Cover image for Wide as the waters : the story of the English Bible and the revolution it inspired
Wide as the waters : the story of the English Bible and the revolution it inspired
Bobrick, Benson, 1947-
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Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2001]

Physical Description:
379 pages : portraits ; 24 cm
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BS455 .B62 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Bobrick tells the dramatic story of the translation of the Bible into English by John Wyclif, William Tyndale, and the experts assembled under King James, and the enormous ramifications of the English Bible on politics, literature, and law.

Author Notes

Benson Bobrick holds a doctorate in English & Comparative Literature from Columbia University & is the author of six previous books. He lives in Brattleboro, Vermont.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In surveying the translators and translations that paved the way for the King James Version, Bobrick rightly combines the history of translation with that of a political process that included key developments in the forging of Anglo-American democracy. The period under consideration runs from the end of the fourteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth--that is, from Wycliffe to Tyndale and Coverdale to King James. Surely the emergence of the English Bible was connected to the broader struggle for vernacular translations often associated with the Protestant Reformation and its forerunners, such as Jan Hus. But it was also related, partly because of the unique shape of the English Reformation, to a habit of independent thought that is critical to democracy. Extracts from several translations afford comparative opportunities as well as illustrate the development of the language, yet what may interest most readers is Bobrick's demonstration that an interweaving of theology, politics, and language gave the King James Version its privileged place in the English language and English culture. --Steven Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

Independent scholar Bobrick's (Angel in the Whirlwind; etc.) erudite yet accessible history chronicles the turbulent period from the first English translation of the Bible, sponsored by John Wycliffe in 1382, to the King James Version in 1611. Rendering the Scriptures in the vernacular was an act fraught with peril, he reminds readers. Simply possessing a Wycliffe Bible was enough to get a layperson tried for heresy. William Tyndale, whose early-16th-century renderings of the New Testament and Pentateuch greatly influenced the King James translators, saw his work confiscated and destroyed by English ecclesiastical authorities; he was burned at the stake in 1536. Though Henry VIII's break from Rome prompted more English versions in the late 16th century, conservatives still feared that giving the common people access to the Scriptures would lead to civic as well as religious unrest; eventually, the Civil War of 1642-1649 suggested they were right. Succeeding Elizabeth in 1603, James I aimed to consolidate his position as head of church and state with a new Bible that would take the best from all previous English versions and maintain the Anglo-Catholic terms (such as "church" rather than the more Puritan "congregation") favored by the Bishop's Bible of 1568. Bobrick offers cogent minibiographies of the remarkable team of scholars James assembled, and his lucid exegeses show how seemingly small changes (from "the earth was void and empty" into "the earth was without form and void") transformed the text, rendering it majestic yet easily understandable. Bobrick's analysis of how dissemination of the Bible helped spark the Civil War is oversimplified, but historians have long agreed that putting the Scriptures in the hands of the people was indeed a revolutionary act. It's a pleasure to have this stirring story so well told for the general reader. (Apr.) Forecast: The publisher may be going too far in comparing this to The Professor and the Madman, but this is a rich, accessible history that will appeal to students of religion, English and history, and so should rack up generous sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Many today tend to take the Bible for granted and fail to recognize its permanent influence upon politics, literature, and law. During the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the availability of the scriptures in the vernacular inspired a revolution of free thought culminating in concepts of constitutional government and democracy whose impact upon the world continues to the present day. The far-reaching implications of the printing press, the rise of English as a national language, and the Reformation all closely bound to the history of the vernacular Bible figure prominently in the narrative of both of these new histories of the King James Bible. Wide as the Water (beginning with the early development of Christianity in Britain and ending with the period of the American Revolution) details the unique stamp of the English people upon Bible translation through the lives of early reformers such as John Wycliffe and William Tyndale. Although the history of the English Bible is covered in a concise and informative way, In the Beginning primarily focuses upon the translation of the King James Bible and is richly illustrated. Each work supplies a chronology and a comparison of major English translations of the most well known passages. McGrath's book contains informative appendixes which are unique to his work: "The Evolution of the English Bible," "King James Translators, by Company and Assignment," and "Richard Bancroft's Rules to be Observed in the Translation of the Bible." Both books are a pleasure to read. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [Wide as the Waters was previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/00.] Michael W. Ellis, Ellenville P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Chapter Two But all that was beyond what anyone could know. Nor, if they had known it, would all have cared. For the hunger for an English Bible had grown, and even the prospect of discord was not likely to check that yearning, with such a feast at hand. This was especially so in London and the western counties, where the successors of the old Lollards were strong. They had long treasured manuscript copies of the Wycliffe Scriptures, and so when Tyndale's work reached England in the spring of 1526, they adopted it at once as their own. The truth is, had it not seemed to come before the authorities as part of the Lutheran movement, they, too, might have received it more thoughtfully than they did. Unfortunately, there was reason enough to suspect it. It was known that Tyndale had consorted with Luther, and it was clear to anyone placing their two translations side by side that they were more than kin. Tyndale, for example, had not only lifted some phrases from Luther's German, but had adopted his format as a whole -- including his chapter divisions, order of the books, and most of his ancillary apparatus -- "certain prefaces, and other pestilent glosses," as Henry VIII put it, "for the advancement and setting forth of his abominable heresies." The translation, however, was Tyndale's own. In addition to Luther's German, he had before him as he worked the two editions of the New Testament published by Erasmus (in 1516 and 1522); Erasmus's own Latin translation of the Greek text; and the Vulgate. He took something of value (usually what was best) from each, but the Greek remained his ultimate guide. In his own Preface, he swore on his conscience that he had translated the text as "faithfully" as he could, with a "pure far forth as God gave me the gift of knowledge, and understanding," and expressed the hope that "the rudeness of the work" would not offend those learned in the Scriptures, who he hoped would "consider how that I had no man to counterfeit, neither was help with English of any that had interpreted the same, or such like thing in the Scripture before time." Tyndale did not mean by this (as some have supposed) that he was unfamiliar with the Wycliffe versions or declined to make use of them: moving in the circles that he did, and having been "addicted to the study of Scripture" from an early age, he had to have known them well. What he meant, as one scholar noted, was that he could not "counterfeit" (i.e., follow their general plan, as being a rendering from the Vulgate Latin only) or adopt their language, which had already become archaic and unfamiliar by his day. Even so, rhythms and turns of phrase from the Wycliffe versions found occasional echoes in his text. In his three-page Epilogue, Tyndale also appealed to the reader not to judge his pioneering work too harshly. "Count it as a thing not having his full shape...even as a thing begun rather then finished," and he promised greater concision in the future -- "to bring to compendiousness that which is now translated at the length." In fact, he would revise his translation three times with impeccable care. It would be hard to overpraise the literary merits of what he had done. Much of his rendering would later be incorporated into the Authorized or King James Version, and the rhythmical beauty of his prose, skillful use of synonyms for freshness, variety, and point, and "magical simplicity of phrase" imposed itself on all later versions, down to the present day. Ultimately his diction became "the consecrated dialect of English speech." Here is Tyndale's translation of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-16), familiar to every English ear: When he saw the people, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set, his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth, and taught them saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which suffer persecution for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men revile you, and persecute you, and shall falsely say all manner of evil sayings against you for my sake. Rejoice, and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For so persecuted they the prophets which were before your days. Ye are the salt of the earth: but and if the salt have lost her saltness, what can be salted therewith? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill, cannot be hid, neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it lighteth all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven. And here is Tyndale's opening to the Gospel of St. John: In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God: and the word was God. All things were made by it, and without it, was made nothing, that was made. In it was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not. The translation was a tour de force. Nothing like it, in fact, had been seen since the Bible had been translated into the elegant, classical Latin of St. Jerome. But the authorities were blind to its virtues. Bishop Tunstall declared that he could find two thousand errors in it, and soon "dreadful and penal" statutes made it a serious crime for anyone to own, sell, or otherwise distribute a copy of the work. Merchant ships were boarded and searched to prevent its importation; the London's German Steelyard was raided and scoured for stock; and not long after the first copies reached London, Wolsey sponsored a second bonfire of all heretical books under the great crucifix known as the Rood of Northen before the gate of St. Paul's. But the books kept coming, and on the 24th of October 1526, Tunstall issued the following decree: By the duty of our pastoral office we are bound diligently, with all our power, to foresee, provide for, root out, and put away, all those things which seem to tend to the peril and danger of our subjects, and specially the destruction of their souls! Wherefore, we having understanding, by the report of divers credible persons, and also by the evident appearance of the matter, that many children of iniquity, maintainers of Luther's sect, blinded through extreme wickedness, wandering from the way of truth and the Catholic faith, craftily have translated the New Testament into our English tongue, intermingling therewith many heretical articles and erroneous opinions, pernicious and offensive, seducing the simple people, attempting by their wicked and perverse interpretations to profanate the majesty of Scripture, which hitherto hath remained undefiled, and craftily to abuse the most Holy Word of God, and the true sense of the same; of the which translation there are many books imprinted, some with glosses, and some without; containing, in the English tongue, that pestiferous and most pernicious poison, dispersed throughout all our diocese, in great number....Wherefore charge you, jointly and severally (the Archdeacons), and by virtue of your obedience....that within thirty days' space...they do bring in, and really deliver unto our Vicar-General, all and singular such books as contain the translation of the New Testament in the English Tongue. A few days later, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a similar mandate, as more books were gathered up, carted to St. Paul's, and publicly cast into the fire. "No burnt offering," wrote the papal legate, Lorenzo Campeggio, at the time, "could be better pleasing to God." The alacrity with which Tyndale's work was disseminated throughout England, however, was itself cause for alarm, because it implied the existence of a formidable network of believers willing to defy the decrees of both Church and state. The underground book trade was also fed by a number of pirate editions rushed off the press in Antwerp to meet demand. Between 1525 and 1528 at least eighteen thousand copies of Tyndale's New Testament, in both quarto and octavo editions, were printed, concealed in corn ships and bales of merchandise, and brought into English ports. Many were confiscated; but a substantial number still found their way through clandestine cells of sympathetic reformers into more appreciative hands. Unable to prevent their circulation by force, the government tried to stop their production overseas. Letters were dispatched to officials in the Netherlands (including Princess Margaret, aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and regent of Brabant) to enlist their cooperation; Tunstall, meanwhile, had decided to buy up copies in large quantities on the Continent so as to destroy them before they were shipped. En route from an embassy with Sir Thomas More to Cambray, he detoured to Antwerp, where he approached a cloth merchant by the name of Augustus Packington, who was thought to know the main sources of supply. Packington said he could help him, and Tunstall promised to pay him handsomely for every copy he could get. As it happened, Packington and Tyndale were friends. So he went to Tyndale and told him, with amusement, that he knew someone willing to take every unsold copy of his work off his hands. "Who?" said Tyndale. "The bishop of London," said Packington. "Oh, that is because he will burn them." "Yea," said Packington. "Well, I am the gladder," said Tyndale; "for these two benefits shall come thereof: I shall get money of him for these books, to bring myself out of debt, and the whole world shall cry out upon the burning of God's word." And so forward went the bargain -- "the bishop had the books, Packington had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money." Tyndale (through Packington) even got Tunstall to buy up the standing type to prevent a reprint, and used the money to prepare a new and improved edition of his work -- at Church expense. About a year later, Sir Thomas More was interrogating one of Tyndale's confederates, George Constantine, and wanted to know where some of the English exiles got their financial support. He was so eager to ascertain this that he promised Constantine a virtual pardon in return for any tip. Constantine asked More if he was sure he wanted to know the truth. "Yea, I pray thee," said More. "Truly, then," said Constantine, "it is the bishop of London that hath holpen us; for he hath bestowed among us a great deal of money in New Testaments to burn them, and that hath been, and yet is, our only succour and comfort." "Now by my troth," exclaimed More, "I think even the same, and I said so much to the bishop, when he went about to buy them." Even so, it was hard for Tyndale to see his work condemned. "They did none other thing than I looked for," he wrote in 1527, putting as brave a face on the matter as he could. "No more shall they do if they burn me also. If it be God's will it shall so be." In his own estimation, however, he was not a heretic but a reformer, and insisted that he had never written anything, "to stir up false doctrine or opinion in the Church, or to be the author of any sect, or to draw disciples after me, or that I would be esteemed above the least child that is born. But only out of pity and compassion which I had, and yet have, on the darkness of my brethren, and to bring them to the knowledge of Christ." Of the original octavo edition of Tyndale's New Testament, only three copies remain; and of the quarto edition begun at Cologne and completed at Worms, only one fragment survives, consisting of thirty-one leaves with a prologue, a list of New Testament books, the text of Matthew to 22:12, and a woodcut of an angel holding an inkstand into which the saint dips his pen. Copyright © 2001 by Benson Bobrick Excerpted from Wide As the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired by Benson Bobrick All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 11
Chapter 1 Morning Starp. 21
Chapter 2 Martyrp. 79
Chapter 3 Protestant, Catholic, Bishop, Queenp. 139
Chapter 4 Kingp. 199
Chapter 5 The Common Wealthp. 267
Appendix 1 Chronologyp. 298
Appendix 2 The Evolution of the English Biblep. 300
Appendix 3 Comparative Translationsp. 301
Appendix 4 The King James Translators, by Company and Assignmentp. 313
Appendix 5 Richard Bancroft's "Rules to Be Observed in the Translation of the Bible"p. 316
Notesp. 318
Bibliographyp. 345
Indexp. 359