Majestie, a semi-biography of King James by David Teems, offers an interesting look into the peculiar life of the monarch as it relates to the KJV Bible. Not a complete biography, yet much more than a lesson in history, the book traces both the life of James Stuart and the blooming literary culture in England as they culminate in the creation of the first widely-distributed English Bible. Teems attempts to explain the contradictory nature of the king, and how his character contributed to a wholly unique version of the Scriptures.
According to Teems, King James was something of a paradox. He was brilliant yet foolish, majestic yet vulgar, loving yet sadistic. Similarly, the writing style of Majestie is an odd, and perhaps awkward, mix of down-to-earth conversation and august Middle English. As the book progresses from the childhood of King James to the literary cultivation of the new Bible, the tone varies from exciting narrative to extended excerpts of various seventeenth-century commentaries. Whereas such selections support his statements with research, the frequency with which they appear may drown more than actually enlighten readers.
As Majestie explores the ins and outs of King James’s character, it concludes that no king but he could have brought about the Bible that we now call the King James Version. After all, Teems asserts, James was not only the king of Great Britain during the Golden Age of literature, he also was a published scholar, a flawed but visionary leader, and a firm believer in divine right. Like Queen Elizabeth before him, he was a middle-of-the-road Protestant and a wily politician. In the context of English history, the King James Bible arrived much as Jesus had—“when the fullness of the time was come” (Gal. 4:4, KJV).
As a whole, Majestie emerges amidst flurries of quotations—allusions of grandeur—and wandering prose as a satisfying and informative narrative. At times, its references are obscure. Other times, it beats concepts over the head. However, the content is digestible, if not always rewarding. Particularly fascinating is the study of the challenges, successes, and evolution of English Bible translations. Under scrutiny, it is almost uncanny how Majestie, as a book, reflects its portrait of King James and his Bible: filled with marvelous language, but often bumbling; far-sighted, but imperfect. I recommend this book for adults with an interest in history or the origins of the modern Bible. – Daniel Morton, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
A biography of James Stuart is a study in paradox, one that entertains as much as it informs. James I waddles through history, sidewise and crablike. Intellectually astute, he can dazzle and charm with the polish of his rhetoric one minute, and speak with the vulgarity of a tavern bawd the next. James is an amusing mix of bombast and majesty, of sparkle and grime, of smut and brilliance, of visionary headship and foolishness. And only he, this all-too-human king, our flawed James, could have given us the great book he did.
Early in his reign, James fashioned himself as the “new Solomon,” the pacifist prince entering the “the land of promise,” that is, the England inherited from his cousin Elizabeth. But the milk and honey he expected was a mirage. Still, in many respects he flirts with greatness. He is the first king of a united, or “Great Britain.” For all his foibles, all his bungling, James possesses an evolved sense of majesty, a type of faith in majesty itself, and wants nothing more than for his new Bible to reflect this majesty, to gild and elevate the reign, to be the great medicine that might heal the realm.