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Sowing the Word: The Cultural Impact of the British and Foreign Bible Society 1804-2004


In March 2004, a group of 30 historians who have been fascinated by the work of the British and Foreign Bible Society met in London to share their researches, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Society (now part of the United Bible Societies).

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SKU: 978-1-905048-08-3

In March 2004, a group of 30 historians who have been fascinated by the work of the British and Foreign Bible Society met in London to share their researches, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Society (now part of the United Bible Societies).

A common thread to their papers was the indelible effect the Society’s work has had around the world, not only in bringing the Bible to people of many countries in their own language, but also in helping to create many national identities and cultures. The Bible was often the first printed book in a language, and so the primer for those learning to read. It had an enormous influence on education, the development of written languages, and the outlook of leaders and ordinary people alike throughout Europe, Asia and Africa.

In the 19 papers of this volume, focussing on Britain, West Africa, East Asia, Russia, Europe and North America, readers will find a wealth of absorbing detail. There are the stories of those who translated the Bible into the languages of China and Russia, into the native languages of nineteenth-century Canada, and into many other languages of the world. There are the intriguing tales of those who distributed Bibles, including the many women such as the Bible Women, who found a freedom they otherwise lacked in organizing networks for circulating the Scriptures.

Not forgotten either are those colourful characters, like the maverick George Borrow in Spain, who took enormous risks for the Society in selling Bibles in countries where a vernacular Bible was not welcomed by the authorities.

Additional information

Table of Contents

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Editors

The Archives of the British and Foreign Bible Society
Kathleen Cann


The Bible Society and the Book Trade
Leslie Howsam

Women and the Bible Society
Roger Martin

Forgotten Labours: Women's Bible Work and the BFBS
Sarah Lane

“Without Note or Comment”: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Roger Steer

London Bible House in the 1950s: An Illustrated Reminiscence
John Dean


West Africa

John Hill and the Early Attempt to Study a West African Language
Patricia Mirrlees

East Asia

Anonymous Bible Translators: Native Literati and the Translation of the Bible
into Chinese, 1807-1907
Thor Strandenaes

Problems in Translating the Bible into Manchu: Observations on Louis
Poirot's Old Testament
Erling von Mende


The BFBS Petersburg Agency and Russian Biblical Translation, 1856-1875
Stephen Batalden

Bishop Cassian's BFBS-Sponsored Russian Translation of the New Testament
Sergei Ovsiannikov

Minority Language Biblical Translation Work in Russia: Then and Now
David Clark
The Levant and Southeastern Europe

Enlightening “A Poor, Oppressed, and Darkened Nation”: Some Early
Activities of the BFBS in the Levant
Richard Clogg

The Bible Society's South Slavic Bible in the Balkan Maelstrom
Peter Kuzmi_

Western Europe

Robert Pinkerton: Principal Agent of the BFBS in the Kingdoms of Germany
Wayne Detzler

Obedience and Disobedience: George Borrow's Idiosyncratic Relationship
with the Bible Society
Ann Ridler

The Bible in Spain and Gibraltar
Sue Jackson

North America

The BFBS and Native Language Literature in Nineteenth-Century Canada
Joyce Banks

At Sea

Sowing by Sea: Empowering Seafarers with the Gospel
Roald Kverndal

Appendix: A Summary Catalogue of the BFBS Archives
Kathleen Cann


  1. Peter Sherlock, Church Times.

    Sowing the Word makes a significant contribution to the debate about the relationship of Christianity and culture, of missions and empire … This is a well balanced collection, ranging from geographical, thematic, and biographical chapters to personal reminiscences that capture the culture of the Society’s work.

  2. Yaakov Shavit, Review of Biblical Literature

    This collection is a welcome contribution to the exceptional story of how the Bible became a universal Book of Books.

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Book information

Stephen Batalden, Kathleen Cann, John Dean
List Price
£60 / $95 / €90
Bible in the Modern World, 3
Scholars' Price
£30 / $47.50 / €45
ISBN 13 hardback
Paperback price
£19.50 / $29.50 / €27.50
ISBN 13 Paperback
Hardback / Paperback
Page Extent
xii + 380
Publication Date
June 2006
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