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Book Review: A Visual History of the English Bible

January 17, 2011

A Visual History Of The English Bible

By Donald L. Brake

When I picked up this book, I was interested in learning about how the Bible first was translated into the English language, but I held little expectation of finding that process interesting.  But Donald Brake blew away all of my expectations and crafted a fascinating look at a history that I was unfamiliar with but that has had undeniable influence in my own life.  Although I am well aware of how lucky I am to be able to read God’s Word in a language I understand, since there are so many people in our world today that do not have it translated into their own tongue yet, I had taken for granted how the Bible came to be in English in the first place.  Brake gave me a new appreciation for Scripture and the struggle it took by many Godly men to bring its words to the English-speaking world.

Donald Brake is a scholar and collector of rare English-language Bibles.  As such, his own personal collection provides the visual element of the title, with numerous pictures of these artifacts he describes.  Brake performs an admirable job of blending narrative accounts of the lives and struggles of men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale with the actual historical process of translation, while mixing in stories of his personal adventures in collecting that have fueled his passion for the English Bible.  He paints a picture of the resistance that existed to seeing God’s Word removed from the hands of the religious elite and delivered to the common folk and the obstacles that prevented initial widespread distribution.  But ultimately, Brake’s book continually points toward God’s guiding hand and providential sovereignty in ensuring His Word would reach the whole world and all people.

Every Christian should be aware of the sacrifices made to translate the Bible into English, and the ever-present need to still bring God’s Word to the masses of this world in their own heart-language.  Brake has written a book that enables history to be absorbed in an engaging manner.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    January 17, 2011 4:32 pm

    Jordan, Checked it out at Amazon and it looks very inviting with all the visualization. Bible scholars can become pedantic as the following review reveals, but it is a reminder that getting the facts right is crucial in publishing.

    Here are some corrections of the text according to Victor Perry’s Amazon review. I will leave it to you to discern their validity and importance.

    This book may be considered as containing three types of material: the illustrations, the inserted sections often about Dr Brake’s Bible collecting, and the historical text. These comments concern only the last. Besides what Daniel C. Harlow has written above, readers may care to enter the following corrections in their copies. I list first errors in the history of the English Bible, and then a few other miscellaneous mistakes. The mistakes are of very varied importance.

    Note: 10/5 means p. 10 l. 5; 10/5b means p. 10 l. 5 from bottom

    Errors concerning the Bible

    57/8. ‘Forshall and Madden supported Lindberg’s observations when they wrote’. Use of the past tense: ‘supported’, makes it appear that F&M came after Lindberg, but the bibliography shows that they wrote over 100 years earlier.
    77/1. ‘The incunabula helped to bridge the gap from a handwritten book to a printed book.’ Incunabula are early printed books, especially those printed before 1501.
    80/15. ‘the availability of the complete Bible in English just one year before the last edition of 1527′: there was no complete English Bible published in 1526, but there was a New Testament translated by Wiliam Tyndale.
    93/18. `When parts of the text were indecipherable’: no, the text was incomplete.
    94 caption. `While in prison he asked for his Hebrew Bible and dictionary, so it is believed he translated some of his unpublished Old Testament’: rather it is generally understood as most unlikely that, as Tyndale’s offence was translating the Bible, he would be given any facility for continuing to do so.
    98/5b. ‘the absence of notes in the Cologne printing’: the 1525 Tyndale NT fragment does have notes.
    102/12. By 1530, Tyndale had translated the Psalms and the Pentateuch’: Tyndale did not translate the Psalms, cf. p. 119.
    108/1b. These word usages and Roman Catholic objections really apply to the complete NT. ‘Priest – elder or senior’: the mention of ‘priest’ could be taken to imply that it was the normal translation in the Rhemes NT, for example, which it wasn’t.
    120/3b. ‘1537… a slight revision but primarily a reprint of the 1535 Coverdale’: although it is not named, this will be the Matthew’s Bible, which included Tyndale’s translation of the OT historical books, rather more than ‘a slight revision… primarily a reprint’. See p. 126, where this is stated and Matthew’s Bible is more highly rated.
    128/5. ‘the only Bibles one could get were either Latin or black-market Tyndale versions’: There were no Tyndale Bibles.
    148/11. Hbrue: Ebrue
    151/8b. textual variants: the Appendix in Scrivener’s The New Testament in Greek according to the text followed by the AV…,does not list any variants in pre-Geneva Bible editions of the Greek text.
    155/4. ‘five editions of the Geneva Bible dated 1599’: the reference is to the Geneva-Tomson-Junius editions, and the Historical catalogue of printed editions of the English Bible lists 8 editions.
    155/9b. italics for words not in the Greek text: this applies to the Hebrew as well.
    168/3. ‘Cromwell… Cranmer… each distributing the Bible to the laity’: ct. 137/7: correctly ‘Cromwell… to a layman… Cranmer… to a priest;.
    193/6b. ‘both readings [‘He’ and ‘She’] have their support in the Latin and Hebrew Bibles’. The Latin Vulgate reads ‘she’, and all Hebrew Bibles in print at that time read ‘he’.
    225/7b. ‘in my third edition’: Erasmus would not have said this, but rather ‘in later/ future editions’.
    230/1. The cases of Rev. 22: 16-21 and Acts 9:5-6 are quite different. For the former there was a lacuna in Erasmus’ ms, which he filled by translation from the Vulgate: in the latter instance there is no lacuna.
    249, citation. [Englishmen in pre-vernacular Bible period]: Bobrick is referring to the time after ‘the advent of the vernacular Bible’. People could not discuss biblical concepts before they read the Bible.

    Some other errors
    29/12. ‘The word Scripture comes from the Greek term for writing’: Scripture comes from Latin scriptura, from scribere to write.
    32/2. `versio vulgata (or Vulgate), which simply means “the published translation”‘ The term vulgate means “common”, as is correctly stated on p. 319 n.5.
    35 and other places. Biblia Pauperum’ is not Poor Man’s Bible, as pauperum is plural. Therefore, Bible of the Poor, Paupers’ Bible.
    38/23. ‘In AD 597 Gregory the Great brought Christianity to England’: There was Celtic Christianity in Britain long before Augustine landed in Kent.
    95/2. ‘Tyndale… in prison for nearly a year’: Tyndale was in prison before his execution for almost a year and a half, as is corectly stated on p. 105.
    95/8. ‘The story of William Tyndale has long been neglected in the church’: as lives of Tyndale by David Daniell and Brian Moynahan have been published in recent years and The Tyndale Society has been founded, it would be less inaccurate to write ‘was neglected’.
    95/14. ‘He continued his studies at Cambridge for another six to seven years’: This is a view accepted by some and rejected by others. There is no evidence (university record) that Tyndale was in Cambridge.
    118/18. Common Book of Prayer: Book of Common Prayer.
    118/ Exodus 2:1-2. In the Tyndale some abbreviations are expanded, but ‘whe’ may be taken to be a simple misprint, whereas in the original it has a macron above it to show it is an abbreviation of ‘when’. Coverdale is copying Tyndale, but the ‘y’ may be found baffling. In the original it has a superscript ‘t’ as an abbreviation for ‘that’.
    144/16. ‘burnings and beheadings of Protestants’: beheading was reserved for the nobility and royalty, but to link it with burning makes it appear a general alternative.
    151/1. Ewart: Ewert correctly in bibliography.
    304. Bale: Ossory is in Ireland.
    306. Cranmer. At first Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn valid.
    325, n.6 on ch. 8: illusions: allusions.
    327/n. 21. biographers: bibliographers.

    Victor Perry

    • luminousvignettes permalink*
      January 18, 2011 4:10 am

      I guess it goes to show that no matter how much you know, there is always someone who knows more.

      Getting the facts right is definitely important. I do find it amusing though that most of these corrections seem nit-picky to a certain degree. I didn’t walk away from the book remembering or quoting back any of these specific facts that were in fact inaccuracies that needed fixing; rather what I remember from the book is the message that Brake was trying to get across in valuing the English Bible and understanding that it was a labor of love and determination that saw it translated into English. That is not to say that I don’t value another scholar offering corrections and making sure the most accurate information possible is shared, but it ultimately, in this instance, didn’t change my perception of the book or what I took away.

      Still, that being said, I will probably print out those corrections and keep that paper inside the book cover to accompany it for future reads.

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