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Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible

by David Teems

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1195233,940 (2.69)3
In the Beginning, James. Orphaned, bullied, lonely, and unloved as a boy, in time the young King of Scots overcame his troubled beginnings to ascend the English throne at the height of England's Golden Age. In an effort to pacify rising tensions in the Anglican Church, and to reflect the majesty of his new reign, he spearheaded the most important literary undertaking in Western history - the translation of the Bible into a beautiful, lyrical, and accessible English. David Teems's narrative crackles with wit, using a thoroughly modern tongue to reanimate the life of this seventeenth century king - a man at the intersection of political, literary, and religious thought, yet a man of contrasts, dubbed by one French king as "the wisest fool in Christendom." Warm, insightful, even at times amusing, Teems's depiction of King James has all the elements of a grand tale - conspiracy, kidnapping, witchcraft, murder, love, despair, loss. Majestie offers an engaging new look at the world's most cherished, revered, and influential translation of Sacred Writ and the king behind it.… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
Ugh!! I'm so glad I'm done with this book!

I read several Tudor history books this summer and figured this book on James I would be a great followup. I should have been more specific with myself. A book on James I would have been a great followup---this particular book was not.

The author relied far too much on secondary sources and quotes. Another reader said it felt like they were reading the Cliff's Notes version of James' life and reign---exactly. I still feel like I know very little about the man. Teems liked to say, "James was James." Or various versions of that; problem is, he didn't give us a clear and thorough portrait of James to begin with.

The thing I found consistently frustrating though was that Teems gives his reader very little credit for possessing a functioning brain. Anyone who has chosen to read this book is already going to know that "plough" is "plow", that "elasticity" means "a good deal of stretch", that a vicar is a pastor. He uses vocabulary and then defines it: "he learned to vacillate. To say one thing and do another." This is needlessly redundant (see what I did there?). It goes on, ad nauseum: a fortnight is two weeks, a physic is medication, a homonym is defined...

I concede there were a few interesting bits. I found this quote to be the most fascinating of all. The author is discussing the influence that Shakespeare may have had on the translation of the KJB: "Remember, the circles in late Elizabethan and early Jacobean London were quite small. And all of this somewhat amazingly took place within a few square miles of earth, and at the same moment in time." Amazing. Also, I thought James' rendering of Psalm 100 was quite clever and the KJB information was really interesting---if brief. Though I feel like I wasted a lot of time forcing myself to read this book, it has served to spark an interest in James I and the translating of the KJB, so I suppose all's not lost. ( )
  classyhomemaker | Dec 11, 2023 |
It is amazing that King James survived his childhood. While still in his mother's womb, a sharped knife was placed against Queen Mary of Scots. Carefully, she saved herself and son, but her musician, Rizzio, was brutally killed by a group put together by her husband, Lord Robert Darnley.

Darnley is a pretty man/boy, that's about all he has going for himself. The father of James, is a weakling with eyes toward the throne of Scotland. The life of Mary and her baby were saved. The incident of her husband's stupidity was repaid when months later, he was blown to bits.

Mary made tremendous stupid mistakes. As my college history professor noted over and over, Mary ruled with her heart while her brilliant cousin Elizabeth I of England ruled with her intelligence.

Mary's fate was to be imprisoned under Elizabeth's careful watch. After many failed attempts to overthrow Elizabeth, it was her final communications to Scotland with a plea to make a plan to kill Elizabeth so she could gain the throne. Way too smart, Elizabeth adeptly proved Mary a fool, and she was executed. It too was a bloody undertaking with three attempts to chop her head. Finally, when the nasty task was finished, her head was raised, her wig fell to reveal a balding, sad woman, whose only true companion was her dog who, hidden, found his way out of the bloody gown.

When Elizabeth grew older and more frail, she still had not named a successor. Mary Queen of Scots son, James, would fulfill that duty. He brought to the throne what Elizabeth did not--heirs to continue the legacy. With a foot that turned sideways and a spindly composure, James learned quickly and relied on what he witnessed as a child.

A better, smarter ruler than his mother, his was the reign of trips to the new colonies by Sir Walter Raleigh who brought back a crop of tobacco . He too would eventually lose his head.

James was raised in violence and uncertainty. Scotland was a bloody land with blood and short lived reigns of those who tried to rule James, eventually they too were killed.

Intelligent, with the ability to smartly navigate, when James came to the English throne, he was aware of how religion tore apart both Scotland and England. He called for a middle ground, which was achieved by bringing together learned, intelligence men who worked to achieve what we now know as the King James bible. ( )
  Whisper1 | Jan 20, 2021 |
I have often wondered about the man who commissioned the work that resulted in the King James Bible. I was afraid of what I might find. And rightly so. Who is King James and why did he take on the momenteous job of writing the the King James Version of the Bible? This book is good at explaining who James I of England was and why he took on this task. Not an easy man to like or even to understand, King James was a force of nature that was the right man for the right job at the right time. As the King James Bible approaches its 400 year landmark we can see the force and the power of it has only grown through time. One has to understand not only James I but also Elizabeth I, his predecessor, to understand the time, the atmostphere and the reason for the King James translation. The author moves in and out of modern language, Latin, Hebrew, and a Scots brogue that lends interest and authencity to the narrative. It is not a bad place to start is you want to learn about the King who commissioned the present day Protestant Holy Bible. ( )
  DivineMissW | Apr 30, 2011 |
Majestie is a meandering read. In many respects, its clear that its author (David Teems) had a difficult time staying focused on his subject--a view I find confirmed by the end page promotion of his next book on one of his favorite rabbit trails... That said, it was a good read, with lots of fun & salacious details about King James, his times, and the men who actually completed the translation. If the fine church folk I grew up among read this book, I suspect many would be well and truly scandalized (made all the more amusing since my Mom gave the book to me)...
  bohannon | Jan 3, 2011 |
David Teems has done his research on the King whose name would stand the test of time for the protestant bible he instigated and supported. Unlike normal books on history this is written in more of a conversational tone of a discussion one would expect in a coffee shop with modern references. This does not take away from the research and facts compiled but may not be to the taste at first sight to the student of history. The book flows and is very easy to read as if design for the modern watcher of TV mini series

David Teems has done his research on the King whose name would stand the test of time for the protestant bible he instigated and supported. Unlike normal books on history this is written in more of a conversational tone of a discussion one would expect in a coffee shop with modern references. This does not take away from the research and facts compiled but may not be to the taste at first sight to the student of history. The book flows and is very easy to read as if design for the modern watcher of TV mini series

The first two thirds of the book is a biography of James Stuart who became James the VI of Scotland and then James I of England. He coined the term and by his will created Great Britain. His biography begins from before his birth as his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, has a pistol placed upon "her swollen belly." From his birth when taken from his mother and raised by instructors and persons chosen by the Scottish council and the Kirk. James Stuart lives a life alone with his tutors. His mother is forced to abdicate her throne and the boy is crowned king of Scotland.

His life is chronicled with all the duplicity and scheming that surrounded him from before his birth until he ascends to the thrown of England while keeping the crown of Scotland and orders that a new bible be written in the vulgar language. An endeavor in his enthusiasm and impatience he pushed forward this new translation that he thought would unite the Christian faiths in what was common among them; Jesus Christ. The Biography of King James ends with the translation and binding of the first edition of the King James Bible (KJV) though his later life is briefly summarized.

The last third of the book takes a more scholarly approach as it discusses not only how King James was the originator and driving force for the KJV of the bible but chronicles the painstaking procedure taken to render an accurate translation. It is interesting how with all the scholarly might placed into the production of this book that sound pleasing to the ear when read took precedent over accurate translation. The background of those involved in this translation are documented briefly and the procedure used to produced the finished product is explained. The KJV is a bible that was designed to be read aloud to an English speaking people.

What is amazing is that after all this hard work that when the King ordered the KJV of the bible be printed their were so many errors in each printing that they are too numerous to count and that no two printing runs of the KJV was the same. It is also pointed out that the only authorization ever given for this edition of the bible comes from King James himself. And that has come into the minds of people through this very day as the bible being called the Authorized Version of the KJV. The author does show various passages as they were translated into English over time and how they changed. These translation show the progression and are a welcomed addition to this work.

I would like to read a biography of King James and this time period that takes more scholarly approach in the book then the former two-thirds written here. A version that shows the King as he truly was and his true impact instead of writing in awe of this isolated self-involved man. The author seems too involved to be objective of this man who ruled Great Britain. ( )
  hermit | Nov 26, 2010 |
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Epigraph
To be a king and wear a crown is a thing
more glorious to them that see it than it is
pleasant to them that bear it.
- Elizabeth I of England
Dedication
For all lost boys
First words
The cool round mouth of a gun presses soft against the queen's belly.
Quotations
Was God in the detail? That was their intention - find him a home. One with an English address.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In the Beginning, James. Orphaned, bullied, lonely, and unloved as a boy, in time the young King of Scots overcame his troubled beginnings to ascend the English throne at the height of England's Golden Age. In an effort to pacify rising tensions in the Anglican Church, and to reflect the majesty of his new reign, he spearheaded the most important literary undertaking in Western history - the translation of the Bible into a beautiful, lyrical, and accessible English. David Teems's narrative crackles with wit, using a thoroughly modern tongue to reanimate the life of this seventeenth century king - a man at the intersection of political, literary, and religious thought, yet a man of contrasts, dubbed by one French king as "the wisest fool in Christendom." Warm, insightful, even at times amusing, Teems's depiction of King James has all the elements of a grand tale - conspiracy, kidnapping, witchcraft, murder, love, despair, loss. Majestie offers an engaging new look at the world's most cherished, revered, and influential translation of Sacred Writ and the king behind it.

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