In 1646 Eliot began missionary work among the Massachuset Indian people and quickly gained a facility with their Natick language. Supported by the London-based Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Eliot began a phonetic translation of the Scriptures into Natick, which had not previously had a written form. The Corporation supplied a printing press for the work, as well as a new set of metal type to print the text. The type font required extra examples of the letters k and q, as well as a totally new character that Eliot devised for a particular Natick pronunciation. The Eliot Indian Bible (as his translation is popularly known) is “one of many instances in which the process of scriptural translation into a vernacular tongue expanded the language’s vocabulary and versatility” (Formatting the Word of God). For example, in the text of Luke, Chap. 2, many words remain in English such as Mary, Joseph, angel, and Bethlehem whereas the word “shepherd” in verses 15 and 18 is translated as “shepsoh,” which has been suggested to have been Eliot's own invention.
With Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson working the press, which was set up at Cambridge, the New Testament was completed in 1661 and the Old in 1663, when the full work was bound and distributed. Green and Johnson were assisted at the press by a native American apprentice, James Printer. A few copies with an English-language title-pages and accompanying dedications were sent to England for the use of the sponsoring Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel, but most (with only the Natick title-pages and no dedications) remained in New England for the benefaction of the Massachuset people. Since it was printed as a utilitarian work, most copies of the Eliot Indian Bible were read to ruin. A second edition was necessary in 1680, and today both editions are very scarce.
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