The Bible has been translated into over 3,000 languages (including Klingon, as is detailed in this post). The first Bible printed in North America was in one of those 3,000 languages — and it is a language that is no longer in use.
John Eliot (1604-1690) arrived in the New World in 1631. He saw himself as a minister and teacher. He quickly realized he was also called to be a missionary to the Native American tribes in the Massachusetts colony. Eliot knew that new converts needed to be able to study the Bible. To do that, they would either need to learn English, or the Bible would need to be translated. He chose the later.
Over the next fourteen years, Eliot translated all 66 books of the Bible from English to Algonquin. The feat was remarkable, considering it took seven years for 44 scholars to produce what would become known as the King James Version of the Bible. In the course of his work, Eliot became a grammarian and developed an Algonquian dictionary and book of grammar.
When it was completed, the Eliot Bible became the first Bible printed in North America. Officially titled “Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God,” it literally means “The Whole Holy His-Bible God.” One thousand copies were printed in the first press run. It was the largest printing project in Colonial America during the 17th century. It would be another 120 years before the first English language Bible would be printed in North America.
For all of the labor invested by Eliot, his translation is no longer used. The Algonquin language has slipped into obscurity and is unreadable by all but a few scholars.
The Eliot Bible is the earliest known example of translating the Bible into a language of which there were no previous written words. It was also the first time the Bible was translated into a language that was not native to the translator. Algonquian was a language Eliot learned purely for the purpose of evangelization.
Read more fun facts about the Bible.