When God Spoke English : The Making of the King James Bible, Paperback

When God Spoke English : The Making of the King James Bible Paperback

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


A fascinating, lively account of the making of the King James Bible.

James VI of Scotland - now James I of England - came into his new kingdom in 1603.

Trained almost from birth to manage rival political factions, he was determined not only to hold his throne, but to avoid the strife caused by religious groups that was bedevilling most European countries.

He would hold his God-appointed position and unify his kingdom.

Out of these circumstances, and involving the very people who were engaged in the bitterest controversies, a book of extraordinary grace and lasting literary appeal was created: the King James Bible. 47 scholars from Cambridge, Oxford and London translated the Bible, drawing from many previous versions, and created what many believe to be the greatest prose work ever written in English - the product of a culture in a peculiarly conflicted era.

This was the England of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson and Bacon; but also of extremist Puritans, the Gunpowder plot, the Plague, of slum dwellings and crushing religious confines.

Quite how this astonishing translation emerges is the central question of this book. Far more than Shakespeare, this Bible helped to create and shape the language.

It is the origin of many of our most familiar phrases, and the foundations of the English-speaking world.

It was a generous and deliberate decision to make the Bible available to the common man: not an immediate commercial success, but which later became a bestseller, and has remained one ever since.

Adam Nicolson gives a fascinating and dramatic account of the early years of the first Stewart ruler, and the scholars who laboured for seven years to create the world's greatest book; immersing us in a world of ingratiating bishops, a fascinating monarch and London at a time unlike any other.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 288 pages, Illustrations (chiefly col.), facsims. (some col.), ports. (chiefly col.)
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9780007431007



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Beautifully written and utterly absorbing!This book tells of the commissioning, translation and publication of the landmark 1611 Authorised Version of the Bible (generally referred to as the King James Bible). This may sound a somewhat dry subject, unlikely to engage the general reader but that judgement couldn't be more wrong.Arising out of the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 which attempted to achieve harmony between the variant forms of Protestantism then prevalent in the only-recently united realms of England and Scotland. As might have been readily predicted no such harmony emerged but King James was persuaded of the value of commissioning an official translation of the Bible, which would be accessible to as broad as possible a section of the population.Teams of scholars from both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, augmented by ranks of academic clergymen, worked over the translation for seven years, producing what has since come to be immortalised as the King James Bible.I had a particular interest in reading this book as the section of the Department for Education in England is currently engaged in a project to send a copy of the King James Bible to every state school in the country as part of the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of its publication. However, while I expected to find the book of vague work-related interest, I was amazed to find how gripping and enthralling the story was.Nicolson gives a lucid and detailed account of the religious dissension holding sway across the country, and of the social and economic strife that was wreaking widespread havoc, yet he never loses the reader's interest.This book achieved that rare treat of being both improving and entertaining.

Review by

This is a very well written book, as befits the language of its subject, and it describes marvellously the atmosphere of England at a time of great change - the end of the Tudor/Elizabethan age and the birth of the Stuart/Jacobean age. It puts across very effectively the point that the Jacobean view of the world is very different from more modern viewpoints, for example in assumptions about the relationship between religion and the state and the nature of both types of authority. Unfortunately there is comparatively little surviving detail about the actual compilation of the Bible itself, beyond the rules set out for the translation and a few scattered examples of the thought processes behind it as revealed through a tiny amount of surviving documentation. This is complemented by vignettes of the lives of some of the translators themselves. The language of the King James Bible is without a doubt wonderful and it deserves its place as a cornerstone of English literature, though one must not forget that it is based very largely on earlier Bibles and the Tynedale version in particular also deserves its own reputation. The King James version is very much a product of its own time and place. 4/5

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