How one book changed English history.
You may think Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth is the most important work of English literature, but Bobrick (Angel in the Whirlwind, 1997, etc.) is out to show you that the English translations of the Bible have actually been far more influential. And from the very first chapter, his argument is delightful and informative. We meet John Wycliffe, a theologian and philosopher who stirred up particular controversy with his challenges to the traditional doctrine of the Eucharist: Bobrick paints a charming portrait of 14th-century Oxford, where Wycliffe spent most of his adult life living in thatched cottages with mud floors, dining on thin soup, owning few books, and participating in some of the world’s first town and gown rivalries. A reformer before the Reformation, Wycliffe disdained indulgences, hated the corrupt wealth of many monasteries, and wanted English people to be able to read the Bible in English for themselves. He inspired the 1382 Wycliffe Bible, translated from the Latin by Nicholas Hereford and other disciples. Next we meet Tyndale, who in the 16th century translated the Bible into accessible and brisk prose. Then comes King James. Around the end of Elizabeth’s reign, there was agitation for a new translation. James convened a committee to translate the Bible anew, giving us the King James Version, which, says Bobrick, “held undisputed sway in the English-speaking world for more than two centuries.” The English Bibles were not just literarily influential; they were politically influential too—for, according to Bobrick, the radical doctrine that each individual was to interpret Scripture as he sees fit led directly to the English revolution. Five useful indices—which chart, inter alia, the chronology of the Bible from Old Testament times, the chronology of English Bibles, and comparative translations—are included.
From alpha to omega, an engrossing account.