Thursday, January 1, 2004

Beyond the Sacred Page: William Tyndale's Bible

Jack Cavanaugh’s Beyond the Sacred Page continues his "Book of Books" series, which began with Glimpses of Truth. The previous story told of the Wycliffe translation, in late 14th century England. Now we move forward 150 years, to 1535 and Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament.
It is the well-known time of Henry VIII, and the last year of Queen Anne Boleyn’s life. The Protestant Reformation, begun less than 20 years before in Germany, is the big topic of discussion throughout Europe.

Meg Foxe happens upon one of Tyndale's New Testaments, and finds solace and comfort in its words. The only problem is, the book is illegal, and her husband Pernell is a dedicated heretic hunter. God’s word threatens to divide husband and wife, as it changes each of their lives.

A refreshing change from many historical fiction novels, in which the protagonists are young adults under age 25, Beyond the Sacred Page features not-so-young adults. Though they have no children, Pernell and Meg have been married 15 years, and are now in their 30s and 40s. So the story brings out different themes than the typical young-adult adventure romance. Here we see the marital struggles of trust and communication, and its opposite—deception, secrecy, and the resulting distance in a previously close relationship.

Beyond the Sacred Page includes many historical figures, including Bishop John Stokesley, and members of Henry VIII’s court -- particularly the tragic Anne Boleyn. Through Meg we visit the court, the London Tower, and Anne Boleyn’s execution along with her final words.

Though the story is about William Tyndale’s translation, Tyndale himself is in the background. Brief scenes at the beginning, told from Pernell Foxe’s view, tell of Tyndale’s shipwreck, and his later capture by betrayer Henry Philips. Beyond that, however, we never see or hear from Tyndale, locked away to await his sentence. Instead, the focus is on Tyndale’s work, the New Testament, and its impact on the ordinary men and women of England.

As with the prequel Glimpses of Truth, this novel includes author’s notes, including comments on which parts are historical and which characters real vs. fiction. The sum of the story and these historical notes makes for a great historical fiction story about this often-overlooked yet turbulent period, when the English-language Bible emerged from the Medieval Latin-only time.

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