The Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God

That is the title of the first complete Bible printed in the western hemisphere. How did that happen?

 

Title page of the Eliot Indian Bible, in Natick
Title page of the Eliot Indian Bible in Natick, spoken by the Massachusetts and Wampanoag nations

 

Blame the Reformation, the Protestants, and the Pilgrims in particular. The earliest settlers of Massachusetts felt that true Christianity could only be captured and understood when the Bible was translated accurately into one’s native language: no more Latin texts that the uneducated couldn’t read themselves.

 

Thus you have the project for the first Bible printed in America—created for Americans to read in their native language—and the first Bible ever to be translated specifically for the purpose of evangelizing.

 

Better known by its dully-descriptive-yet-blessedly-pronounceable nickname the “Eliot Indian Bible,” the book was translated by missionary John Eliot and printed by Samuel Green between 1660 and 1663.

 

(Green also received the help of one Marmaduke Johnson in printing, though Marmaduke’s services proved not quite worth it after Green prosecuted him for “obtaining the affections” of Green’s daughter.)

 

Eliot’s efforts forever changed the history of printing using a language now extinct, the Indian Bible’s Natick. Although some of these Bibles were actually used by Native Americans (we know Eliot took at least 42 to distribute himself), a number fell into the hands of Europeans as curiosities. It is now one of the most rare and sought-after books in American history, notwithstanding the fact that no one can read it.

 

A monument to Eliot in Natick, Massachusetts.
A monument to Eliot in Natick, Massachusetts.

 

Even without the Indian Bible, Eliot would still have left his mark on American history. He was the co-editor of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book ever printed in the colonies that would become the United States. He was also instrumental in exiling Anne Hutchinson. Ironically, one of his own works, The Christian Commonwealth, would become the first book banned by the American government in 1661.

 

The first complete Bible in English, the Aitken Bible, would not be printed in America until 1781—the American Revolution had cut off the supply of Bibles from England.

 

Next post: the Marmaduke Johnson story. I know you guys want to hear that, right?

 

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you, Rebecca. As a pastor, I really appreciate this post. Looking forward to Marmaduke’s story…

  2. Michael Scarola says:

    Very interesting article. I had the day off today and spent part of it browsing the Morgan Library shelves across from my apartment. The collection of bibles was astounding–not to mention the three Guttenberg bibles (two on paper and one on vellum). The interesting thing I learned about Morgan the man was that he only collected books from outside the U.S. All the bibles and vast collection of books came from outside our country–strange for such a successful businessman here.

  3. Right!!!! I am looking forward to it Rebecca!! and I NEVER knew about the first complete Bible printed in the western hemisphere !!!!!! That you SO MUCH for this article !! Now … to look up more info on it !! 🙂 Gary

  4. oh .. by the way … I always … look forward to your email notification …. about a new article .. !!!

  5. vanbraman says:

    Thanks for this great piece of History.

  6. Jeff Yoders says:

    Who wouldn’t want to hear about Marmaduke? He’s so big and funny!

  7. Gerry McFarland says:

    Just stumbled upon your blog and spent an entire dreary New England afternoon reading every one of your posts. I envy the amount of reading you’ve done and that your job involves being surrounded by books!

    1. Gerry, thank you! That is a great compliment and I am so pleased you’ve enjoyed my writing. Hope you’ll stick around for more.

  8. brionne says:

    Please don’t ever stop blogging !

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