The "Gutenberg Bible" of Modern Syriac

Yulpane d-men hemezmane d-alaha. [Lessons from the Words of God]. Urmia, Persia: [American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions], 1841. 50 p.; 19 cm. [R.B.R. tract BS399.S99 A44 1841]

This small booklet, translated "Lessons from the Words of God," was the first ever printed in modern Syriac or Assyrian. It was printed at the press of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions at Urmia, Persia, in 1841, under the direction of Edward Breath, a missionary and printer. Justin Perkins was, at the time, the head of this early Protestant mission to the Nestorians.

Perkins described in his diary the moment when the first sheet came off the press:

"March 13 [1841]. The proof-sheet of our first tract in the Nestorian language was brought into my study for correction. This is indeed the first sheet, ever printed in that language and character. As it was laid upon my table, before our translators, priests Abraham and Dunka, they were struck with mute astonishment and rapture, to see their language in print; ... As soon as recovery from their surprise allowed them utterance, 'it is time to give glory to God,' they mutually exclaimed, 'that our eyes are permitted to behold the commencement of printing books for our people!' "

The book contains the Lord's Prayer, Ten Commandments, and Bible texts collected on the subjects of lying, theft, swearing, drunkenness, repentance, the new creation, humility, and the Day of Judgment, and (on the back cover) Proverbs 28.9 and Luke 6.47.

It came to the Andover Theological Seminary in 1900 as part of the estate of Isaac H. Hall (1837-96), who was a scholar and collector of Syriac books and manuscripts. It came here when the Andover Seminary Library affiliated with that of the Harvard Divinity School in 1911/12. This is the only known copy.
Dr. J. F. Coakley, Harvard University, found it in the open stacks here in the library and has since published a brief article, "The First Modern Assyrian Printed Book," in the Journal of the Assyrian Academic Society (v. 9, no. 2, 1995), and also included it in his article "Edward Breath and the Typography of Syriac," in the Harvard Library Bulletin (n.s., v. 6, no. 4, Winter, 1995).

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