220: God’s Secretaries by Adam Nicolson

by Gerard


220.52038: Nicolson, Adam. God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. New York: Perennial, 2004. 243 pp. ISBN 0-06-095975-4.

Dewey Construction

  • 200: Religion
  • 220: The Bible
  • 220.5: Modern version and translations
  • 220.52: Versions in English and Anglo-Saxon
  • 220.5203: King James Version
  • +8: History

When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, she left England languishing in an old system of nobility and still divided on the topic of religion. English Protestants and Catholics had their country locked in an interminable spiritual tug-of-war for their souls. With the coronation of James VI of Scotland as King of England (renamed James I), came the inevitable questions: Would the clergy be upheaved? Which spiritual laws superceded others? Up until then, the Church of England was a mish-mash of theological concepts from both sides. But James sought to smooth out the rough edges and convened the Hampton Court of 1604. And herein lies our tale.

To help bridge the rift between the two main factions of British church-goers, as well as to quiet the growing Puritan sentiment, King James I of England convened the best religious minds of the country to author a new translation of the Bible. This new version would help to iron out differences and discrepancies between existing texts. Eventually, 47 scholars would go to work translating each book from scratch (even the apocrypha).

From 1604 to 1609, the six Companies (each Company was responsible for a section of books) diligently went about their task. When finished, the translations were vetted by the General Committee of Review. The final authorized version was published in 1611. While this would by no means be the definitive version of the Bible, it was one that everyone in the Church could use without recourse from the King. Many people still preferred the old version (a fight which still continues today), but the publication of the King James Bible represented a supreme landmark in any study of Biblical translation.

Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries is well done with just a few quibbles. While many would agree that history is nothing with context, there are times when the author goes off on a few flights of fancy without much reason for doing so. Also, the sheer number of people involved in the translation leaves their backgrounds at a disadvantage. Most of the translators’ lives are sketchy at best. These few drawbacks shouldn’t, however, keep you from reading this book. I find biblio-histories to be some of the better books in my collection. This one was no exception.