The King James Bible is many things, including a stunning work of poetry. It was commissioned in 1604 by James of England, and it took some 50-odd men seven years to translate it from the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic into English. Adam Nicolson tells the story of these Translators (the job was so prestigious it was capitalized!) in the book God’s Secretaries: The Making Of The King James Bible (2003).
James, “ugly, restless, and redhaired,” his father murdered, had become ruler of Scotland as a child. Surrounded by a brutal court in a poverty-stricken nation, he nonetheless survived into adulthood, and was heir presumptive to England’s throne, although his dream of uniting the realm was shared by few.
Queen Elizabeth, meanwhile, was hanging on to life, no longer a beloved monarch and almost a parody of herself, ignoring her own kingdom’s troubles. “By the time of Elizabeth’s death… James’ mouth was dry with years of panting,” writes Nicolson.
Very little is known of the actual process of the Translation, but Nicolson gives readers a history of the times, of James the Seventh’s first decade of rule in England, and of the pitched religious battles between Catholics, Puritans and the Church of England. There is some historical information known about some Translators (including one who was so bored by a sermon he walked out and went to the pub).
James demanded a new Bible that would confirm his divine right to power and convince the people to kneel to royal authority, and the Translators sought to please. This Bible is all about the need to obey. The tale’s a fascinating read.
But what to make of the actual contents of The Good Book? Two modern authors have vastly different interpretations.
Tom Harpur trained as an Anglican priest and became a religion reporter for the Toronto Star. The Pagan Christ: Recovering
The Lost Light (2004) offers a very different biblical tour. Harpur doesn’t see the Bible as history, but as metaphor. He takes the reader along on his voyage.
The Good Book, he argues, retells the same stories from other religions, offering the ancient Egyptian Sun God Ra and his son Horus for comparison.
For Harpur, the Bible is a deeply spiritual work that connects to the myths that govern the human psyche. He shreds the Bible as history and uses it instead “to reveal the truly spiritual nature of the Christos archetype in all of human history.” Metaphor “enhances their relevance to our lives – their power to enlarge and uplift one’s spiritual vision.” A focus on spirituality rather than on the rigid precepts or organized religion, he argues, can allow each individual to connect to “the Christ within,” and find meaning inside ourselves.
Author Beth Moor, a Baptist, offers a very different book of Bible study. When Godly People Do Ungodly Things: Arming Yourself In The Age Of Seduction (2002) sees a battle of good and evil, but that battle is based on the literal. This book was written “to the best of my ability under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and I do not believe it conceptually departs from the precepts of God’s Word.” The work seeks to throw light on Satan’s attempts to seduce people to the other side, efforts which Satan has ramped up as we move to the beginning of the end of days.
The first section offers testimonies and a consideration of sin (such as pornography); the second seeks to “seduce-proof” your life with practical advice (evil hooks into vulnerabilities such as loneliness and secrecy). The final chapter is for those who have fallen: Moor wants to you to get back up. Acknowledge your errors, make restitution, and get back on track. Moor can offer a helping hand, but you have to make your own way back.
Thanks to Eda Tarlo for participating in the Adopt-A-Book program, which made this last tome a part of the library’s collection! All three books can be found in the non-fiction shelves, at 248.4.
– Eleanor Brown, May 31, 2013