Book review: God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible
by Adam Nicolson
Here’s an odd book. It suffers from a little deficiency, through no fault of its own: the story it has to tell (how the King James Bible came into being) is simply not very interesting. Most of the contributors to the King James Bible were obscure, and the historical setting is equally dull. It’s wrought with typical corruption of court, power squabbles, and serious disagreements over doctrine. What else is new throughout the 1500 years since the Bible’s books were written? Even telling the story against a backdrop of the plague and the genius of Shakespeare can’t rescue its setting.
How could our Bible emerge from such a world? But out of this stagnation, through the unlikely cooperation of divergent men, arose a masterpiece. A work meant to be chanted in church, with a rich cadence and a majestic language. Quaint even in its own time, the KJV is nevertheless the language of God, properly aged, in His antiquity and mystery.
Never mind its inaccuracies, and how we have since uncovered more original scriptures to translate. Never mind that the authors have added and subtracted to enhance the beauty of the prose. The ear is the governing organ; if it sounds right, it is right. The end result does indeed rival Shakespeare in its beauty, producing by far the most quotable literary creation in history.
Pity it’s necessary to slog through the first 150 pages of Nicolson’s book in order to appreciate the miracle of the King James Bible, but it is necessary, because that is the story. Each member of the team was to translate all the chapters in his allotted section, alone, without conferring with others. Only then were they to meet together, discuss the text and decide on their final submission. Somehow, inexplicably, it all came together, and the final chapters of Nicolson’s book are glorious. And Nicolson’s rating? A three-star story miraculously transformed into a five-star miracle.