The Bible in English

Article excerpt

DAVID DANIELL. The Bible in English. New Haven, Connecticut, and London. England: Yale University Press, 2003. Pp. xx + 811, bibliography, index. $40.00.

Well-known as a Shakespeare scholar, as editor of the Tyndale Bibles, and as the author of a Tyndale biography, David Daniell has now embarked upon a more ambitious project, that of tracing the history of the English Bible from the Anglo-Saxon versions, by way of Wyclif and Tyndale, to the KJV and its modern successors. Nor is that all.

Attention is paid also to the metrical psalter, with extracts from Sternhold and Hopkins, the Bay Psalm Book, the Scottish Psalms, and Tate and Brady. He acknowledges the difficulty of versifying the Psalms. Even a poet like Sidney had little success in this area. For all their defects, however, the metrical psalms familiarized the people with basic scriptural teaching. They were succeeded in the eighteenth century by the Bible-soaked hymns of Watts, Newton, Cowper, and the Wesleys that compare favorably with the less biblically-oriented hymns sung in many churches today.

Chapters are also devoted to the influence of the English Bible upon writers like Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, Milton, Bunyan, Dryden, Pope, Defoe, Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Arnold, Ruskin, Stowe, and Wallace. Discussed, too, are Handel's Messiah, Blake's illustrations, and the paintings of Hunt. What has all this to do with the Bible? It emphasizes the range of its influence upon literature, art, and music.

The study raises several questions. For instance, who were the translators of the Wyclif Bible (77 ff.)? Daniell rules out Wyclif himself, though he probably inspired the project. He also rules out Purvey. The translators were most likely Nicholas of Hereford and John Trevisa (signified by the letter J).

Did the Wyclif Bible have any real influence? Many historians think not. It was expensive. It was proscribed. Purchasers were subject to severe penalties. Nevertheless, Daniell stresses its largely underground impact emerging at the Reformation. "Over 250 manuscripts survive, a larger number...than for any other medieval English text" (66). Furthermore, a few of the Wyclif readings found their way into the Tudor translations (85 f).

Regarding these newly printed translations (Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew's, the Great Bible), some historians will not face up to the reality that the Bible gave a theological and spiritual dimension to the political reformation. It was studied by the literate, and those who could not read heard it read in the churches and in private gatherings. The result was a "revolution in religion" (121). Did not an adversary claim that since the New Testament opposed official teaching, it should be "burned as heresy" (269)? Daniell has nothing but scorn for the idea of "saintly and contented Catholic peasants...happily worshipping their saints and preparing for Purgatory ...and then shocked by the destruction caused by Protestant guerrillas" (124). Traditional resistance began to crumble under Edward; Bible reading had helped to prepare the way for radical change.

More confusing still is the neglect or disparagement of the Geneva Bible. Historians complain of its strong anti-papalism and its pronounced Calvinism. They forget that the church at large learned much from Calvin, and that the anti-papal sentiment found real expression only in the 1599 Junius version. The sales point to the true importance of the Geneva Bible. …

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