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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.
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By The Lifelong Learner on 12-26-15
A Committee That Actually Accomplished Something!
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.
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