Pick of the Week, Sept. 18: Learning to read Tamil numbers

Tamil New Testament title page
Tamil title page

Can you read the text on this page?

Neither can I!  But it’s one of many foreign-language Bibles in our Special Collections that I’ve had to catalog.  Back in the early 19th century, the British Foreign and Bible Society was hard at work on its goal of translating the Bible into as many foreign languages as possible, so that they could be used in missionary work in far-away countries.  Back here in Middletown, Wesleyan University’s Missionary Lyceum, which existed from 1834 until 1878, collected many of these foreign-language Bibles, and added them to their collection, to further promote a zeal among its members for missionary work around the world.

Special Collections and Archives now owns over 20 of these foreign language Bibles, all from the collection of Wesleyan’s Missionary Lyceum, including texts in such obscure languages as Mongolian, Chippewa, Amharic, Malay, Nepali, Manx, Irish, Rarotongan, Tahitian, Manx, Inuktitut, Maori, and others.  The particular Bible pictured above is in Tamil.

Luckily, many of these foreign-language editions are already cataloged in WorldCat, so I don’t need to be able to read every word in each language.  But sometimes there are several editions to choose from, and it’s difficult to tell what I have in hand.  That was the case with this Tamil New Testament.  Was this printed in 1827, 1830, or 1833?  And did it include just the Gospels and Acts, or the whole New Testament?  Thanks to a little help from Wikipedia’s page on Tamil numerals, I managed to decipher the total number of pages, and what pages each new major section started on.  And thanks to a very good reference source about all the Bibles in the library of the British and Foreign Bible Society (Darlow, T.H. and H.F. Moule. Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society. London: The Bible House, 1903), I found that the 1827 edition matched my pagination exactly, and that the volume in hand contained the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.  The mystery was solved!

If you are curious to see all the Bibles and other publications that we have cataloged from Wesleyan’s Missionary Lyceum, click on this pre-selected library catalog search.

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