The Contested Origins of the 1865 Arabic Bible

Contributions to the Nineteenth Century Nahḍa


This study examines the history of an Arabic Bible translation of American missionaries in late Ottoman Syria. Comparing the history of this project as recorded by the American missionaries with private correspondence and the manuscripts of the translation, The Contested Origins of the 1865 Arabic Bible provides new evidence for the Bible’s compilation, including the seminal role of Syrian Christians and Muslims. This research also places the project within the wider social-political framework of a transforming Ottoman Empire, where the rise of a literate class in Beirut served as a catalyst for the Arabic literary renaissance (Nahḍa), and within the international field of New Testament textual studies.

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Biographical Note

David D. Grafton, Ph.D. (2001), University of Birmingham, UK, is the Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is the author of The Christians of Lebanon (2004), Piety, Politics and Power: Lutherans Encountering Islam in the Middle East (2009) and Christian-Muslim Relations in the Lutheran and Anglican Communions (2013).

Table of contents

List of Illustrations

1 Contested Origins and Contested Contributions
American Missions in the Middle East
The Arabic Bible
Contested Identities within the American Mission
Eli Smith
Buṭrus al-Bustānī
Nāṣīf al-Yāzijī
Cornelius Van Alen Van Dyck
Yūsuf al-Asīr

2 The American Syrian Mission: Evangelism, Schools and the Press
Evangelism through Preaching and Bible Distribution
Protestant—Catholic Relations
Establishing Schools
Challenging Arab Syrian Culture 64
The Transformation of Beirut and the Establishment of Printing Presses

3 Debate over the Origins and American Contributions to the Nahḍa
The Nahḍa
Educational Renaissance
Cultural Societies
Literary Renaissance
The Debate over the Role of the Americans in the Nahḍa
George Antonius (1891–1942)
Albert Hourani (1915–1993)
Abdul Latif al-Tibawi (1910–1981)
Yūsuf Nasrallah (1911–1993) and the Oriental Catholic Churches

4 Contributions to Nineteenth Century Biblical Scholarship
The Bible Societies and Publishing Houses
The British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) and the American Bible Society (ABS)
The Search for the Text of the New Testament
Eli Smith and Edward Robinson
Biblical Scholarship of the 1865 Arabic Bible Translation
The textus receptus versus the eclectic text

5 The Text of the 1865 Arabic Bible Translation
The Received Tradition (RT) of the Translation
Primary and Secondary Sources of the so-called Van Dyck
Smith’s Views on Arabic
Choosing the Classical Style
Smith’s Method of Translation
The Death of Smith and the Appointment of Van Dyck
Van Dyck’s Method of Translation
The Correction of the eclectic text
The so-called Van Dyck Manuscripts
“Revised” or “Reviewed”

6 Reception of the Translation
Publication of the Translation
Responses to the so-called Van Dyck
A New Translation?
The Catholic Response
Muslim Responses
A Changing Arabic

7 Overstated, Overlooked, and Undervalued Contributions
The so-called Van Dyck
Further Research . . .

Index of Subjects and Names 271


This work will be of interest to researchers in late Ottoman society, Western mission history, and Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle East.