LONDON — A rare copy of the first English-language edition of the New Testament to be published in the United States is being offered at auction in London.
Bloomsbury Auctions says the small volume, published in 1777, is estimated to fetch 100,000 pounds ($160,000) or more at the sale on Nov. 29. The identity of the seller was not disclosed.
The New Testament was published by Robert Aitken, a Scotsman who settled in Philadelphia, who acted to fill a void after British authorities cut off the supply of Bibles following the American colonies' Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Although Aitken published further editions of the New Testament in 1778, 1779 and 1781, "this is the first and obviously the most important," Rupert Powell, deputy chairman of Bloomsbury Auctions, said Friday.
He said only two other copies of the edition are known to survive, one held by the Philadelphia Historical Society and the other by the New York Public Library.
The title page of Aitken's New Testament proclaims it is "newly translated out of the original Greek; and with the former translations diligently compared and revised. Appointed to be read in churches."
With a few slight changes, that repeats the wording on the title page of the first edition of the King James Bible published in 1611; Aitken omitted the King James Bible's reference to the king.
Powell said he was unable to say whether Aitken had simply lifted the text of the King James Bible, or had gone to the trouble of preparing his own edition.
Aitken was not the first to publish a Bible in the United States. A version of the New Testament in the Algonquin (Native American) language was translated by the English Puritan clergyman John Eliot and published in 1661, followed by a full Bible in 1663.
Christopher Saur , a German immigrant, also was ahead of Aitken, publishing a German-language Bible in 1743 in Philadelphia.
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