J A Shurman ~ Bible Translator ("Benares Version")

Contributions towards a History of Biblical Translations in India

1854 | Summary.

"The following papers appeared originally in the Calcutta Christian Observer, and are now republished at the request of the Committee of the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society. The name of the papers defines the idea of the Compiler. She does not profess that they form a complete history of Biblical Translations in India; they are simply Contributions to such a history: and it is her hope hat they will be useful also to the future historian of Missions in India, and will serve to preserve the memory of many humble and faithful men, whose work was not of a character to attract much public notice." (Editor)

Urdu is the language of the Muhammadan population of Hindustan, who amount to many millions of people. It is spoken with the greatest purity at the two native Courts of Delhi and Lucknow; and being the language of those who ruled over India during several successive centuries, it is widely diffused throughout the whole of this country. Most of the native oflicers of Government in the revenue, judicial and customs’ departments use it ; therefore, for the benefit of tens of thousands of souls, the Scriptures are required in Urdu or Hindustani.
In 1804, an edition of the Gospels in Hindustani issued from the College Press of Fort William. It was translated by Dr. W. Hunter, and was written in the Nagri character.
In 1805, Henry Martyn arrived in Calcutta, and without delay commenced studying Hindustani. He laboured at it assiduously, and with great delight. Such entries as the following are frequent in his diary:
The time fled imperceptibly, while so delightfully engaged in the translations: the days seemed to have passed like a moment. * * What do I not owe to the Lord, for permitting me to take part in a translation of his word ? Never did I see such wonder, and wisdom, and love, in that blessed book, as since I have been obliged to study every expression ; and it is a delightful reflection, that death cannot deprive us of the pleasure of studying its mysteries.” And again, “ All day on the translations: --employed a good while at night in considering a difficult passage ; and being much enlightened respecting it, I went to bed full of astonishment at the wonder of God’s word : never before did I see any thing of the beauty of the language, and the importance of the thoughts, as I do now.”
We have seen that Carey feared lest his mind should become secularized, even with biblical criticism ; and the spiritually-minded Martyn apprehended a similar danger, when he prayed, “ May the Lord, in mercy to my soul, save me from setting up an idol of any sort in his place; as I do, by preferring even a work professedly done for him, to communion with him:” and added, “ How obstinate is the reluctance of the natural heart to love God! But, Oh my soul, be not deceived; thy chief work upon earth is, to obtain sanetification and to walk with God.”
Martyn was assisted by Mirza Fitrut, an eminent Hindustani scholar, and in March 1808, his translation of the New Testament was finished. It was then submitted to the inspection of various learned persons in India; and as it was consider-ed idiomatic and plain, it was sent to press, at Serampore, in 1811.
The printing of it was retarded in consequence of the destruction of the printing-oflice by fire in 1812, but the loss of types and paper was soon replaced, and in 1815, the first edition was completed. It consisted of 5,000 copies, and was in the Persian character. Henry Martyn, on one occasion, had written, “Oh, may I have the bliss of soon seeing the New Testament in these languages,” (Hindustani and Persian) “ready.” He did not, however, live to witness it, for in 1812, at the early age of thirty-two years, he was taken from service below to perfect glory above. And thus again was that saying true, “ One soweth and another reapeth.” So it is, “ that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.”
In 1817, a second edition of the New Testament was printed, 2,000 copies, in the Deva Nagri character ; and in 1818, 5,000 copies of Matthew were struck off, English and Hindustani on opposite pages.
In I819, a commencement was made to procure a translation of the Old Testament in Hindustani or Urdu, so as to form, with Martyn’s New Testament, a complete edition of the Bible. Martyn’s assistant Mirza Fitrut had prepared a translation of nearly the whole of the Old Testament, and at this date Messrs. Corrie and Thomason undertook to revise and complete it.
In 1822, the Pentateuch in Hindustani or Urdu was printed, 2,000 copies in quarto; and in the same year Martyn’s translation of the New Testament was again under revision for publication. The Principal of Bishop's College, Dr. Mill, superintended it.
In I824, the Psalms in Hindustani were Published, 4,000 copies in octavo. This was the first good version of the Psalms ever printed in the Urdu language. A translation of them had been published at Halle in 1747, but it was very defective.
In this year another translation of Genesis also was printed, 4,000 copies.
In 1825, Isaiah and Proverbs were printed in Urdu, 2,000 copies each.
In 1826, Mr. Thomason was obliged to go to Europe on account of health, and thus the Urdu Bible was delayed, which was a cause of much regret, as it was supposed that if once a "sound and faithful translation into Urdu" were completed, a basis would be laid for the employment of translators in all parts of India; as from it translations might be made into all the dialects of Hindustan. About this time
Archdeacon Corrie mentioned one proof of the eflicacy of the Urdu Scriptures. A native who died in his house at Benares, had been led to the truth by perusing them; and, nourished by the sincere milk of the word, his growth in grace was evident. During his illness, a native gentleman spoke to Corrie of the inutility of attempting to convert the heathen, and added, none of the converts were sincere in their profession of faith. The Archdeacon replied, by taking him to see the dying convert ; and the sight of his meekness and patience, and faith and hope in Christ, astonished his heathen countryman, who
departed, exclaiming, it was the most wonderful sight he had ever witnessed. The last words of the dying man were striking.  A friend asked him how he felt; and he, utterly regardless of the weakness and suffering of the perishing body, answered, "I desire to be with Christ." Soon after he expired, and his desire was attained.
Mr. Thomason had carried on his translation to the end of 2nd Kings, and though no one had been found capable of completing the work, it was determined to print what was ‘ready. Accordingly, in 1828, the first volume of the Urdu Old Testament was published, 2,000 copies. Also an edition of Genesis, 4,000 copies, and the Acts, 1,000 copies. Both these were in the Nagri character.
In 1829, the revised edition of the Urdu New Testament was printed, 2,000 copies. It had been revised by Thomason to 2nd Corinthians, and the revision was concluded by Mr. DaCosta, under the superintendence of Archdeacon Corrie. In this year Mr. Thomason died. He was a man devoted to his Master’s cause, one of much judgment and meekness, yet who did not shrink from testifying against sin, even when committed by those who were high in station and in rank. He was a burning and shining light to his Master’s glory in this land, and of him it may be said, that “the memory of the just is blessed.”
In 1833, Mr. Robertson, one of the London Society’s Missionaries at Benares, offered to carry on Mr. Thomason’s translation of the Urdu Old Testament; and as he was considered well qualified for the work, the offer was gladly accepted. He had scarcely entered on his labours, however, when he was summoned from service below to glory above. So unfathomable are the ways of Him who seeth not as we see ! In this year the Urdu New Testament was again printed, 2,000 copies. This was the third edition in the Nagri character. There was at this time a great demand for the Urdu Scriptures, especially in the Persian character. Mr. Bowley wrote from Chunar in 1835, “ Next to the Gospels in Hindui, nothing do we so much need as the Gospels in Urdu, for the tens of thousands of Persian readers to be found everywhere up the country.”
Accordingly in 1835, Mark and John were printed, 5,000 copies of each; and endeavours were made to raise funds for printing the other Gospels.
In 1836, the missionaries at Benares, having formed themselves into a Translation Committee, were preparing a revised version of the New Testament in Urdu Persic; and Luke, 8,000 copies, and Acts, 3,000 copies, were printed. Matthew was also printed, 8,000 copies. All these were ready by the close of 1839.
The Benares missionaries undertook, in I838, the continuation of Mr. Thomason’s Urdu Old Testament, but after having revised the first twenty-four chapters of Genesis, they were obliged to give up their proposed plan.Mr. Wilkinson, a Church Missionary at Goruckpore, then offered a manuscript translation, which he had prepared, of the greater part of the Old Testament, and this was handed over to Messrs. Shurman and Kennedy at Benares, who were endeavouring to execute a translation, as Mr. Wilkinson did not consider his own ready to be printed, but hoped it might prove a help in preparing a good version.
In 1839, an edition of the four Gospels and Acts was printed in Romanized Urdu, 2,000 copies, and also 1,000 copies of the same with English and Urdu in opposite columns. The Urdu or Hindustani translation was one of the four translations Dr. Yates had undertaken, and in 1839, his version was published by the Baptist Missionaries, in two editions. The one in 8vo. with marginal references, 1,000 copies, and the other in smaller type, and without references, 500 copies. Of the smaller edition extra copies of the Gospels and Acts were struck off This translation was considered an excellent one, and a competent judge, one who was afterwards actively engaged in the completion of Thomason’s Urdu Old Testament, wrote of it: "In this work the Baptist body have conferred upon India a benefit of no ordinary character, and the time will come when thousands shall bless them for it.”
In 1841, Genesis, Psalms and Proverbs were reprinted, 3,000 copies ofeach; also, the New Testament in 12mo. 5,000 copies, and in 8vo. 3,000 copies. The version of the New Testament printed in this year, was the revision of Martyn’s translation, which had been commenced by the Benares missionaries in 1836. It had been found that Martyn’s version, though excellent in itself, contained too many<Persian words to be suited to the humbler classes, and the Benares version therefore was Martyn’s, simplified, for the use of those who could not understand his original. All the Scriptures published in this year in Urdu, were romanized ; many missionaries having written that such an edition was required for the perusal of Native Christians, drummers, and others acquainted with the English alphabet.
In 1841, there were also published 3,000 copies 8vo. of the Urdu New Testament, H. Martyn’s translation, and 5,000 Gospels and Acts revised ; also John and Acts, 5,000 copies, and Luke and Romans together, 1,000 copies, and John and 1st John together, 1,000 copies. All these were in the Arabic character, for the use of another class of readers. The Urdu scriptures therefore were now published in three different characters, the Persian, the Arabic and the Roman.
In this year also, the Baptist brethren published the Urdu Testament 12mo. in the Arabic character, 3,000 copies, and separate Gospels and Acts,1,500 copies, and the Acts, and John’s Gospels 4,000 copies each. They also printed the four Gospels, 4,000 copies each, in the Persian character. One of the Baptist brethren at this time met with an interesting circumstance in connection with an Urdu Testament. At the Hurdwar fair, he gave a copy to a feeble old man, who on receiving it, clasped it to his bosom, and with tears in his eyes exclaimed, "I have now got what I wanted—I have got the whole Word of Jesus: I will read it, examine it, and see how I may be saved through it!"
In 1842, the Urdu Old Testament was at length completed. Messrs. Shurman and Kennedy, assisted by Mr. Wilson, a missionary at Allahabad, and Mr. Hawkins, a member of the Bengal Civil Service, finished that which Mr. Thomason had commenced upwards of twenty years before. Editions were printed both in the Arabic and Roman characters. Before the close of 1843, there were ready 6,000 copies of the Old Testament 8vo. and 1,000 of the Pentateuch 8vo. with 5,000 copies of Psalms and Isaiah l2mo., and 5,000 copies of the New Testament 8vo. and 11,000 12mo. All these were in the Arabic character. And in the Roman character, there were ready 3,000 copies of the Old Testament 8vo., and 1,500 copies of the New Testament, and 3,000 copies of Isaiah 12mo. Messrs. Shurman and Hawkins had revised the translation of the New Testament, and carried it through the press. They had in this edition returned very much to the original translation by Henry Martyn. An Urdu Persic reprint was also undertaken of Genesis, 3,000 copies in 8vo. and 5,000 in l2mo., and of the Proverbs, 12mo. 5,000 copies. The Baptist brethren likewise struck off 3,000 copies of the Gospels and Acts. In I845, Matthew, Mark and Luke were printed, 5,000 copies each, in Urdu-Persic, and in I846 John, 5,000 copies. Another edition of the Urdu "Roman New Testament was also issued, 5,000 copies: and by the close of the same year the Baptist brethren had printed large editions of the Urdu scriptures, both in the Persian and the Arabic character.  In the latter, their 4th edition of the New Testament, with marginal references, was issued. It consisted of 2,500 copies. After the death of Dr. Yates in I845, the Urdu Scriptures were carried through the press by Mr. Thomas and Mr. Lewis.
In 1847, the Acts were printed, 5,000 copies in Urdu-Persic, and by the close of 1851, the Baptist brethren had completed their 1st edition of the Urdu New Testament in the Persian character, 2,500 copies 12mo., and they had also printed 23,000 different portions of the Gospels and Acts, in the Arabic character, besides their 5th edition of the whole Testament in that character, 3,000 copies.
We have now traced the entire Urdu New Testament through sixteen editions. As one thinks of such large numbers of the Word of God being in circulation in this heathen land, one cannot but rejoice; and the more so, when such instances as the following show the power of even one word, and of small fragments of the Gospel. Mr. Sternberg, the missionary at Arrah, mentions that on one occasion, a Muhammadan, a violent opposer of the truth, found an Urdu Psalter in a neighbour’s house; and looking into it, the 2nd Psalm interested him, and his curiosity was roused as to the "everlasting" kingdom of Messiah. He asked some of his brethren, how this could agree with the Quran ; and not meeting with a satisfactory'reply, he from that time became more willing to listen to the truth. Mr. Sternberg adds, “ The copy of the Psalms had been given to the person, in whose possession it was found, most reluctantly on my part.” The other case was narrated by Bishop Corrie, and we will give it in his own words:
"In 1807, when I was stationed at Chunar, a native Roman Catholic used to visit me for religious instruction. There was not at that time any translation. of the Scriptures to be put into his hands; I therefore selected some of the most important passages of the Bible, and according to the best of my ability, dictated a translation of them, very imperfect, it is true, to the poor man, who wrote it on a number of pieces of loose paper. I soon lost sight of him, and heard nothing of him for many years; but have been lately informed by the Rev. Mr. Wilkinson of Goruckpore, that a short time ago, he had been called to visit this same man, when upon his death bed. On entering into conversation with him, he was surprised by the extent of his acquaintance in scriptural religion, and the propriety of the feelings he expressed in reference to the solemn situation in which he was then placed. He asked an explanation; when the -poor man produced the loose slips of paper on which he had written my translations. On these it appeared his soul had fed through life, and through them he died such a death that Mr. Wilkinson entertained no doubt of his having passed into glory.”


Published in:
Contributions towards a History of Biblical Translations in India. Reprinted from the Calcutta Christian Observer. 1854. Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society: Calcutta; W.H. Dalton: London. Page(s): 59-67.

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Administrator. J A Shurman ~ Bible Translator ("Benares Version") :: Contributions towards a History of Biblical Translations in India, in: Pirltawardli Research Website. Adelaide 2020.
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