BAR 38:04, Jul/Aug 2012
Psalms: First North American Book
Long ranked among the world’s most famous books, the Bay Psalm Book (originally titled The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre) was the first book printed in North America. Several copies of the first edition still exist.
When about 30 Puritan ministers—among them Richard Mather, John Eliot and Thomas Weld(e)—began translating the Psalms in 1636, their intentions were “Conscience rather than elegance, fidelity rather than poetry.” They wanted the Psalms to reflect the original Hebrew Biblical texts more closely than the King James Version did because they believed salvation depended on it. And they wanted the Psalms to be sung easily at prayer meetings. For example, Psalm 23 begins: “The Lord to mee a shepheard is, want therefore shall not I, Hee in the folds of tender-grass, doth cause mee downe to lie.”