Review: Wide as the Waters, by Benson Bobrick
Because of its misled defenders in the “King James Only” movement, the Authorized Version of the English Bible is often dismissed by mainstream evangelicals for being archaic, based on unreliable manuscripts or (an even lower blow) corrupted by the sexually deviant monarch who oversaw its translation. Benson Bobricks’ Wide as the Waters is a good corrective to the legends surrounding the King James Bible.
Yes, the vernacular of the KJV can be idiosyncratic. Yes, its translators did not have access to the much older manuscripts that we have today. Yes, King James’ lifestyle would be appalling to the fundamentalists who defend the translation that bears his name. But that is only part of the story.
The team of academics and churchmen the king appointed to translate the Bible were by in large a devout group of men with more knowledge of linguistics and the classics than many of today’s seminary professors. With a few exceptions, they strove for accuracy and objectivity, with the manuscripts they had access to, and subsequent English Bible versions struggle to replicate the poetry and majesty of the KJV.
As Bobrick skillfully argues, the KJV was not only a literary masterpiece, but its influence reshaped the monarchy that funded its publication. The values of basic human dignity and the distrust of human kingship that the KJV made widely available to common folk brought increasing democratization to the British Empire and sowed seeds for the American Revolution—seeds that sprouted 150 years after its publication.