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Wide As the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired First Edition

26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684847474
ISBN-10: 0684847477
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Editorial Reviews Review

Benson Bobrick's Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired is a brisk and gripping work of history, religion, and literary criticism. Translation of the King James Bible took centuries to complete, and Bobrick provides colorful descriptions of the distinctive contributions of various translators who took part in the project, particularly John Wyclif in the 15th century and William Tyndale in the 16th century. (Tyndale, he points out, is the second most widely quoted writer, after Shakespeare, in the English language ["eat, drink, and be merry," is Tyndale's phrase; so is "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak"].) Wide as the Waters interprets each translator's work according to its contemporary political context in England. The book's most dramatic passages are found in its account of Henry VIII's showdown with Rome, which resulted in (among other things) Tyndale's execution. Although Bobrick may overstate the singularity of the Bible's influence on the English Revolution (he asserts that the concepts of liberty and free will that guided revolutionaries who overthrew Charles I were primarily derived from the King James Bible), his argument is, at the very least, an effective and engaging reminder of Scripture's liberating power. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First edition (April 11, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684847477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684847474
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #715,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There is a famous Italian proverb, "Traduttore, traditore," which means, "The translator is a traitor." It is generally taken to mean that someone who translates a work betrays the work itself, as a translation cannot sufficiently convey the original. But in the case of the Bible, translation has been regarded literally as a betrayal, a betrayal against religious or civic authority that might result in the most severe of punishments. In _Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired_ (Simon & Schuster) Benson Bobrick tells about the dangers of this particular betrayal as the Bible was launched by various attempts over the centuries into English. The popes and monarchs were right to be worried about putting the Bible into the vernacular.
The right of the individual to make private religious inquiry may be said to have started with John Wycliffe, who was involved in translating the Bible in 1380. His work was suppressed and condemned as heretical. The offended and unforgiving church dug up his bones forty years after he died and burned them. The father of the English Bible as we know it is William Tyndale. He was a child prodigy in languages and "singularly addicted to the study of the scriptures." Influenced by the Humanists and by Luther, and taking advantage of the advent of printing by movable type, he wanted lay-people themselves to see the "process, order, and meaning of the text." He was hounded into Europe, and Henry VIII put watches on English ports to ensure his dangerous book did not sully their shores. Tyndale lived a hunted life in Europe, was betrayed and captured in Antwerp, tried for heresy, and strangled and burned.
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Richard Rinn on June 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Benson Bobrick was critically acclaimed for his history of the American Revolution, "Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution". "Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired" is equally well written, but deals with the less well known--although nonetheless related--topic of the evolution of the various English language bibles into the linguistically glorious King James version.
This is a multilayered story which combines the chronological histories of the various biblical translations with the political and religious transformations/reformations occuring in England at the same time. Bobrick skillfully interweaves the linguistic and literary aspects of a great feat of religious publishing with the social, political, religious, and intellectual revolutions that were taking place concurrently, and convincingly shows how one area of change was inextricably connected and causally related to each of the others. The conerstone of his interpretation is the thesis that history is not a set of unrelated, individual, unconnected events or processes, but a seamless flow where all historical forces are intimately and irrevocably intertwined.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on July 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"Wide As The Waters", could easily be classified as a book about the evolution of The English Bible, and by extension a discussion exclusively of The Christian Faith. This presumption would greatly decrease the potential audience, and do a disservice to a remarkably readable and scholarly dissertation upon the events that produced what many consider the finest version of this book. This is not simply an explanation about The King James Bible and those that did the necessary translation. It is a sweeping view of the history of The Bible, its misuse as a political defense and weapon, and the centuries it took to bring the work to fruition. Contrary to what many believe, The King James Bible was not the first Bible in English, it was not the second, fifth, or even the tenth. Bibles that preceded it were produced in dozens of editions preceding the King James. The story of those who brought this remarkable product of scholarship to its fruition is nothing short of astounding. Whether or not your Faith coincides with The Bible, or whether you enjoy excellent dispassionate History, this book is a brilliant work, penned by the inspired Historian Benson Bobrick.
The variety of interests that sought to produce the definitive English translation was a varied group. There were Kings, Queens, Popes, and dozens of others that would eventually contribute to the final product. At one point The Catholic Church was so fragmented that it had no less than 3 Popes claiming St. Peter's Throne simultaneously. These same people in power either encouraged or caused the martyrdom of men like John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and Miles Coverdale. Henry VIII, Edward IV, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I, were just some of the memorable monarchs in the drama.
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