliament had enough of James' excesses and cut his budget. James moved away from reconciliation with the Puritan's camp that had included so many Puritan moderates in the project. And the 30 years' wars in Europe began, with Catholic pitted against Protestant.
Tell us about yourself! Okay....Why?
It is a tedious read but very informative.
I have a new found respect for King James & the translators.
I must admit I have not finished the book yet but I do enjoy listening to it. It is a great study of world history at the time.
There was nothing in the "Publisher's Summary" nor in the "What the Critics Say" sections for this book on this website which led me to believe that this book was anything other than favorable to the KJV of the Bible. I have complete confidence in the KJV which I have been studying for 30 years, and did not anticipate that this book would attempt to undermine in any way that confidence.
Small red flags began popping up as I listened. This author seems to be going out of his way, I found myself thinking, to emphasize negative details of some of the translators and of King James himself. Then I came across this quote from another book I was reading simultanously:
"After reading and enjoying the light from the writings of the KJV translators, compare them to the dark and vile propaganda printed by Rupert Murdoch's Harper Collins Publishers (owner of Zondervan), the publisher of the NIV and TNIV. To smear their staunchest competitor, the KJV, they have produced a snare-filled history of the King James Bible, entitled, "God's Secretaries" by Adam Nicolson (who boasts he is no churchgoer). With a palette piled with dark words, but no facts or footnotes, he paints a hideous face for King James I and his translators - calling the King "ugly," "vulgar," nervous," and "foul-mouthed" and dubbing his translators "worldly," sensuous," and "self-serving." ("In Awe of Thy Word" by G.A. Riplinger, pg.618)
I was not totally surprised but I was disappointed with the overall flavor of this book.
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