Monday, June 20, 2011

Holy texts in early America

It's a nice coincidence that Brad posted on the Koran at the same time tonight that I was working on a post for my blog, The Magpie Mason (that I hope to finish Monday night), which will feature photos of an exhibit hosted at the New York Public Library earlier this year. Titled Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it displayed several hundred holy texts of all kinds: scriptures, commentaries, legal codes, prayer books, et al.

There were several items dating to the Colonial and Federal periods that I share here:

Jewish Prayer Book, New York City, 1766.

This is a prayer book for the Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, published in New York by John Holt in 1766, based on a translation by Isaac Pinto. While London in 1766 was home to the largest English-speaking Jewish community, this first English translation of the Hebrew prayer book was printed in British Colonial New York City.

Translator Isaac Pinto writes:

"It has been necessary to translate our Prayers, in the Language of the Country wherein it hath pleased the divine Providence to appoint our Lot. In Europe, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews have a Translation in Spanish, which as they generally understand, may be sufficient, but that not being the Case in the British Dominions in America, has induced me to attempt a Translation in English."

Christian Bible for Algonquin Indians, Massachusetts, 1661.

Published in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1661, this Bible was intended for the conversion to Puritan Christianity of the native people near the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Algonquin Indians. It also served the purpose of showing the authorities back home in England how their funds were being used.

Holy Koran, Massachusetts, 1806.

This Koran, spelled Alcoran at the time, is the first American vernacular edition of the Koran. It derives from the London 1649 edition; its text follows Alexander Ross' English version of the French translation by Andre du Ryer. This book was published in Massachusetts in 1806. Shown here is Sura 22, concerning the pilgrimage to Mecca.

I will have additional photos of other relevant religious texts from other museums to share shortly.