John Eliots's Indian Bible

About the missionary John Eliot, history of the Bible he translated into the Algonquian Native American language.


John Eliot is famous as the translator who issued a Bible no living person can read. Working with tribesmen who spoke a Massachusetts dialect of the Algonquian Indian tongue, he published a New Testament for them in 1661. Two years later he brought out the Old Testament in their language. Several natives, among whom Cockenoe the interpreter was most important, assisted in the work.

This became the first Bible printed anywhere in the Western Hemisphere and was issued from the press of Samuel Green, Cambridge, Mass., in an edition of about 1,000 copies of which 20 were formally dedicated to King Charles II. Approximately 50 copies of Eliot's Bible have been preserved, but no one can read it, because tribesmen who spoke the language it employs have become extinct. A few words have been identified by scholars, however. Eliot rendered the phrase "kneeling down to him" (Mark 1:40) by a 34-letter word, Wutteppesittukgussunnoowehtunkquoh.

Though that word didn't survive, at least one of Eliot's words is still in use. For the title "duke" (chief) that appears in Gen. 36:40-43 he substituted the native title "mugwump." Used as a slogan in several famous political campaigns, it is still included in the English dictionary as a label for a chieftain or person of importance.

Eliot placed Psalms after the New Testament under the title "Wame Ketoohomae Uketoohomaongash David," or "All the Singing Songs of David." In 1966 one copy of his Bible sold at auction for $43,000--more money than the missionary-translator made in his entire life.

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