The Most Commonly Translated Book After the Bible?

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First Edition

Pilgrim’s Progress

I love classic novels, and enjoy all genres and time periods. How could I narrow it down to write articles on only two? One of my favorite genres to read is the allegory, so this month we’ll look at two classic allegorical novels.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is one novel I’ve read numerous times. The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come is a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan and published in February, 1678. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print.

John Bunyan was a man of strong convictions, though his youth was spent working as a tinker, a young man known for swearing and an inconsistent lifestyle. At one point in his life, he felt conviction to change and claimed to have heard a voice that asked: “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven or have thy sins and go to hell?” This is what began his search for God. Two books played a major part in his spiritual journey: Arthur Dent’s Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety.

At the age of twenty-seven, he began to preach and was soon arrested for preaching without a license and outside of the mandatory Anglican Church services. Bunyan’s ministry was fruitful between times spent in prison and during one of these prison stays he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.

At one time, The Pilgrim’s Progress was considered the most widely read and translated book in the English language apart from the Bible. The charm of the work, which gives it wide appeal among old and young, learned and ignorant, readers of all possible schools of thought and theology, lies in the interest of a story in which the intense imagination of the writer makes characters, incidents, and scenes alike live in the imagination of his readers as things actually known and remembered by themselves, in its touches of tenderness and quaint humor, its bursts of heart-moving eloquence, and its pure, nervous, idiomatic English.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is arguably one of the most widely known allegories ever written, and has been extensively translated. Protestant missionaries commonly translated it into local languages as the first book after the Bible.

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Evangelist points Christian to the Wicket Gate.

The English text of the novel is divided into two parts: Book one was written by Bunyan at the age of forty-seven and book two at the age of fifty, with the first part being the journey of Christian from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City and part two being the journey of Christian’s wife, Christiana and her children to the Celestial City.

In the City of Destruction, Christian reads the book in his hand (the Bible) and is convicted of his sins. He finds a man named Evangelist who points the way to the wicket gate, and thus begins his journey through the narrow gate, on the narrow path to the Celestial City. He begged his wife and children to join him, but they refused. Christian met good friends like Faithful and Hopeful along the way. Wicked men and women like Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Wanton, and Hypocrisy try to lead him on the wrong path, but in the end he reaches the River of Death and crosses to the Celestial City. His wife and children decide later to take the journey and led by the brave guide, Mr. Great-Heart, also arrive at the Celestial City.

Allegories, like parables, are wonderful ways to learn deeper truths through simple illustrations. Bunyan’s way of weaving the story with deeply thought out characters, descriptive lands, and his convictions pull you into the story and leave you wanting more.

My own version of this book is the original language which can be hard to understand, but it has footnotes to explain what many of the words mean in today’s language. I would highly recommend reading The Pilgrim’s Progress and also his spiritual autobiographical work, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.

The Classics. We can learn from the past and carry this knowledge into future works.

Today’s Writing Prompt: Lisa glanced at the tattered cover of the book as it lay in the weathered trunk she’d opened. Could it be a first edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress?

Information gathered from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Abounding_to_the_Chief_of_Sinners
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pilgrim’s_Progress
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bunyan

2 thoughts on “The Most Commonly Translated Book After the Bible?

  1. When and why did we stop reading and printing books like this??? As Aristotle said long ago, “When storytelling goes bad, decadence is the result.” If our culture had stayed with Pilgrims Progress we would not be in the messes we are in today.

  2. Pingback: Civil Resistance through the Published Word | Writing Prompts &Thoughts & Ideas...Oh My!

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