Four Histories for the Forthcoming Fourth Centenary of the King James Version, 1611-2011

By O'Donnell, Anne M. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Four Histories for the Forthcoming Fourth Centenary of the King James Version, 1611-2011


O'Donnell, Anne M., The Catholic Historical Review


FOUR HISTORIES FOR THE FORTHCOMING FOURTH CENTENARY OF THE KING JAMES VERSION, 1611-2011

The Bible in English: Its History and Influence. By David Daniell. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2003. Pp. xx, 900. $40.00.)

In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture. By Alister McGrath. (New York: Random House. 2001 [hardbound]; Anchor Books. 2002. Pp. x, 338. $15.00 paperback.)

Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired. By Benson Bobrick. (New York: Simon & Schuster. 2001 [hardbound]; Penguin. 2002. Pp. 379,7. $14.00 paperback.)

God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. By Adam Nicholson. (New York: HarperCollins. 2003); Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible (London: HarperCollins. 2003. Pp. xiv, 281. $24.95.)

Perhaps because the four-hundredth anniversary of the King James Version (KJV) is approaching in 2011, there have recently been publications on the English Bible by David Daniell, Alister McGrath, Benson Bobrick, and Adam Nicholson. Starting with the best, I will make brief comments on their merits and then return to a fuller examination of Daniell's Bible in English.

David Daniell, emeritus professor of English, University College, London, was an eminent Shakespeare scholar before turning full-time to the Bible. In the last fifteen years, Daniell has edited modern-spelling versions of Tyndale's New Testament of 1534 (hardbound, 1989; paperback, 1995) and Tyndale's Old Testament (1992), and he has authored William Tyndale: A Biography (1994, hardbound; 2001, paperback). These publications, his own wide reading, and consultation with many other scholars enrich his survey of the English Bible over thirteen centuries, from Caedmon's Hymn c.658 to the New International Readers' Version of 1997.

Alister McGrath, lecturer in Christian Doctrine and Ethics, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and a Reformation scholar, is perhaps better qualified than Daniell to publish on the Bible. McGrath studies two centuries, from the first printed Bible of Johan Gutenberg in 1456 to the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Although McGrath omits notes, he names his sources within the text. He offers balanced judgments, describing NT Greek as the "language of the workplace and the market" and KJV English as reminiscent of "the palaces of Westminster and the high tables of Oxford and Cambridge" (p. 239). McGrath rightly praises Tyndale as "a master of the pithy phrase" (p. 79). I would use this paperback in a graduate study of Early Modern English literature or history.

Benson Bobrick earned a Ph.D. degree in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, and so he was taught how to write a literary history. Bobrick covers three centuries from Wycliff (d. 1384), to Tyndale, Coverdale, James I, and Bunyan (d. 1688). Unlike McGrath, he gives notes, but they are often out of date, e.g., H. W. Hoare, Tbe Evolution of the English Bible (1901) (pp. 149, 288); or secondhand, e.g., Thomas More quoted by Christopher Hill, The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution (1993) (p. 280). Even worse, Bobrick makes allegations without documentation; e.g., that "Elizabeth tampered with juries in political trials" (p. 270) or that a Jesuit attempted to assassinate one of the KJV translators (p. 228).

A publisher and a travel writer, Adam Nicholson treats the brief period from the accession of James I in 1603 to the publication of KJV in 1611. Like McGrath, Nicholson incorporates his sources into the text, but he is more chatty than analytical; e.g., he surrounds five pages on the work of the Second Cambridge Company of translators with seven pages on the private life of their secretary John Bois (pp. 202-213). Nicholson appreciates Tyndale's "plain and dignified" language but holds that the "rich and resonate" style of KJV was better suited to public reading in an established church (p.

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Four Histories for the Forthcoming Fourth Centenary of the King James Version, 1611-2011
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