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Early Printed Bibles - Missionary Bibles

Beginning in the 17th century, Christian missionaries from Europe and America began to translate the Bible into the indigenous languages of Asia, the Americas, Africa and Oceania.

 Eliot's Massachusett Bible

Frontispiece and title-page of King George III's copy of the Eliot's Massachusett Bible (Cambridge [Mass.], 1663). BL shelfmark: C.10.a.1. Copyright © The British Library Board

Indeed, by 1800 complete Bibles were available in at least 40 languages from these continents, with parts of the Bible (usually the New Testament or the Book of Psalms) in many more. From the beginning of the 19th century, much of this material was published by the British and Foreign Bible Society, whose work is described in the publication Cheap Bibles (see Selected Bibliography).

The British Library has especially strong collections in this area, although as with other materials they tend to be dispersed across the older shelfmark sequences. The quickest way to track down copies is usually to use the structured 'Bible' section in  BLC to 1975. For pre-1801 editions printed in Britain or North America, the English Short Title Catalogue may prove helpful, and for items printed in Asian and African languages, reference sources provided in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room may help. Although now old, volume 2 ('Polyglots and languages other than English') of Darlow and Moule's Historical Catalogue of the printed editions of Holy Scripture... (see Selected Bibliography) can be used to gain an overall impression of how these collections fit into their bibliographical context.

Selected examples of early missionary texts

  • Bengali: William Carey's Bible (Serampore, 1801-09) [218.k.13; Or.71.a.2].
  • Cherokee: Selections from the Bible by SA Worcester and E Boudinot (New Echota, 1832-33) [3068.a.64.(3.)].
  • Eastern Cree: James Hunter's Gospel of St John (London, 1855) [].
  • Greenlandic: P Egede's Gospels (Copenhagen, 1744) [217.d.8; 1003.ff.10].
  • Herero: Bible selections by CH Hahn and F Rath (Cape Town, 1849) [3070.h.21].
  • Japanese: Epistles of St John by CFA Güzlaff (Singapore, 1830?) [16011.a.16].
  • Kongo: Gospel of St Luke by H Richards (London, 1888) [].
  • Malagasy: Bible by David Jones et al. (Antananarivo, 1830-35). [14635.b.9-10;].
  • Malay: Gospel of St Matthew (Enkhuizen, 1629) [C.36.f.6.] and the complete Bible [Roman script] (Amsterdam, 1731-33) [2.a.5,6;].
  • Maori: William Williams' New Testament (Paihia, 1837) [3070.dd.16; 3068.eee.9].
  • Massachusett: John Eliot's New Testament (Cambridge, Mass., 1661) [C.51.b.3; G.12160] and Bible (1663) [C.10.a.1; G.12176].
  • Nahuatl: Gospel of St Luke by Mariano Paz y Sanchez (Mexico City, 1889) [3068.a.45].
  • Quechua: JH Gybbon-Spilsbury's Gospel of St John (Buenos Aires, 1880) [3068.dd.12].
  • Tahitian: Gospel of St Luke by Henry Nott (Moorea, 1818) [C.36.d.20].
  • Tamil: Bible by Bartholomaeus Ziegenblag et al. (Tranquebar, 1714-28) [2.a.4;; Or.70.b.21-22].
  • Yoruba: Bible (London, 1865-84) [].