One-Minute Book Reviews

October 22, 2006

Adam Nicolson on the Greatest Work of English Prose

Filed under: History — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:01 am

The king is dead. Long live the king’s bible.

God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. By Adam Nicolson. HarperPerennial, 336 pp., $13.95.

Although pink Queen Elizabeth roses are still blooming here in New Jersey, the front tables at bookstores are filling up with books on religious topics that publishers view as fit for the Christmas-gift market. And in that category, few of this year’s offerings are likely to match God’s Secretaries, Adam Nicolson’s 2003 account of the making of the King James Bible. Nicolson rightly calls the King James Version “the greatest work of prose ever written in English” and supports his view in an engaging work of popular history.

Time has obscured most of the details of the working methods of the 50 or so black-gowned scholars and others who fashioned a new translation of the Bible in the 17th century at the request of King James I of England. So in most cases no one can know why the Translators, as they were called, chose one word or phrase over another. Nicolson deals with the archival gaps by setting the birth of the KJV in a rich context that draws on history, literary criticism, and other disciplines. And although biblical scholars have faulted the text for small errors, he writes with an intelligence and narrative flair that make his book an excellent introduction to the subject for most others.

Best line: “Integration is both the purpose and the method of the King James Bible. And one sign of that attempt at integration is the degree to which the text the Translators had produced was an amalgam of the sequence of translations that had come before it.”

Worst line: “Unlike the churches themselves, the words of this Bible remain alive, a way of speaking and a form of language which is still a vehicle of meaning in circumstances when little else can be.” Overwritten and, in the U.S., untrue. Can Nicolson really be unaware of the remarkable growth of American megachurches?

Recommended if … you missed the book when it first came out and share Nicolson’s view that the KJV is “an everlasting miracle.” God Secretaries could make a good Christmas gift for a minister, choir director, or Sunday school teacher, especially if signed by an appropriate subset of a congregation.

Published: August 2005 (HarperPerennial edition)

Posted by Janice Harayda

(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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