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Wide As the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired [Hardcover]

By Benson Bobrick (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   384
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.49" Width: 6.66" Height: 1.26"
Weight:   1.57 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Apr 30, 2001
Publisher   Simon & Schuster
ISBN  0684847477  
EAN  9780684847474  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
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 Wycliff 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.

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More About Benson Bobrick

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Benson Bobrick is the author of several acclaimed works, including Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired. In 2002 he received the Literature Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He lives in Vermont.

Benson Bobrick currently resides in the state of Vermont. Benson Bobrick was born in 1947.

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1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General   [38596  similar products]
2Books > Subjects > History > Europe > England > General   [12141  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
How little I knew  Jan 13, 2007
My knowlege of history is spotty. Bobrick made it clear that I had known little of English history.

"Wide as the waters" is dense with facts. While readable, it does appear as if it were a draft into which Bobrick had packed all the facts but not gone back for a final rewrite with enhanced readibility in mind.

Bobrick does make clear the abuse of religous authority, arguments of tradition versus Scripture, the power of the English monarch, the extent of intolerance of what might seem nowadays small religous differences and the problems of Biblical translation. "Wide as the Waters" conveys the excitement of a time when courageous men risked their lives to speak freely and when the "common" people got access to the Bible. I hadn't heard of the Lollards before, who, like Cathar perfects in France, also chose a simple, dangerous life.

One learns of the responsbilities of proofreading, particularly so when it comes with a Bible, with the story of the "Wicked Bible". One wonders, if instead of omitting "not" in the seventh commandment, what would have become of the printer if "no" had been omitted in the first commandment in Exodus 20:3. As it was, the printer was fined and later sent to debtor's prison where he died 12 years after the "Wicked Bible" was released. Don't rush out looking for a copy of the "Wicked Bible": all copies were reportedly recalled.

Other than a reminder of my ignorance of large pockets of history, what I will most bring away from this book is the knowledge of the people who risked suffering and their lives to pave the way for the freedoms we take for granted today.

The memory of people like the Lollards (and the Cathars before them) is still subject to considerable misrepresentation to this day. I, for one, am most thankful that their sacrifices are well-documented. We must still, however, be on the alert for those who would try to reduce our religous freedoms. One step for us to not be midled is to turn to the historical record and consider the vested interests of the sources of the histories we read. Wikipedia notes, I believe correctly, that "The Lollards stated that the Catholic Church had been corrupted by temporal matters and that its claim to be the true church was not justified by its heredity." This may explain in large part why the Catholic Church labelled them heretics, a position still found in the "Catholic Encyclopedia". (For those interested in the Cathars, there are many books available which represent them fairly: Stephen O' Shea's "The Perfect Heresy" is an excellent introduction. Rene Weis's exceptional, detailed "The Yellow Cross" is closely based on historical records. The Cathars, like the Lollards are them, decried corrupt practices found in the Roman Catholic Church and were similarly then labelled as heretics by the Roman Catholic Church.)

Bobrick is to be commended to bringing the historical events and issues in England surrounding the Bible to our attention. Were it not for reputable historians like Bobrick, we might be misled by the work of propagandists.
popularizing v being wrong, very wrong  Jan 9, 2007
With one massive exception, my problems with this book are more generic than particular. The popularized history certainly has a place on library shelves, but I will generally leave such a book on its shelf for reasons shortly to become obvious. I certainly should have left this book on the shelf, unread.

Sadly, Bobrick avoids none of the pitfalls of the genre - un-attributed quotes, passive voice, disportionately detailed digressions into radically random nooks and crannies of history dictated by his sources (which remain un-cited,) not by the importance of a sub-topic to his over-view. Passive voice is the norm for such a book - "it can be seen," "it is suggested" - because the author doesn't want to take the time to sort out his sources, so he simply tosses in an insight without bothering to say who sees or who suggests. While I find this intellectually bankrupt, I do realize that footnotes are not attractive to a main-stream audience. Still, it's hard for me to believe that a main-stream audience would choose to have important distinctions glossed over, even if, at first blush, they may seem to be minor points. Bobrik's details, where they do appear, suggest no principle of inclusion but that of the arbitrary. If we must hear what Wycliffe ate at Oxford, we should also hear about the theological nuances in his translation of Genesis. Surely the latter is more important than the former in a book on the English Bible. But Bobrick evidently found the info on food, so he includes it, not bothering to read up on the more significant topic of Wycliffe's insertion of the word "nouyt" (nothing) into the first line of the first creation story.

Even crucial sub-topics receive cursory attention only. For all that he spews out half a chapter and more on the reign of Queen Elizabeth -- a corner-stone figure in any study of English history/theology -- his information never advances beyond the Blue Badge school of scholarship. In his bibliography, Bobrick cites only two studies of the much-studied monarch: Joseph M Levine's popularized life from the 1960s and the work of that prolific popularizer of accomplished females, Alison Weir.

So what do we call a text that is a popularization of a popularization? A meta-pop? Well, Bobrick never met a pop he didn't like.

OK, now for that massive exception. As with the details about Oxford meals, Bobrick tosses in bits and pieces of medieval and early Renaissance factoids. This, in context, is fine. Who can object to reading about the screech owl that gainsayed a pope? But, since they are off the topic of his summary, these factoids obviously receive little scrutiny from the author. (Yes, passive, as in "these items are passively conveyed to the reader.") Sometimes Bobrick's tidbits are simply popular history having one more unthinking iteration. And sometimes they are wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

On page 67, Bobrick identifies - literally parenthetically - Christine de Pizan as "the author of Le Roman de la Rose." This is so wrong as to be criminal. Not only was Christine de Pizan not the author, she spent much of her career condemning the text, both in the famous querelle de la Rose -- an early version of a pamphlet war, in which she sided with the Chancellor of the University of Paris in condemning the wildly popular work of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun -- but also in her own oeuvre (such as The Book of the Duke of True Lovers and the famous Book of the City of Ladies.) The average undergrad English or history major knows that de Lorris and de Meun authored the text and that Christine de Pizan famously objected to it. If Bobrick's general knowledge of the period (and this is precisely the period of his topic) allows him to make such an error, I'm forced to regard all his other asides with the gravest suspicion. Yeah, sure, I know that Christine de Pizan didn't write the R de R, even though it's not my field. But what about the other stuff that Bobrick tosses out, other things also not in my field? Now that I know he can make a whopper of an error -- trust me, this is no nit being picked -- must I take the time to google every statement? Well, yes, if I want to file any of this away as knowledge. And what else could I do with it? Bobrick doesn't know enough about Englishing the Bible for his opinions to matter, so we are left with learning stuff from his bits and pieces. But the bits and pieces, as witnessed above, can be wrong.

That's the real sin of his error, casting doubt over everything else.

Popularizing should not mean mis-stating.

For a more trustworthy book on the topic by a scholar in the field, see In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture by Alister McGrath.
Wide as the waters  Feb 23, 2006
I found this an interesting book. It presented a historical comment on the history of the bible and it use and misuse by various people.

It (the bible) can be used as a foundation for required 'checks and balances' in churches and society. Sadly, in many circumstances, it is ignored in both.

A good historical read and an insight into the determination and faith of those people who brought the bible to where it is today.

Appreciating the text now so readily available.  Jan 2, 2006
Benson Bobrick masterfully tells the story of how the Bible became readily available in the native tongue of millions of people in the English-speaking world and how thus engaging the minds of the laity broke the stranglehold of power held by the cartel of Church and State.

Many readers of the ancient Scriptures in English will recognize the names of Wycliffe, Tyndale, Coverdale, and King James I, though comparatively few have an appreciation for the work that they, and thousands of others, have done to make the Bible available to them. Such readers would do well to give Bobrick's present work serious consideration to develop a deeper appreciation for the text that is now so easily found.

Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired is also valuable background to the Bible for those whose interest is in understanding the English language better, and how much of the tongue's richness in expression comes from translation of the Scriptures from Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Even as a strictly literary exercise, the Bible and comparisons among translation are well worth consideration. Indeed, if Doug Hofstadter can find so many insights from studying translations of a brief poem in his Le Ton beau de Marot, imagine how much mastery of one's language can be compounded from a work as comprehensive and profound as the Bible. I will go so far as to assert that no man can be called educated while ignorant of the Bible.

An important conclusion Bobrick offers readers is that translation of the Bible into English served as a foundation for the modern democracy. This is a conclusion worthy of some discussion. Supposing that any relationship between present systems of government and the Bible is limited to the Judeo-Christian belief system documented in the Bible and reflected in much of Western law would be a mistake. More central to Bobrick's point is that leaders could no longer claim Biblical support for their directives without having the ability to prove it from the Scriptures. In summary, authority reverted from men in offices back to the written word inspired of God.

As is evident from the Scriptures themselves, the inspired writings were the authority in the early days of Christianity. Luke, a believing first-century physician and close companion of Paul, wrote approvingly of those who searched the Scriptures for agreement with the word preached to them. (Acts 17:11) Nor was any particular privilege granted by virtue of office; no less a figure than the Apostle Peter was sternly and publicly reprimanded for acting contrary to Scripture. (Galatians 2:11-14) A priest or even bishop correcting the head of a Church, whether Catholic or Orthodox, in such a manner had been unthinkable for more than a thousand years by the time Wycliffe began his work.

By speaking only dead languages in their services and ensuring the inaccessibility of the Scriptures to the common people, religious leaders were able to put themselves in a position of power over others. Many people were inclined to show reverence and to work to please their Creator. Lacking the Scriptures for themselves, they became dependent upon those who claimed to represent God. Such leaders freely mixed in the world's politics, blessing, cursing, installing, and removing even kings. So it was throughout Christendom that people were led to perform every imaginable action and misdeed, supposing that they were acting as God required of them while in fact only satisfying the whims of their leaders.

In this position, the Church had become perverted, an instrument not to support the preaching of the Christ's message of hope for mankind but to enrich and empower the hierarchy at the expense of the common people. Certain men became so sure the legitimacy of their offices that they forgot its foundation, deviated from it, and became illegitimate. Little wonder, then, that "the first question ever asked by an Inquisitor of a `heretic' was whether he knew any part of the Bible in his own tongue," as Bobrick writes at the opening of Wide as the Waters. And little wonder that the hierarchy for so long resisted allowing a translation of the Scriptures that would be comprehensible to the people.

Yet the translation did come, and it brought with it a clear understanding of authority, separate from power that comes from office. Bobrick skillfully makes this point. That this leads necessarily to democracy, however, is not something I'm prepared to embrace.

First of all, democracy, per se, was around long before there was an English Bible, or even Christian Scriptures ("New Testament"). The Athenians pretty well had this down a few hundred years before Christ walked the earth. (A discussion question at the end of the book raises this issue itself and looks for discussion of the validity of the conclusion in light of democracy's origin.)

Secondly (and more importantly in my opinion), the revolution in government started by the English Bible must include the American brand of the representative republic. The critical feature here is not a law of the making of the people, but a government of limited and enumerated powers, spelled out in law, available for the governed to read for themselves. The most visible difference between Christianity and the Judaism from which it sprang is a matter of law: a comprehensive and complex set of directives in the latter case versus a simple set of instructions that helped people to see Christ as a model and to demonstrate their faith through the use their own consciences in following that model. Arming the people to question those who claim to lead them, to see the standard for themselves, and to give them the room to act is the stuff of revolution. In the centuries since the Bible became available in English we have seen the fruits of that revolution-and they've been second only to the revolution in thought and behavior that Jesus Christ himself started two centuries ago.
"...and Wycliff's dust shall spread abroad, Wide as the waters be."  Jul 29, 2005
"Wide as the Waters" is the third book I have read concerning the evolution of the Bible, the two others having been "God's Secretaries" by Nicolson and "In the Beginning" by McGrath. Each author takes a somewhat different approach to his subject matter, and I find the three by no means redundant. Rather, they help reenforce and clarify the historical facts that they share amongst themselves, and, to anyone interested in this topic, I recommend all three if time and motivation permit. If not, then I suggest that McGrath's "In the Beginning" may provide the single most readable and comprehensive history of the group.

Bobrick focuses his exploration on the persons whose contributions to the translation of the Bible into the vernacular have proved to be the most influential and memorable, and he presents them in chronological order: John Wycliff, William Tyndale, and Miles Coverdale, followed by one who, though not a translator himself, caused further translation to be made: King James, and concluding with the evolution of political and religious thought in England during the Commonwealth of Cromwell and the Glorious Revolution under William III.

Why is Bobrick's book (and Nicolson's and McGrath's books as well) worth the time and effort to read? I suggest that one of the most compelling reasons is that many Britons and Americans revere and "believe in" the King James Version of the Bible without having any knowledge or understanding of the cultural, social and political forces that brought it into being or of its many predecessor bibles. To quote George Bernard Shaw, cited in Bobrick, "To this day the common Britisher or citizen of the United States of North America accepts and worships it as a single book by a single author, the book being the Book of Books and the author being God." Only through the research and writings of historians such as Bobrick can we hope to counter such naivete with facts and historical truths, and is not the seeking of truth the ultimate goal of all education and self-improvement?

The fascinating story of the political and linguistic history behind the English translations of the Bible, including the many burnings-at-the-stake that resulted from those translations, was not taught by my public high school or even university. I am excited and pleased that Bobrick (and Nicolson and McGrath) have now given us books with which my fellow readers and I can educate ourselves and fill in some of the many gaps in our formal learning.

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