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God's Secretaries: The Making of the King…

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

by Adam Nicolson

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The compilation of the Authorised Version must have been one of the few thoroughly succesful government-sponsored IT projects ever. Completed on time and within budget, despite the fact that all the developers involved were clergymen and/or academics (unfortunately the project sponsor had spent the money on something else in the meantime...), run according to strict project-management principles that sound like PRINCE2 avant la lettre, and resulting in a product that became an industry standard internationally, with no serious competitor for over 350 years. Admittedly, initial acceptance of the product was slow, and some of the early versions did have serious bugs (the celebrated missing "not" in the 10 commandments), but that sort of thing is inevitable.

Nicolson gives us a very readable, if slightly gossipy account of the project and its background. He's rather limited in what he can do because most of the official documentation has been lost, and he obviously doesn't think his readers would be interested in technical discussions of Greek and Hebrew texts, so he tends to fall back a great deal on character sketches of the people involved, which can get a little wearing after a while. There's surprisingly little about the actual English of the translation, but the chapters where he does get into comparing the text of the AV with Tyndale and its other predecessors are some of the most rewarding parts of the book, and also the parts where Nicolson is most willing to intrude himself and give an opinion. ( )
  thorold | Oct 21, 2014 |
Here’s an odd book. It suffers from a little deficiency, through no fault of its own: the story it has to tell (how the King James Bible came into being) is simply not very interesting. Most of the contributors to the King James Bible were obscure, and the historical setting is equally dull. It’s wrought with typical corruption of court, power squabbles, and serious disagreements over doctrine. What else is new throughout the 1500 years since the Bible’s books were written? Even telling the story against a backdrop of the plague and the genius of Shakespeare can’t rescue its setting.

How could our Bible emerge from such a world? But out of this stagnation, through the unlikely cooperation of divergent men, arose a masterpiece. A work meant to be chanted in church, with a rich cadence and a majestic language. Quaint even in its own time, the KJV is nevertheless the language of God, properly aged, in His antiquity and mystery.

Never mind its inaccuracies, and how we have since uncovered more original scriptures to translate. Never mind that the authors have added and subtracted to enhance the beauty of the prose. The ear is the governing organ; if it sounds right, it is right. The end result does indeed rival Shakespeare in its beauty, producing by far the most quotable literary creation in history.

Pity it’s necessary to slog through the first 150 pages of Nicolson’s book in order to appreciate the miracle of the King James Bible, but it is necessary, because that is the story. Each member of the team was to translate all the chapters in his allotted section, alone, without conferring with others. Only then were they to meet together, discuss the text and decide on their final submission. Somehow, inexplicably, it all came together, and the final chapters of Nicolson’s book are glorious. And Nicolson’s rating? A three-star story miraculously transformed into a five-star miracle. ( )
2 vote DubiousDisciple | Jun 6, 2013 |
This is such an interesting book. The King James bible runs as a thread through English culture. Even if we've never read very much of it, we've all heard phrases from it, going to back to earliest nativity plays. this takes the reader through the genesis of probably the only work of art ever created by committee. It covers the society from which the text emerged, the task of the translators and the other texts on which they drew. It also deals with some of the various people involved in the task of translating. there is very little evidence of the process of the translation, but what is available is presented so that the care and attention that went into the translation is clearly seen. He also discusses the more recent efforts at translating, the new English Bible of the 1970s coming in (justifiably, to my mind) no little criticism for removing the majesty and mystery of the King James. A very interesting book on the birth of a very important book. ( )
  Helenliz | Mar 30, 2013 |
Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries is well done with just a few quibbles. While many would agree that history is nothing with context, there are times when the author goes off on a few flights of fancy without much reason for doing so. Also, the sheer number of people involved in the translation leaves their backgrounds at a disadvantage. Most of the translators’ lives are sketchy at best. These few drawbacks shouldn’t, however, keep you from reading this book. I find biblio-histories to be some of the better books in my collection. This one was no exception.

http://lifelongdewey.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/220-gods-secretaries-by-adam-nicol... ( )
1 vote NielsenGW | Dec 11, 2012 |
Great insights in how the book was brought together and the culture of King James ( )
  Savagemalloy | Feb 19, 2012 |
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Few moments in English history have been more hungry for the future, its mercurial possibilities and its hope of richness, than the spring of 1603.
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God's Secretaries: the Making of the King James Bible (U.S. title) was published in the UK as "Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060838736, Paperback)

A network of complex currents flowed across Jacobean England. This was the England of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Bacon; the era of the Gunpowder Plot and the worst outbreak of the plague. Jacobean England was both more godly and less godly than the country had ever been, and the entire culture was drawn taut between these 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," specifically the English language itself, had come into its first passionate maturity. The English of Jacobean England has a more encompassing idea of its own scope than any form of the language before or since. It drips with potency and sensitivity. The age, with all its conflicts, explains the book.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:41 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A network of complex currents flowed across Jacobean England. This was the England of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Bacon; the era of the Gunpowder Plot and the worst outbreak of the plague. Jacobean England was both more godly and less godly than the country had ever been, and the entire culture was drawn taut between these polarities. This was the world that created the King James Bible.… (more)

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