Eliot Indian Bible
Algonquian Indian Bible title page 1663
|Cover artist||Samuel Green|
Book of Psalms
|Preceded by||New Testament in 1661|
The Eliot Indian Bible (officially: Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God, aka: Algonquian Bible) was the first Christian Bible to be published in British North America. English Puritan missionary John Eliot produced a translation of the Geneva Bible into the Indian Massachusett language. This is the reason that it is also known as Eliot's Indian Bible. Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up Biblum God and the cover page of the translated Bible means The Whole Holy His-Bible God, both Old Testament and also New Testament. This turned by the-servant-of-Christ, who is called John Eliot.
The history of Eliot's Indian Bible involves three historical events that came together to produce the Algonquian Bible.
America's first printing press
One event was when the first printing press came from England to the colonies so that religious material and Puritan writings could be printed which had been censored in England. Stephen Day of England contracted Jose Glover, a wealthy minister who disagreed with the religious teachings of the Church of England, to transport a printing press to America in 1638.
Jose Glover died at sea while traveling to America. His widow Elizabeth (Harris) Glover, Stephen Day, and the press arrived at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Mrs. Glover opened her print shop with the assistance of Jose's worker Day. Day started the operations of the first American print shop, which was the forerunner of Harvard University Press. The press was located in the house of the president of Harvard College where religious materials were published in the 1640s, such as the Bay Psalm Book. Elizabeth Glover married president of Harvard College Henry Dunster on June 21, 1641. In 1659, the printing operations were relocated to the Indian College at Harvard when a new printing press was obtained. From the Indian College, Eliot's Indian Bible was printed.
Act of Parliament
Another event that contributed to bringing about the Algonquian Bible was Parliament enacting An Act for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England in 1649. This set up a Corporation in England consisting of a President, a Treasurer, and fourteen people to help them. The name of the Corporation was "The President and Society for the propagation of the Gospel in New England," but it was later known simply as the New England Company. The Corporation had the power to collect money in England for missionary purposes in New England. This money was received by the Commissioners of the United Colonies of New England and dispersed for missionary purposes such as Eliot's Indian Bible.
Arrival of John Eliot
A third historical event that contributed to bringing about the Algonquian Bible involves John Eliot, a Christian missionary, who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631 from England. One of his duties was to convert the indigenous Massachusett people to Christianity. Eliot's instrument to do this was through the Christian scriptures. Eliot's feelings were that the Indians felt more comfortable hearing the scriptures in their own language than in English (a language they little understood). Eliot thought it best to translate the English Christian Bible to an Algonquian Bible rather than teach the Massachusett Indians English. He then went about learning the Algonquian Indian language of the Massachusett people so he could translate English to the Natick dialect of the Massachusett language. Eliot translated the entire 66 books of the English Christian Bible to an Algonquian Bible in a little over fourteen years. It had taken 44 scholars seven years to produce the King James Version of the Christian Bible in 1611. Eliot had to become a grammarian and lexicographer to devise an Algonquian dictionary and book of grammar. He used the assistance of a few local Massachusett Indians in order to put the English Bible into an Algonquian Bible.
Eliot made his first text for the Corporation for the propagation of the Gospel in New England into the Massachusett Algonquian Indian language as a one volume textbook primer catechism in 1653 printed by Samuel Green. He then translated and had printed in 1655-56 the Gospel of Matthew, book of Genesis, and Psalms into the Algonquian Indian language. It was printed as a sample run for the London Corporation to show what a complete finished Algonquian Bible might look like. The Corporation approved the sample and sent a professional printer, Marmaduke Johnson, to America in 1660 with 100 reams of paper and eighty pounds of new type for the printer involved to print the Bible. To accommodate the transcription of the Algonquian Indian language phonemes extra "O's" and "K's" had to be ordered for the printing press.
Johnson had a 3-year contract to help assist to print the entire Bible of 66 books (Old Testament and New Testament). Eliot’s Indian Bible was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard College by Samuel Green. In 1661, with the assistance of the English printer Johnson and a Nipmuc Indian named James Printer, Green printed 1500 copies of the New Testament. In 1663 they printed 1000 copies of the complete Bible of all 66 books (Old Testament and New Testament) in a 1,180 page volume. The costs for this production was paid by the Corporation, authorized by the Parliament of England by donations collected in England and Wales.
Eliot was determined to give the Christian Bible to them in their tribal tongue, the Massachusett language. He learned the Massachusett language (Natick dialect) and its grammar. The dialect "Natick" name came from a town at Roxbury that was close to Boston where Eliot lived amongst the Massachusett Indians as their pastor for 57 years. He converted these local Natick Indians to Christianity. By 1674 there were 1400 Christians among the Massachusett Indians.
Eliot worked on the Indian Bible for over fourteen years before publication.  England contributed about 16,000 pounds for its production by 1660. The money came from private donations in England and Wales. There was no donations or money from the New England colonies for Eliot's Indian Bible. The translation answered the question received many times by Eliot from the Massachusett Indians How may I get faith in Christ? The ecclesiastical answer was Pray and read the Bible. After Eliot's translation, there was an Algonquian Indian language Bible they could read.
The title page of the Algonquian Indian Bible was done in the Natick dialect of the Massachusett Indian language as was the complete Christian Bible of the Old and New Testament. Eliot’s Indian Bible is noteworthy because it demonstrated the passion of early colonists to provide the local American Indians with the scriptures. The Massachusetts general court wanted the diffusion of Christianity done with all diligence.
Eliot translated the Bible from an unwritten American Indian language into a written alphabet that the Algonquian Indians could read and understand. He was the only missionary to make a new alphabet from an unwritten language for purposes of teaching scriptures, in over a thousand years since Ulfilas constructed the Gothic alphabet. To show the difficulty of the Algonquian language used in Eliot's Indian Bible, Cotton Mather gives as an example the Algonquian word Nummatchekodtantamoonganunnonash (32 characters) which means "our lusts". He said that the Indian language did not have the least affinity to or derivation from any European speech.
Some ecclesiastical questions given to Eliot by the Natick Indians that were to be answered by the new Algonquian Bible and Indian religious learning were:
- If but one parent believe, what state are our children in?
- How doth much sinne make grace abound?
- If an old man as I repent, may I be saved?
- What meaneth that, Let the trees of the Wood rejoice?
- What meaneth that, We cannot serve two masters?
- Can they in Heaven see us here on Earth?
- Do they see and know each other? Shall I know you in heaven?
- Do they know each other in Hell?
- What meaneth God, when he says, Ye shall be my Jewels
- If God made hell in one of the six dayes, why did God make Hell before Adam had sinned?
- Doe not Englishmen spoile their souls, to say a thing cost them more then it did? and is it not all one as to steale?
In 1664 a specially constructed unique display copy was given to King Charles II by Robert Boyle, the Governor of the 'Corporation' for the propagation of the Gospel in New England. Many copies of the first edition (1663) of Eliot’s Indian Bible were destroyed by the British in 1674-75 by a war against Metacomet (war chief of the Wampanoag Indians). In 1685, after some debate, the 'Corporation' decided to publish another edition of Eliot’s Indian Bible.  The second edition of the entire Bible was finished in 1686 at a fraction of the cost of what it took to put out the first edition. There were 2000 copies printed. A dedication to Robert Boyle, governor of Massachusetts, had a special single leaf printed and placed into the 1685 presentation copies sent to Europe.
The first English edition of the entire Bible was not published in the United States for some 120 years after Eliot's Indian Bible when Robert Aitken's Bible came out in 1782. Eliot's Indian Bible translation of the complete Christian Bible was supposedly written with one pen. Eliot's Indian Bible printing project was the largest printing job done in 17th-century Colonial America.
The Massachusett Indian language Natick dialect that the translation of Eliot's Bible was made in no longer is used in the United States. The Algonquin Bible is today unreadable by most people in the world. Eliot's Indian Bible is notable for being the earliest known example of the translation and putting to print the entire 66 books of the Christian Bible into a new language of no previous written words. Eliot's Indian Bible was also significant because it was the first time the entire Bible was translated into a language not native to the translator. Previously, scholars had translated the Bible from Greek, Hebrew, or Latin into their own language. With Eliot, the translation was into a language he was just learning for the purpose of evangelization.
In 1709 a special edition of the Algonquin Bible was authored by Experience Mayhew with the Indian words in one column and the English words in the opposite column. It had only Psalms and the Gospel of John. It was used for training the local Massachusett Indians to read the scriptures. This Algonquin Bible was a derivative of Eliot's Indian Bible. The 1709 Algonquin Bible text book is also referred to as The Massachuset psalter. This 1709 edition is based on the Geneva Bible, like Eliot's Indian Bible (aka: Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up Biblum God).
A second edition printing of Eliot's Indian Bible was an instrumental source for the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, where it was compared to the King James Bible in order to relearn Wôpanâak vocabulary and grammar.
- Szasz 2007, p. 114.
- Mayhew 2008, p. 64.
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- Eliot, John, 1604-1690; Cotton, John, 1640-1699; Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent in America (1685). "Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God naneeswe Nukkone Testament kah wonk Wusku Testament. (1685)". Internet Archive. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Printer - Samuel Green. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
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