The King James Bible is the most familiar and widely read Bible translation in the world, recognized for centuries as both a religious and literary classic. But the origins of this masterpiece are far from what one might expect, and its beginnings lie in murder, deceit, bitter political feuds, and religious conflicts so intense they threatened the unity of England. The struggle to translate the Bible into English was a passionate cause, in the name of which crusaders fought, were imprisoned, and were sometimes even executed_like William Tyndale, whose efforts to translate the New Testament into English led him to a gruesome death. Now, Alister McGrath explores the origins of this monumental work and delves into the forces that brought it into being, illuminating a particularly volatile and culturally rich period in European history.
When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450s, he was setting into motion an intellectual and cultural revolution that would have implications far beyond the literary world. The first book printed on this remarkable invention was the most important book in Christendom, the Bible, which was published in its Latin translation. Until Gutenberg, ordinary Christians had to go through an elite clergy to get access to the Scriptures that were the foundation of their faith.
But this watershed event lit the spark of the Protestant Refomation, whose advocates ultimately demanded, among other things, that the Scriptures be translated into the vernacular languages of the people so that they might experience the Word of God for themselves.
Named for the Scottish king who ascended the English throne in 1603, the King James Bible wouldn't be published until 1611, and it was not, in fact, the first Bible to be published in English; but its impact has been profound. Its language has been an inspiration for virtually every great writer since the seventeenth century, and has also provided the style and vocabulary for such different forms of expression as Negro spirituals and the Gettysburg address.
For the lover of history, literature, or language, In the Beginning is a book that shouldn't be missed. In bringing the story of the King James Bible to light, it captures a vanished period of history in vivid, compelling detail, and will more than prove Roberth Lowth's famous assertion that the King James translation is the "noblest monument of English prose."
The peculiar history of the King James Bible highlights the power of marginal notations to destabilize a nation and command the anxious attention of a monarch. McGrath, professor of historical theology at Oxford University, recounts the production of this translation, the forces that allowed for its genesis and its influence on modern English, the history of England and the faith of millions since its 1604 publication. Although his "great men" emphasis on "doing" history offers few new insights and is embedded in a narrative that scans in overly broad strokes the intriguing circumstances of the Bible's production, this remains an engaging chronicle. McGrath frames the context for the KJV in phenomena such as the English church during and after Henry VIII's reign, the incendiary creativity of the translation process, the explosive force for change unleashed by the technological breakthrough of the printing press and the rise of nationalism. McGrath also situates the KJV as more immediately provoked by the English-language Geneva Bible, produced by self-exiled "radical" English Protestants in that republican city, during the reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor. As McGrath explains, prefaces to each book of Scripture and extensive interpretive notes offered in "plain English" account largely for the popularity the Bible enjoyed among laypersons hungry to read the word of God. This is a tale ripe for the telling; one wishes the execution were more satisfying. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.