The British and Foreign Bible Society’s Arabic Bible translations
A study in language politics
in Chosen peoples
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This chapter examines the British and Foreign Bible Society’s (BFBS) Arabic Bible translations in the context of European imperial expansion, the global missionary project and emergent Arab nationalism. Unlike the American Bible Society, the BFBS did not produce its own Bible in literary Arabic. They instead published editions in forms of Arabic that were regionally and socially variable and that closely resembled what people spoke. The choice of the BFBS to translate and publish in colloquial Arabic had political implications. By undermining the primacy of literary Arabic during an age of incipient anticolonial Arab nationalism, and by fostering a new and more popular culture of Arabic reading that included men and women from modest social classes, these BFBS editions had the potential to shift extant social hierarchies. The distribution of vernacular Arabic Bibles had the potential to make and remake communities of readers within territories that bore comparison to the colonial borders which Britain and France were imposing during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These colloquial North African Arabic Bibles contributed to a convoluted history that tied together Britain and America; North Africa and western Asia (or ‘the Middle East’); and other parts of the globe.

Chosen peoples

The Bible, race and empire in the long nineteenth century

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