Indian Bible Translations

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The Bible has been printed in part or in whole in 32 Indian languages N. of Mexico. In 18 one or more portions have been printed; in 9 others the New Testament or more has appeared; and in 5 languages, namely, the Massachuset, Cree, Labrador Eskimo, Santee Dakota, and Tukkuthkutchin, the whole Bible is in print.

The Norwegian missionaries, Hans and Paul Egede, were the first to translate any part of the Bible into Greenland Eskimo, their version of the New Testament being printed in part in ] 744, and as a whole in 1766. A revision of this translation, by Otto Fabricius, was twice printed before the close of the 18th century; and in 1822 the Moravian Brethren brought out a new translation, which ran through several editions. Nearly three-quarters of the Old Testament was printed in the same language between 1822 and 1836, when the work was discontinued. In Labrador Eskimo the earliest printed Bible text was the Harmony of the Gospels, which appeared in 1800. This was followed by the Gospel of St John in 1810, the complete New Testament in 1840, and all of the Old Testament between 1834 and 1867. In other Eskimo languages there were printed : In Labrador Eskimo some New Testament extracts in 1878 and the Four Gospels in 1897, translated by E. J. Peck; in the Aleutian Unalaska dialect, with adaptation also to the Atka dialect, John Veniaminoffs translation of St Matthew s Gospel in 1848; and in Kaniagmiut, Elias Tishnoff’s translation of the same Gospel, also in 1848.

Four languages of the Athapascan family have been provided with Bible translations. The Gospels were translated by Robert McDonald and printed in the Tukkuthkutchin language of Mackenzie r. in 1874, and the whole Bible in 1898. In the Chipewyan Archdeacon Kirkby’s translation of the Gospels appeared in 1878 and the whole New Testament in 1881; in the Etchareottine, Kirkby’s translation of St John’s Gospel in 1870, and Bishop Bompas’s of the New Testament between 1883 and 1891; and in the Tsattine, A. C. Garrioch’s version of St Mark s Gospel in 1886.

Translations have been made into 13 languages of the Algonquian family. In the Cree, William Mason s work comprises several editions of the Gospel of St John made between 1851 and 1857, the complete New Testament in 1859, and the whole Bible in 1861-62. Arch deacon Hunter s version of three of the Gospels in the same language appeared in 1853-55 (reprinted in 1876-77). Bishop Horden’s Four Gospels in Cree was printed in 1859, and his complete New Testament in 1876. In the Abnaki, St Mark s Gospel, translated by Wzokhilain, was printed in 1844; in the Micmac, beginning with the printing of St Matthew’s Gospel in 1853, Mr Rand continued at work until the whole New Testament was published in 1871-75, besides the books of Genesis, Exodus, and the Psalms; and in the Malecite, St John s Gospel, also translated by Rand, came out in 1870. The Massachuset language, which comes next in geographical order, w r as the first North American Indian language into which any Bible translation was made; John Eliot began his

Natick version in 1653 and finished it in 1661-63, with a revised edition in 1680-85. In 1709 Experience May hew published his translation, in the Wampanoag dialect of Martha s Vineyard, of the Psalms and St John s Gospel. In the Delaware, Dencke’s translation of the Epistles of St John was printed in 1818, Zeisberger’s Harmony of the Gospels in 1821, and Luckenbach’s Scripture Narratives in 1838. In Chippewa, the earliest translations were those of the Gospels of St Matthew and St John, by Peter and John Jones, printed in 1829-31. There are three complete translations of the New Testament in this language: One by Edwin James in 1833, another by Henry Blatchford in 1844 (reprinted in 1856 and 1875), and a third by F. A. O’Meara in 1854 (reprinted in 1874). O’Meara also translated the Psalms ( 1856 ) and the Pentateuch ( 1861 ) , and McDonald translated the Twelve Minor Prophets (1874). In the Shawnee language, St Matthew s Gospel, by Johnston Lykins, was printed in 1836 and a revision in 1842, and St John s Gospel, by Francis Barker, in 1846. In the Ottawa, Meeker s translation of St Matthew and St John appeared in 1841-44; in the Potawatomi, St Matthew and the Acts, by Lykins, in 1844; in the Siksika, St Matthew, by Tims, in 1890; in the Arapaho, St Luke, by Roberts, in 1903; and in the Cheyenne, the Gospels of St Luke and St John by Petter, who has published also some other portions of the Bible.

Three languages of the Iroquoian family possess parts of the Bible. In Mohawk, extracts from the Bible were printed as early as 1715; the Gospel of St Mark, by Brant, in 1787; and St John, by Nor ton, in 1805. Between 1827 and 1836 the rest of the New Testament was translated by H. A. Hill, W. Hess, and J. A. Wilkes, and the whole was printed in successive parts. A new version of the Gospels, by Chief Onasakenrat, was printed in 1880. The only part of the Old Testament in Mohawk is Isaiah, printed in 1839. In the Seneca language, St Luke, by Harris, was printed in 1829, and the Four Gospels, by Asher Wright, in 1874. In the Cherokee language St Matthew’s Gospel was translated by S. A. Worcester and printed in 1829, the other Gospels and the Epistles following, until the complete New Testament was issued in 1860. Genesis and Exodus, also by Worcester, were printed in 1856 and 1853, respectively, besides some portions of the Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah.

The two languages of the Muskhogean family that come into our record are the Choctaw and the Creek. In Choctaw, three of the Gospels, translated by Alfred Wright, were printed as early as 1831, and the complete New Testament, by Wright and Byington, in 1848. The Pentateuch, the historical books of the Old Testament, and the Psalms, by Wright, Byington, and Edwards, came out between 1852 and 1886. In Creek, St John’s Gospel, translated by Davis and Lykins, was printed in 1835; another version, by Buckner, in 1860; and the whole New Testament, by Mrs. Robertson and others, between 1875 and 1887; and Genesis and the Psalms, by the same, in 1893-96.

Only two languages of the Siouan family, the Santee Dakota and the Mandan, are represented in scriptural translations. Portions of the Bible were translated into the former by Renville and printed as early as 1839; the whole New Testament, by Riggs and others, was published in 1865; the Old Testament, by Williamson and Riggs, was finished in 1877; and a revised edition of the complete Bible was issued in 1880. A small volume of hymns and scriptural selections, translated into Mandan by Rev. C. F. Hall, was published in 1905.

The Caddoan language is represented by a small volume of Bible translations and hymns in Arikara, by Rev. C. F. Hall (1900; 2nd ed., enlarged, 1905).

In the Nez Perce language, of the Shahaptian family, St Matthew’s Gospel, by Spalding, was twice printed (in 1845 and 1871 ); and St John, by Ainslie, appeared in 1876. In the Kwakiutl language, of the Wakashan family, A. J. Hall s translation of the Gospels of St Matthew and St John came out in 1882-84 and the Acts in 1897. In the Tsimshian language, of the Chimmesyan family, the Four Gospels, translated by William Duncan, were printed in 1885-89; and in the Niska language J. B. McCullagh began work on the Gospels in 1894. In the Haida language, of the Skittagetan family, translations of three of the Gospels and of the Acts, by Charles Harrison and J. H. Keen, were printed in 1891-97.

Consult the various bibliographies of Indian languages, by J. C. Pilling, published as bulletins by the Bureau of American Ethnology. See Books in Indian languages, Dictionaries, Eliot Bible, Periodicals, (W. E.)




MLA Source Citation:

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 16 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indian-bible-translations.htm - Last updated on Jul 18th, 2012


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