The author was a Polish musician Wojciech Bobowski (circa 1610-1675), known under his Muslim name Ali Ufki, as an attempt to present the Christian text to the Islamic world.
Bobowski was born to a protestant family in Poland. In 1632 he was abducted by the Tatars and sold in Istanbul as a slave. In the new city he converted into Islam and, a talented musician and dragoman, soon entered the highest circles of the Ottoman court earning his freedom. At the time of his death he was known to speak 16 languages.
Ali Ufki, a deeply religious man, started translating the New Testament, with a goal to introduce the Christian text to the Islamic world for better mutual cultural understanding, in 1662 and finished it in 1664, with the last corrections made the following year.
Although Ali Bey intended to have his translation published in a printed version, the project was never finished. A Dutch merchant Laurens de Geer, who brought the manuscript to Leyden for the publication, died in 1666 and the translation remained in the archives of the city for the next 150 years.
In 1819, Ali Ufki’s translation of the New Testament was published for the first time by commission of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The book was printed in Paris in the Imprimerie impériale, which was at the time housing the finest Arabic types in Europe.
Eight years later, in 1827, the first printed edition of the Bible, with both, the Old and New Testament, made by Ali Ufki, followed, also published by the British and Foreign Bible Society and printed in Paris. The text was this time edited by Jean Daniel Kieffer (1767-1833), who made drastic corrections mostly to the New Testament, correcting Ali Ufki’s fine 17th century Ottoman.
This first printed translation of the New Testament from 1819 and the translation of the whole Bible from 1827 became the basis for other Turkish translations of the New Testament, used by Armenians and Greeks.
The Arabic Types
The book was printed in exquisite Arabic types, originating from the 17th century, and among others used by Napoleon in the first modern press in the Arab world.
The types were made in the beginning of the 17th-century with the support of François Savary de Brèves, who was a French Ambassador in Istanbul, where he developed a fascination for Ottoman and Arabic culture. Appointed as an ambassador in Rome in 1706 de Brèves founded a printing press in the city, called Typographia Savariana, which was specialised in printing of texts in Arabic typeface, which he helped developing himself.
These Arabic types are considered one of the most elegant ones ever made.
After Savary de Brèves death in 1627, the types were acquired by Richelieu for the kingdom of France in order to encourage the propagation of Catholicism in the Levant.
After more than a century, the types were rediscovered by French orientalist, sinologist and Turkologist Joseph de Guignes (1721 –1800), in 1787.
A decade later Napoleon decided to use these elegant Arabic types as a foundation for his planned printing press, the Imprimerie Nationale, in Egypt. The complete set of presses and types was transported from France to Cairo, where they arrived after a long delay, caused by the machines’ weigh. As the transportation with camels proved to be unsuccessful, the presses and types were eventually transferred by boats.
The Imprimerie Nationale, was set up in October 1798 on Azbakiyah Square, in the same building which housed the Institut d’Egypte. The last types arrived by January 1799, when the first editions of the newspapers Courrier and the Decade were issued.
This was the first modern press in the Arab world.
The official Napoleon’s printer was Jean-Joseph Marcel. On January 1, 1803, Marcel returned together with the types to France, where was appointed the director of the Imprimerie impériale, where he remained until 1815 as a main publisher for the books in Arabic type.
The imprints from high-quality de Brèves Arabic types in Paris were ordered by foreign institutions, as the other presses were considered inferior. This publication was commissioned by the British and Foreign Bible Society.
References: OCLC 879522395, 1179468020, 1014539304, 1014539304, 798503058, 18278717, 632958382, 61141750, 966277281, 46426495. Bruce Privratsky, A History of Turkish Bible Translations, 2014, passim. North & Nida, Book of a Thousand Tongues, 1972, no. 1303 / 1827.