William Tyndale: A Biography

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9780300061321: William Tyndale: A Biography

William Tyndale (1494-1536) was the first person to translate the Bible into English from its original Greek and Hebrew and the first to print the Bible in English, which he did in exile. Giving the laity access to the word of God outraged the clerical establishment in England: he was condemned, hunted, and eventually murdered. However, his masterly translation formed the basis of all English Bibles including the "King James Bible", many of whose finest passages were taken unchanged, though unacknowledged, from Tyndale's work. This book, published in the quincentenary year of his birth, sets the story of his life in the intellectual and literary contexts of his immense achievement and explores his influence on the theology, literature, and humanism of Renaissance and Reformation Europe. David Daniell, editor of "Tyndale's New Testament" and "Tyndale's Old Testament", describes the dramatic turns in Tyndale's life. Born in England and educated at Oxford, Tyndale was ordained as a priest. When he decided to translate the Bible into English, he realized that it was impossible to do that work in England and moved to Germany, living in exile there and in the Low Countries while he translated and printed first the New Testament and then half of the Old Testament. These were widely circulated and denounced in England. Yet Tyndale continued to write from abroad, publishing polemics in defence of the principles of the English Reformation. He was seized in Antwerp, imprisoned in Vilvoorde Castle near Brussels, and burnt at the stake for heresy in 1536. Daniell discusses Tyndale's achievement as biblical translator and expositor, analyses his writing, examines his stylistic influence on writers from Shakespeare to those of the 20th century, and explores the reasons why he has not been more highly regarded.

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Review:

Several popular histories of the King James Bible are available to interested readers, including works that concentrate on the book's political influence Wide as the Waters) and its theological import (In the Beginning). Perhaps the most readable survey of the language of the King James Version, however, comes in the form of a biography of its primary translator. William Tyndale: A Biography by David Daniell (a University of London scholar and chairman of the William Tyndale Society) reveals all that is known of Tyndale's life, but its primary interest is in Tyndale's rhetorical style. Daniell asserts, convincingly, that Tyndale "made a language for England," in the same way that Martin Luther is acknowledged having united Germany's dialects in his German translation of the New Testament. The biography recites many widely known facts (Tyndale wrote nine-tenths of the King James Version's New Testament (the gospel Christmas stories--"there were shepherds abiding in the fields"--are Tyndale's), and half of its Old Testament ("Let there be light" is another of Tyndale's phrases). More importantly, Daniell's biography describes the development of Tyndale's skills as a linguist (he commanded eight languages, including Hebrew, at a time when Hebrew was virtually unknown in England) and parses Tyndale's adaptation of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin syntax into English. In the first sentence of his introduction to this book, Daniell states that "William Tyndale gave us our English Bible." The verb in that sentence is the key to this biography: it is a work of gratitude. --Michael Joseph Gross

About the Author:

David Daniell is Professor of English in the University of London. He is the editor of Tyndale's New Testament and Tyndale's Old Testament.

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