Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Majestie by David Teems

Teems, David. Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

In Majestie, David Teems presents King James VI of Scotland and I of England, authorizer of the King James Version of the Bible, as a man of great ability and many quirks. You might expect the quirks given that his father was killed, likely assassinated, under unusual circumstances. His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was separated from him most his childhood and was eventually executed for treason by the government of her sister, Elizabeth I. James had little affection for his mother (the clerics and aristocrats who oversaw his education hated her) and much need for his powerful aunt’s support and wealth.

James chafed under the harsh tutelage of the Scottish nobles and clergy who took over his upbringing. They wanted to raise for themselves a king who would serve the interests of the Kirk and the Scottish peerage. James saw himself, and monarchs as class, as an agent of God to govern a nation and not answerable to any other authority but God. In Scotland he was browbeaten as a boy, kidnapped a as a king, and harassed by conniving powers and intrigues at every turn. It took him years to come into his own as king and become more or less the equal of his country’s nobles and church.

England, in contrast, knew how to do monarchy in the “divine right” style that James thought was suitable. From a distance, he wooed his aunt and lobbied to succeed her. Elizabeth I was an incredible conniver and welded power skillfully. She kept James and Scotland under her sway through the careful application of her wealth and the subtle promise of her throne. She came through on that promise and, at the end of her life when a named heir would not be more hazardous to her health than the imminent death she faced, she named he nephew as her heir.

England had its own contentious elements, namely Puritans. James had little use for them. He wasn’t especially fond of the Anglican bishops either, but as head of the Church of England, he found an alliance with them, leading to minimal reform, provided him with influential supporters of the type of powerful monarchy he wanted to exercise. The new English king brought with him from the Scottish throne he still held a wit an education to browbeat reformers and reactionaries alike. James liked one proposal the Puritans offered almost as an afterthought: a new translation of the Bible.

As you might imagine, Teems devotes a fair amount of space to the Bible translation that popularly bears King James’ name. It’s an interesting subject in itself. These chapters describe the how the idea came to be, how the work of translation was done, and some of the known translators. In the old-fashioned sense, James was the “author,” initiator and motivator, of the project. He was anxious to see it accomplished.

Teems has little to say about James’ life in the years following the translation. He believes the king peeked in the translation years and was never quite as majestic in the last 14 years of his life. The loss of a child, and later wife, can take some of the life out of a person. And we are all sometimes overcome by our own weaknesses. Teems seems to give the king a break in his earlier years, not avoiding but not overemphasizing the monarch’s many foibles, and maybe he should have carried that into James’ sunset years.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in
God’s Secretaries by Adam Nicolson
In the Beginning by Alister McGrath
King James Bible
Wide as the Waters by Benson Bobrick