fol. A2r, Gospel of Matthew
Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God. Naneeswe Nukkone Testament kah wonk Wusku Testament. 2 vols. Cambridge, [Massachusetts]: Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson: 1663, 1661.
Quarto. 2 vols. in 1 ( pages), 7¼ x 3½ inches. Roman, double column. Bound in dark blue morocco; spine gilt; edges gilt. 8 pages in facsimile. § DM 6737; Wing (2nd ed.) B2755. § CD-ROM: 12.1, first title page; 12.1, fol. Rrr4v; 12.1, New Testament title page; 12.1, fol. H1v (detail).
This, the first Bible printed in America, is one of the rarest and most important books in American printing and religious history. Translated for the Natick-Algonquin Native Americans of Massachusetts by John Eliot with the aid of Job Nesutan, this work has been called "the earliest example in history of the translation and printing of the entire Bible in a new language as a means of evangelization" (DM 6737). Eliot was born in England, took priestly orders in 1622 at Cambridge, but soon joined the Puritan movement and sailed for America in 1631. He worked as a teacher at the Church in Roxbury, now a neighborhood of Boston, and helped translate the "Bay Psalm Book" printed in Cambridge in 1640, the first book published in the American Colonies. By 1646, Eliots concern for the spiritual welfare of the Native Americans had compelled him to learn the Massachusetts language and to render it phonetically into the roman alphabet. With support from Governor John Endicott, Harvard president Henry Dunster, and Robert Boyle in England, Eliots New Testament of 1661 became the first to be printed in the American Colonies, and his Bible of 1663 was the first printed in the Western Hemisphere.
Eliots printers, working with two wooden handpresses, were Samuel Green of Boston and Marmaduke Johnson, who came from England to facilitate the printing process, but who, according to a Middlesex county court indictment, instead caused a personal rift by "alluring the daughter of Samuel Green, printer, and drawing away her affection without the consent of her father" (Thomas 1964, 77). The compositor of the text was Greens apprentice, James Printer, a Native American whose father led the church of "Indian Christians" in Worcester County. According to Eliot, James was the "one man . . . that is able to compose the Sheets and correct the Press with understanding" (Thomas 1964, 97).
Twenty copies of the Bible were sent to London to the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospels amongst the Indians. The corporations dedication to King Charles II stated that "We are bold now to Present the Whole Bible, translated into the Language of the Natives of this Country, by A Painful Labourer in that Work . . . [for] the Propagation of the Gospel to these poor Barbarians in this (Ere-while) Unknown World . . . who here, and here onely, have the Mysteries of the Eternal Salvation revealed to them by the God of Heaven" (OCallaghan 1966, 10). The fruitful returns of this effort were compared favorably to all the gold and silver returned to Spain from its colonies.
In the text of Luke 2, the Christmas story is recognizable from the many words that remain in English, such as Mary, Joseph, angel, and Bethlehem. Interestingly, the Massachusetts word for shepherd is "shepsoh" (verses 15 and 18), although Eliot may have coined it himself. The so-called "Indian Bible" is thus one of many instances in which the process of scriptural translation into a vernacular tongue expanded the languages vocabulary and versatility, although that language, sadly, was to die during the next century. Eliots Bible was printed in an edition of about one thousand copies, including the twenty sent to England, but today no more than forty-two copies are known to exist.
Literature: Blumenthal 1977, 34; Hotchkiss and Price 1996, 156; OCallaghan  1966, 112; Oswald 1937, 6872; Ronda 1982, 930; Thomas 1964, 7578, 9598.