Who was Ali Bey?

Wojciech Bobowski (pronounced vóy-chek ba-bóf-ski), also known as Albertus Bobovius, a pen name, and as Ali Bey and Santuri Ali Ufki to the Turks, was born in Lwów in Polish Lithuania (now Lvív, Ukraine). His birth date is sometimes cited as “circa 1610,” though there is good reason to believe this date is wrong and he was born as late as 1622. As a boy or young man he was captured by Tatar raiders, probably in 1634, sold as a slave (esir) in Istanbul, circumcised and given the name Ali. He was eventually enrolled in the sultan’s palace school (Mekteb-i Enderun) and served for about 20 years at the Topkapı Palace as a musician and dragoman (tercüman, translator). In the Ottoman classification of slave ranks, this made him a high-status kul of the sultan.         Evliya Çelebi tells us in his Seyâhatnâme that Sultan Mehmet IV once honored “Polish Ali” with the gift of a horse and complimented his Turkish fluency (“şu düzgün konuşan, ağzı laf yapan Lehli Hâli”). After a trip to Egypt with a Turkish army officer Ali Bey had gained his freedom before 1657, i.e. at least five years before Levin Warner, the Dutch ambassador, hired him to translate the Bible. There is no historical evidence for the rumor often heard in Turkey that the sultan ordered his slave Ali to translate the Bible.         Ali Bey's translation is the foundation for every Turkish Bible to the present day. According to brief notes he recorded at the end of various books of his draft manuscript, he began work in February 1662 and finished by December 1664. Then in 1665 he supervised secretaries who produced two corrected copies. Together with the draft, these two copies were sent to Professor Jacob Golius in Holland. The draft and one of the "secretarial copies" contain the complete Bible including Apocrypha, whereas today the other copy is an incomplete manuscript, for unknown reasons.         Ali Bey's draft manuscript and secretarial copies are archived in the Warner Collection at the University Library in Leiden, Holland. The draft manuscript is labelled Codex Orientalis 390a-d; whereas the secretarial copy published here by permission is Cod. Or. 1101a-f; and the incomplete copy is Cod. Or. 1117a. Another copy apparently produced by Ali Bey himself is archived in Amsterdam.         Although plans had been made to publish Ali Bey's Bible, this was not accomplished during his lifetime. The death of the Dutch merchant, Laurens de Geer, who had agreed to fund the project, combined with other complications to frustrate publication plans. Ali Bey’s wonderful manuscripts collected dust on the shelves of the Leiden archives for 150 years. Finally in 1819 the French professor of Turkish, Jean-Daniel Kieffer, edited Ali Bey's New Testament and it was printed in Paris, funded by the British Bible Society. This New Testament of 1819 and the Old Testament of 1827 are very close to Ali Bey's manuscripts, edited minimally by Kieffer. But the New Testament of 1827 diverges at key points so heavily from Ali Bey's manuscript that 19th-century readers called it "Kieffer's Bible."         The 20th-century Turkish translation, Kutsal Kitap (1987, 2001), did not consult Ali Bey's translation. After the launch of this website the editors of the new HADİ/HAK translation at Yeni Yaşam Yayınları began to consult Ali Bey, commenting that they were surprised how close it is to Modern Turkish. Selections from Ali Bey's Bible have been published by the Kitabı Mukaddes Şirketi in parallel columns with the Kitabı Mukaddes (1941) and Kutsal Kitap.    For a fuller biography of Ali Bey in English see Appendix IV in "A History of Turkish Bible Translations" by Bruce G. Privratsky and consult his footnotes, especially the two major articles by the Noel Malcolm; click here http://historyofturkishbible.wordpress.com/ .