The upcoming 400th anniversary of the 1611 publication of the King James Bible has sparked a surge of interest in its origins. (Benson Bobrick's Wide As the Waters and Alister McGrath's In the Beginning both appeared last year.) Even taking into account the occasion's significance, the attention is a little puzzling. There have been plenty of other translations into English (e.g., the Geneva translation from the 1550s was the preferred version on the Mayflower), each with its own story. As a variety of other English versions and paraphrases have appeared, the King James Version has irreversibly been displaced.

Or has it? Adam Nicolson has no interest in mere nostalgia, nor in the desperate resistance movements still mounted by those who argue that the KJV draws from a superior manu­script tradition. But even if the clock can't be turned back, he wants us to recognize that the King James offered English readers, scholars and hearers something unique--and still does today.

Seventy years after the 1558 Act of Supremacy that helped codify the Anglican faith, the Church of England was still taking shape. There were deep rifts between those who wanted the church to retain an episcopacy and the loosely defined group known as Puritans who felt that the Reformation had not gone nearly far enough in taking the church back to an earlier, more authentic structure. And the dream of reunion with the Church of Rome was far from dead in some circles. Risky and tenacious efforts in that direction were more or less constantly under way.