The Words for the Word

Article excerpt

What's a sure-fire way these days to tackle a problem and delay its solution? Appoint a committee. But committees have known better days. In Wide as the Waters (2001), Benson Bobrick recounts the astonishing tale of how a committee produced the King James Version of the Bible.

The king himself was the irresistible force behind the project. In July 1604 he approved a list of 54 translators, who were to work under three principal directors: Edward Lively, the regius professor of Hebrew at Cambridge University; John Harding, the regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford University; and Lancelot Andrewes, the dean of Westminster. The translators were divided into six companies, based two each at Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster (the universities were encouraged to turn for help to other knowledgeable scholars), and the great labor was then portioned out: Three companies tackled the Old Testament, two the New, and one the Apocrypha. "The First Westminster Company," writes Bobrick, "was assigned Genesis through 2 Kings; the Second, Romans through Jude; the First Oxford Company, Isaiah through Malachi; the Second, the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation; the First Cambridge Company, 1 Chronicles through the Song of Solomon; the Second, the Apocrypha."

It all sounds like a recipe for impasse and delay. But no. The work of translation, review, and revision went on for some six years, during which time the companies consulted every known text, commentary, and translation, ancient or modern. …