As part of an ongoing series of ‘Six of the Best’ books in a particular area related to engaging with Scripture, Antony Billington (Head of Theology, LICC) looks at books on the history and influence of the King James Bible.
Half-way through 2011 – the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible – it’s worth taking stock of some of the best of the books that have come out (or have been reissued) which tell the story behind the so-called ‘authorised’ version of the Bible and explore its influence on subsequent history and culture. Other good and helpful treatments of this topic have been published, and still others will doubtless appear during the remainder of the year, meaning it will be worthwhile revisiting ‘books on the King James Bible’ in six months time. Watch this space. Meanwhile…
Benson Bobrick, Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001, reissued 2010).
Focusing on the period between the European Reformation and the American Revolution, Bobrick argues that the translation of the Bible into the English vernacular sparked a popular social revolution, helping kickstart the birth of modern democracy – first in England, and then later in America. The democratisation of a translated Bible was itself significant, and Scripture was seen to be on the side of those who demanded the rights of the individual in matters of governance.
Gordon Campbell, Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
A full but concise sweep, with a reasonably generous smattering of illustrations, through the history of the King James Bible from its beginnings in Wycliffe and Tyndale through its reception and adaptation across the centuries to the present day.
David Crystal, Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
Vestiges of the influence of the King James Bible on the English language are seen in the continued use of phrases like ‘lamb to the slaughter’, ‘my brother’s keeper’, ‘as old as the hills’, ‘written in stone’, ‘sour grapes’, etc. In this engaging and illuminating study, David Crystal counts 257 of them, showing how the Bible ‘begat’ such phrases in the English language – now found in newspaper headlines, TV sitcoms, song lyrics, and book titles.
Alister E. McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001, reissued).
A clear and accessible account of events leading up to the publication of the KJV in 1611 and its influence on subsequent generations.
Adam Nicolson, When God Spoke English: The Making of the King James Bible (London: HarperCollins, 2011).
This was first published in 2003 as Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible, and subsequently as God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, before the arrival of this reissue. A bit wordy, perhaps, but Nicolson is clearly a fan of the language and style of the King James Bible, and an enthusiastic teller of its story against the backdrop of seventeenth-century England.
Derek Wilson, The People’s Bible: The Remarkable History of the King James Version (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2010).
A highly readable historical sketch, from the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 that ‘the secret mysteries of the faith should not be explained to all men in all places’ to the NIV of more recent times.
If you have come across other good books on the history and influence of the King James Bible which are not listed here, let us know what they are and why you have found them helpful.