Bible Society of Constantinople

The Bible Society in Turkey continues to be the publisher of many books for Christians, especially of the Bible in almost all languages and alphabets used in the Ottoman Empire, and is an important actor of religious publishing in these lands with its 200 years of existence. Serving the Christians from all denominations and language groups of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey; the Bible Society is one of the oldest publishers of these lands. This gallery aims to offer a segment of this long history view for the earliest activities of the predecessor organizations of the Bible Society in Turkey, the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) and the American Bible Society (ABS), which were carried out within the current geographical borders of the Republic of Turkey. This company is one of the final visible links to a much earlier period of Galata / Pera which was a ‘world within a world’ whose energy was derived by being the interface between the city / Empire and the wider Western world. That tolerance and diversity made the zone and wider city a trade emprorium even while the Empire faced mortal challenges. The Bible Society is one of the oldest companies in Turkey, so a survivor in many ways.

According to historical records, the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) officials first came to Smyrna in 1818 to serve the Greek-speaking Christians there, and the American Bible Society (ABS) company officials arrived in 1820 to serve the Armenian-speaking Christians in Constantinople. The Bible Companies always maintained good relations with the patriarchs of these congregations, but noticed the differences between the language used in churches versus that in daily life. These organisations under the approval of the Greek and Armenian patriarchs provided Bible translations and updated and published these translations continuously. At the same time, in the sphere of education in the years when this service was provided solely by their religious communities, although they learnt to read and write in their own alphabets, the language Anatolian Christians could speak the best was Turkish, so many Bibles were printed by the Bible Companies in Turkish with Armenian or Greek script for these communities.

When BFBS and ABS started their operations in the East, the branch offices located in Egypt, Lebanon, many other countries in the Middle East, Greece, Albania, Macedonia and the Balkans were all managed by the headquarters of the two Societies in Istanbul. Therefore, both the Bible translations into the languages spoken in these lands and the distribution and sales of those translations were handled by the managers residing in Istanbul. During the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the Christian Scriptures were banned from time to time in various regions, but these bans were quickly retracted by higher authorities and many language groups living within the borders of the Empire received the Bible they could understand. Restrictions on the publishing and sale of the Bible gradually came to an end in the 2000s. The Bible Society continues to provide its products through the sales centre in Beyoğlu Tünel Square, via digital platforms, and by participating in various book fairs in Turkey.

During the period of the Republic of Turkey One of the key managers of the Bible the Company was Lyman MacCallum. MacCallum was born in the eastern Anatolian city of Erzurum in 1893 and lived for many years in south-eastern town of Maraş where his parents were teachers at the American College. He later went to Canada to train to be an engineer but couldn’t complete his education as the First World War broke out and he enlisted in the Canadian army and as a soldier in France participated in violent clashes there. In this military service, he suffered from a poison gas attack and for many years he was an invalid in many hospitals in England and Canada. Doctors didn’t give him much hope. But finally he was able to find the strength to make a short visit to see his parents in Istanbul. It was during this visit that the director of the Bible Company at that time invited him to work for him. MacCallum accepted this invitation and worked as a manager between the years of 1925 to 1955. During his tenure of 30 years he witnessed the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. As well as speaking Turkish and English as a mother tongue the years he spent in Anatolia gave him the opportunity to get to know the people of the country very well. He died in Turkey and was buried in Feriköy Protestant Cemetery in Istanbul. During MacCallum’s tenure, the Bible was printed and distributed in many languages ​​and alphabets. During the imposition of Wealth Tax in 1942 liable by all the employees of the company he actively sought donations to collect this tax and paid those huge sums.

Sales center under Tunnel Pass, off the Grande Rue de Pera - Source: The Bible in the World, August 1909

The second shop of the British and Foreign Bible Society on the Grande Rue de Pera. Source: The Bible in the World, December 1926.

interior of the reading room.

Loading at the company store-house in Galata. The books on the cart were being dispatched to Salonica and Athens. The building on the quay near the Customs House consisted of a shop, an office, warehouse, packing room and court-yard. Source: The Bible in the World, December 1926.

A Bible colporteur in Istanbul in the mid-1800s. On the bag is written ‘Kitabı Mukaddes’ (the Bible) in Turkish with Armenian script.

The sales point of the American Bible Society in Mardin, serving with the sign ‘The American Library’ and its manager. Early 1900s.

Bible company arranged exhibition to celebrate the centenary of the translation and printing of the Bible in Armenian in 1953.

In 1953, on the 100th anniversary of the Bible translation into modern Armenian, Lyman MacCallum presents the Armenian Bible to the Lebanese President Camille Chamoun.

A ceremony of gratitude at the Aynalıçeşme Armenian Protestant Church in 1953 for the 100th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into Modern Armenian. In the middle is Lyman MacCallum, his wife is on the right and his assistant Paul Herman Nilson, the director of KMŞ after him is on his left.