Monday, March 1, 2010

God's Secretaries

The Making of the King James Bible
Adam Nicholson

Adam Nicholson is the fifth Baron Carnoc, which might give him some cred in explaining the inner machinations of Jacobean politics into which he delves in this book, which is about much more than just biblical scholarship in the early seventeenth century. God's Secretaries ranges far in it's opening chapter, to the death of Elizabeth, who Nicholson says was an unpopular, and almost broke, queen at the end of her reign, to the rise of the "puritan" strain of English religion and to the clever way that James I played he various parties against one another to create and preserve the United Kingdom. Incidentally, the original title was Baronet Carnoc, Carnoc being some godforsaken place, possible near J.K. Rowling's castle, in Scotland. This title was sold to on of Nicholson's ancestors by James I in a clever money raising scheme. The Nicholsons became full fledged barons in 1916, courtesy of the first world war and Sir Arthur Nicholson, 11th Baronet and Permanent Undersecretary in the Foreign Office. I'm not sure what a Baronet is, a Baron in toe shoes, maybe?

According to God's Secretaries, James was in a bit of a pickle when he ascended to the English throne on the death of Elizabeth. He had this wonderful invention, the Church of England, created by Henry VIII, which made him the head of the church as well as the state. Other European monarchs were subject to interference in their affairs by the Pope and/or the bishops of the churches in their countries. God trumps the King every time.

Henry had created this marvelous church where he was both king and pope. But, if it was possible to create a new church other people could do the same, and in England, "Puritan" churches had sprung up, churches which taught that every person could read the Bible for themselves and needed no religious authority higher than the elders of their own congregation. Worse, some members and clergy in the Church of England leaned toward their revolutionary notions. James was used to these people because he had been born and raised as the king of Scotland, where the Presbyterian faith made him, as king, just another member of the church, no better than anyone else. James really preferred being the top dog.

In God's Secretaries Nicholson explores how James used the writing of a new standard English translation of the Bible to reinforce his authority over both church and state and, at the same time, temporarily quieted the political strife caused by the religious split between the Church of England and the "Puritans." It didn't last long, of course.

Amazingly, the King James Bible was written by a committee, a big committee with lots of subcommittees. There were both Bishops and Puritans on those subcommittees. Somehow, they found a way to work together and create what has been called the greatest work of prose in the English Language.

Maybe Congress should read this book.


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