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God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible Hardcover – May 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; 1st Edition edition (May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060185163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060185169
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 862,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Nicolson is the author of many books on history, travel and the environment. He is winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the British Topography Prize and lives at Sissinghust Castle in Kent.

Product Description


A net of complex currents flowed across Jacobean England. This was the England of Shakespeare, Jonson and Bacon; of the Gunpowder Plot; the worst outbreak of the plague England had ever seen; Arcadian landscapes; murderous, toxic slums; and, above all, of sometimes overwhelming religious passion. Jacobean England was both more godly and less godly than it had ever been, and the entire culture was drawn taut between the polarities. This was the world that created the "King James Bible". It is the greatest work of English prose ever written, and it is no coincidence that the translation was made at the moment "Englishness" and the English language had come into its first passionate maturity. Boisterous, elegant, subtle, majestic, finely nuanced, sonorous and musical, the English of Jacobean England has a more encompassing idea of its own reach and scope than any before or since. It is a form of the language that drips with potency and sensitivity. The age, with all its conflicts, explains the book. The sponsor and guide of the whole Bible project was the King himself, the brilliant, ugly and profoundly peace-loving James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England. Trained almost from birth to manage the rivalries of political factions at home, James saw in England the chance for a sort of irenic Eden over which the new translation of the Bible was to preside. It was to be a Bible for everyone, and as God's lieutenant on earth, he would use it to unify his kingdom. The dream of Jacobean peace, guaranteed by an elision of royal power and divine glory, lies behind a Bible of extraordinary grace and everlasting literary power. About fifty scholars from Cambridge, Oxford and London did the work, drawing on many previous versions, and created a text which, for all its failings, has never been equaled. That is the central question of this book: how did this group of near-anonymous divines, muddled, drunk, self-serving, ambitious, ruthless, obsequious, pedantic and flawed as they were, manage to bring off this astonishing translation? How did such ordinary men make such extraordinary prose? In "God's Secretaries", Adam Nicolson gives a fascinating and dramatic account of the accession and ambition of the first Stuart king; of the scholars who labored for seven years to create his Bible; of the influences that shaped their work and of the beliefs that colored their world, immersing us in an age whose greatest monument is not a painting or a building, but a book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
Few moments in English history have been more hungry for the future, its mercurial possibilities and its hope of richness, than the spring of 1603. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME on 9 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
There will likely never be a time when the King James Bible is without influence; it has through the dialectical relationship with the English language become part of a world-wide linguistic tradition that, should English ever become a dead language a la Latin or ancient Greek, its historical stamp will continue to be felt. Perhaps the twin towers of influence on modern English coming out of the medieval were Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible. Adam Nicolson set out to explore the development of this phenomenal text, often dubbed the best book ever produced by a committee.
Indeed, this was work done individually and communally. As Nicolson points out, the King James Version did not arise in a vacuum; there were earlier translations of the Bible into English, the greatest and most influential of which was the Tyndale Bible, whose influence was so great that at least three-quarters of the King James Version (and a goodly percentage of many future versions of the Bible) is directly from Tyndale.
This is no simple tale of translation. Nicolson explores the troubled times surrounding the early Jacobean reign in England. The glory of the Elizabethan age, with its turbulent times politically, socially and religiously, gave way to this somewhat-foreign influence now in authority. Part of the purpose of King James (the first of England, the sixth of Scotland) was to put an indelible English stamp on his reputation and reign, and succeeded such that his name continues to be near-synonymous with the holy scripture.
This age was one of change and growth, but also one of maturity and establishment. The Bible itself, from the very first page, proclaims this - this is the 'Authorised' version.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. R. B. Kempson on 4 May 2009
Format: Paperback
God's Secretaries well deserves its excellent professional reviews. Some might think a book on the writing of the King James Bible might be a stuffy scholastic volume. Nothing of the sort. Many facets on 17th Century life are included, not just the writing of the Book itself. The period comes to life and the character pictures are excellent.
It also throws clear shafts of light on the purposes for which the King James Bible was written, the methods used for its composition and the reasons why it has maintained its place for so long.
I highly recommend it.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 27 Aug. 2004
Format: Paperback
God's Secretaries is a beautiful evocation of the making of the King James Bible, considered by many to be the most compelling version of the Bible ever published. Nicolson makes a powerful argument in support of this assertion. Nicolson's passion for the King James Bible permeates this work. It must be no easy task to use prose to describe a book that is held in such high regard. I think Nicolson has pulled this task off with grace and ease.
The first portion of the book puts the process of translation into the context of the early Jacobean era. Nicolson traces the end of the Elizabethan era and the ascension of James I (James VI of Scotland) to the throne of England in 1603. There were numerous issues of state and theology (the two are inexorably mixed) that James needed to navigate.
James I, was the head of the English church (referred to here as the Anglican church) that operated on a theological level that was betwixt and between Catholicism and the `purer' (for wont of a better adjective) Protestantism of Calvin and Luther (to name two) that had spread like wildfire across the continent and had made serious inroads into English religious life. Those Protestants were referred to as nonconformists in England because their practice did not conform to the Anglican tradition. Nicolson does an admirable job of setting out the doctrinal and political justifications for this tripartite divide. At its most superficial level, Catholicism because of its focus on the religious dominance of Rome and the Pope served to lessen the authority of the crown because it split the allegiance of the faithful and belied the critical notion that the King's authority flowed directly from God without reference to or reliance on the Pope.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 28 Jun. 2005
Format: Paperback
Nicolson's study of the background and people involved in producing the King James Bible is akin to doing an old jigsaw puzzle where the colours are washed out. You're pretty certain of how it will look when completed. After all, most people have been exposed to the book's purported topic. You have expectations of what you will encounter. Each chapter offers a new piece leading to the assumed final result. Yet each piece is something of a surprise - an unknown character or an obscure event. As the image builds, Nicolson assures you of its relevance. Yet, when the task has been finished, the rendering is almost wholly unexpected.
For once, the renaming of a British publication - the original was "Power and Glory" - was appropriate. Nicolson opens with the accession of King James I of England, but the VI of Scotland. This unusual transformation of a monarch brought about a new wave of stresses to a nation that had endured a succession of religious upheavals over the previous century. From Henry VIII's break with Rome, through an unmitigated Protestantism and sudden reversion to Roman Catholicism, to Elizabeth's long, waffling reign, the British welcomed a king they felt promised religious stability. They hadn't counted on James' unhappy years under Scots Presbyterian mentors. Nicolson's depiction of James is of a man almost obsessed with exercising power over religious matters. If not the subtle initiator, James certainly pounced on the idea of creating a "new" English Bible.
It was an era of Bible writing. The Douai had been recently produced by English Catholics in exile, while the very Presbyterians James loathed had imported Calvin's Geneva text enthusiastically. Anglicans had struggled with earlier English-language versions, from Tyndale through the half-century old Bishop's Bible.
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