Julia Smith, Woman Bible Translator by Frances Ellen Burr 1895
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Julia Smith's translation of the Bible stands out unique among all translations. It is the only one ever made by a woman, and the only one, it appears, ever made by man or woman without help. Wyclif, "the morning star of the Reformation," made a translation from the Vulgate, assisted by Nicholas of Hereford. He was not sufficiently familiar with Hebrew and Greek to translate from those tongues. Coverdale's translation was not done alone. In his dedication to the king he says he has humbly followed his interpreters and that under correction. Tyndale, in his translation, had the assistance of Frye, of William Roye, and also of Miles Coverdale. Julia Smith translated the whole Bible absolutely alone, without consultation with any one. And this not once, but five times-—twice from the Hebrew, twice from the Greek and once from the Latin. Literalness was one end she kept constantly in view, though this does not work so well with the Hebrew tenses. But she did not mind that Frequently her wording is an improvement, or brings one closer to the original than the common translation. Thus in I. Corinthians viii, I, of the King James translation, we have: "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth." Julia Smith version: "Knowledge puffs up and love builds the house." She uses "love" in place of "charity" every time. And her translation was made nearly forty years before the revised version of our day, which also does the same. Tyndale, in his translation nearly three hundred and seventy-five years ago, made the same translation of this word; but Julia Smith did not know that and never saw his translation. This word "charity " was one of the words that Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, charged Tyndale with mistranslating. The other two words were "priest" and "church," Tyndale calling priests "seniors," and church "congregation." Both Julia Smith and the Revised Version call them priests and church. And she gives the word "Life" for "Eve:" "And Adam will call his wife's name Life, for she was the mother of all living."
One more illustration: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem." King James translation. "Now when Jesus was born, etc., behold there came wise men from the sunrisings to Jerusalem." Julia Smith version. She claims to have made a perfectly literal translation, and according to the verdict of competent authorities, Hebrew scholars who have examined her Bible, she has done so. Her work has had the endorsement of various learned men. A Hebrew professor of Harvard College (Prof. Young) called on her soon after her Bible was issued and examined it. He was much astonished that she had translated so correctly without consulting some learned man. He expressed surprise that she should have put the tenses as she did. She said to him: "You acknowledge that I have translated according to the Hebrew idiom?" He replied: "O yes, you have translated literally." That was just what she aimed at, to get an exact literal translation, without regard to smoothness. She received many letters from scholars, all speaking of the exact, or literal translation. Some people have criticised this feature, which is the great merit of the book.
Julia Smith was led to make the translation at the time of the Miller excitement in 1843, when the world was to come to a sudden termination; when the saints were preparing their robes for ascension into the empyrean, and wicked unbelievers (the vast majority) were to descend as far the other way. She and her family were much interested in Miller's predictions, and she was anxious to see for herself if, in the original Hebrew text of the Bible there was any warrant for Miller's predictions. So she set to work and studied Hebrew, having previously translated the New Testament, and also the Septuagint from the Greek. So absorbed did she become in her work that the dinner bell was unheeded, and she would undoubtedly have many times gone to bed both dinnerless and supperless had not the family called her off from her work. Once a week she met with the family and a friend and neighbor, Miss Emily Moseley, to read over and discuss what she had translated during the week. This practice was kept up for several years. When she came to publish the work, (the manuscripts of which had lain in the garret some twenty-five or thirty years) the cashier of the Hartford bank, where the sisters had kept their money, told her she was very foolish to throw away her money printing this Bible; that she would never sell a copy. She told him it didn't matter whether she did or not; that she was not doing it to make money; that she found more satisfaction in spending her money in this way than in spending it all on dress. Thanks to our more enlightened age, this translation did not meet with the opposition the early translators had to contend with. The scholars of those days thought learning should be confined to a select few; it was, in their view, dangerous to put the Bible into a language the common people could understand, especially women. Here is what one Henry de Knyghton, a learned monk of that day, said: "This Master John Wiclif hath translated the gospel out of Latin into English, which Christ had intrusted with the clergy and doctors of the Church that they might minister it to the laity and weaker sort, according to the state of the times and the wants of men. But now the gospel is made vulgar and more open to the laity, and even to women who can read, than it used to be to the most learned of the clergy and those of the best understanding." To say nothing of reading the Bible, what would this learned man have thought of a woman translating it, and five times at that! It would seem as if the bare suggestion must have stirred his dry bones with indignation.
King James appointed fifty-four men of learning to translate the Bible. Seven of them died and forty-seven carried the work on. Compare this corps of workers with one little woman performing the Herculean task without one suggestion or word of advice from mortal man! This Bible is ten by seven inches, and is printed in large, clear type. There are two styles of binding, cloth and sheepskin. The cloth binding was $2.50 at the time it was issued and while Julia Smith lived, and the other was $3.00, but as they are getting scarcer the price may have gone up. They will be a rarity in the next century and will be much sought after by bibliomaniacs, to say nothing of scholars who will want it for its real value. Julia Smith had the plates of her Bible preserved, but where they are now is more than I know. It was published by the American Publishing Company, of Hartford, in 1876.
Julia Evelina Smith, of Glastonbury, Conn., was one of five sisters of a somewhat notable family, the father and mother both having strong traits of character and marked individuality. The mother, Hannah Hickok, was a fine linguist and mathematician. She once made an almanac for her own convenience, almanacs being rather scarce in those days. She could tell the time of night whenever she happened to awake by the position of the stars. She was an omnivorous reader and a great student, and in those days before the invention of stoves, her father, in order to allow her the requisite retirement to gratify her studious tastes, built her a small glass room. In the days of the Abby and Julia Smith excitement, when they refused to pay their taxes, some writer was so wicked as to say that Julia Smith's grandfather shut her mother up in a glass cage. Seated in this glass enclosure, placed in a south room, with the sun's rays beating down upon her, as upon a plant in a conservatory, she could pursue her studies to her heart's content. She was an only child and adored by her father; and so much did she think of him that in his last illness, when she was away at school, she rode four hundred miles on horseback in order to see him before he died.
Julia Smith's father, the Rev. Zephaniah H. Smith, a graduate of Yale, was settled in Newtown, Conn., near South Britain, where he married Hannah Hickok. He preached but four years, resigning his position on the ground that the gospel should be free; that it was wrong to preach for money—ideas promulgated by the Sandemanians of those days, the followers of Robert Sandeman, a Scotchman, who organized the sect in England and in this country, it having originated with his father-in-law, John Glas, the sect being called either Glassites or Sandemanians, the former being given the preference in Scotland and England. The ideas of these people were followed out by the Smith family, and at Abby and Julia Smith's funeral, as at the funerals of those who had gone before them, there was no officiating minister and no services. Simply a chapter of the Bible was read, and one or two who wished, made remarks. On a fly-leaf of the Bible Julia Smith read every day was written the request that she should be buried by her sisters in Glastonbury, and with no name on the tombstone but that of her own maiden name. This request was followed out. The names of the Smith sisters are so unique, and inasmuch as they have never been known to be printed correctly, it may not be out of place to give them here, preceding them by those of their parents, making a short family record for future reference:
Zephaniah H. Smith, born August 19, 1758. Died February I, 1836.
Hannah Hickok, born August 7, 1767. Died December 27, 1850.
They were married May 31, 1786.
DAUGHTERS OF THE ABOVE:
Hancy Zephina, born March 16, 1787. Died June 30, 1871.
Cyrinthia Sacretia, born May 18, 1788. Died August 19, 1864.
Laurilla Aleroyla, born November 26, 1789. Died March 19, 1857.
Julia Evelina, born May 27, 1792. Died March 6, 1886.
Abby Hadassah, born June I, 1797. Died July 23, 1878.
Julia was educated at Mrs. Emma Willard's far-famed seminary at Troy, New York. Abby, the youngest of the family, was the one who added to their fame, when, in November, 1873, at a town meeting in Glastonbury, she delivered a speech against taxation without representation. She had just attended the first Woman's Congress in New York, and on her way back said she was going to make a speech on taxation; that she should apply to the authorities to speak in town hall on town meeting day. She and Julia owned considerable property in Glastonbury and their taxes were being increased, while those of their neighbors (men) were not. She applied to the authorities, but they would not let her speak in the hall, so she spoke from a wagon outside to a crowd of people. This speech was printed in a Hartford paper (the Courani) and was copied all over the country, and the cry: "Abby Smith and her cows" was caught up everywhere. Abby Smith's quaint, simple speeches, attracted attention, and the sale of the cows at the sign-post aroused sympathy, and from that time on their fame grew apace. The hitherto light mail-bags of Glastonbury came loaded with mail matter from all quarters for the Smith sisters. And this continued for some years, or till the death of Abby in 1878, which was followed by the marriage of Julia the following spring, and the discontinuance of the sale of the cows at the public sign-post. She married Mr. Amos A. Parker, both being eighty-seven years of age. Julia Smith sold the old family mansion in Glastonbury and bought a house at Parkville, Hartford. She died there in 1886 and her husband died in 1893, nearly one hundred and two years of age. F. E. B.
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