Books: The Word Made Flesh ; A `Creation by Committee', the New King's Bible Broke All the Literary Rules. Yet, as Kevin Sharpe Shows, Its Language Defined an Era and Shaped Our Speech
Sharpe, Kevin, The Independent (London, England)
Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible
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THE KING James Bible is heralded as the greatest literary legacy of the English past to the present. Later editions, whatever their claims to greater accuracy, have by their blandness only enhanced its status. But while the King James Bible has been read through four centuries of history, it is too often detached from its moment, and from the monarch who gave it his name. Adam Nicolson's Power and Glory focuses on the seven years from the commissioning of the Bible in 1604 to its printing in 1611, and on the circumstances - theological, political and cultural - which drove and shaped it.
The Bible was an accidental by-product of a conference at Hampton Court which the new Stuart king had called to discuss the grievances of the Puritans, who had petitioned him as he made his way from Scotland to his English throne. James's willingness to listen and to debate signalled a dramatic change and hopes rose for the resolution of quarrels within the church (perhaps even within Christendom) that had raged for half a century.
At Hampton Court, the Puritans' desire for further reform was frustrated; but their call for a new Bible found royal favour.
James VI and I had his own reasons for ordering a new translation of scripture. The widely used Geneva Bible bore printed marginal notes (about tyranny and resistance) that he thought "seditious". But the king's motives for sponsoring a new Bible were neither simply personal nor entirely partisan. The new "Rex Pacificus" dreamed of religious peace and settlement, and believed that an authoritative text of scripture might serve that cause by incorporating ambiguity and difference - much as the Church of England had.
The team James set to work was carefully organised and given clear, firm rules. Six committees of nine men, each under a "director", were to proceed and review each others' work, before a final board checked the whole. The team included moderate Puritans, even figures who had dabbled with presbyterianism, as well as conservative bishops, and colourful characters as well as austere clerics.
As they set to work, the Gunpowder Plot shattered hopes of wider ecumenical settlement, but James, never wavering in his hopes for peace, drove the translation on. Manuscript drafts of St Paul's epistles and an annotated copy of the Bishops' Bible offer a few revealing insights into the committees' methods and progress. By 1608 the first stage was ready and the drafts were gathered for the review. As notes taken by the Cambridge scholar John Bois disclose, the drafts were read aloud, extensively debated and amended. The final text broke all the rules for the best writing - it was creation by committee - and was printed by Robert Barker, the king's printer, in 1611.
For all that it was "authorised" and authoritative, the King James Bible did not fulfil royal hopes. For a start it appeared with myriad misprints and variations; nor did it, at least initially, eclipse the Geneva Bible, which remained the more …
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Publication information: Article title: Books: The Word Made Flesh ; A `Creation by Committee', the New King's Bible Broke All the Literary Rules. Yet, as Kevin Sharpe Shows, Its Language Defined an Era and Shaped Our Speech. Contributors: Sharpe, Kevin - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: April 19, 2003. Page number: 32. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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