Textual pedlars: distributing salvation – colporteurs
and their portable Bibles
When you come, bring … the books, and above all the parchments.
2 Timothy 4.13
White Lady, has God's Book arrived in our country?
Tell the World, 63
There is yet one thing left to do with the Bible: simply to read.
Biblical scholarship has been relentless in paying attention to the historical investigation of texts, the theological exposition of various narratives and the lexical purity of numerous versions of the Bible, but rarely has it made any serious attempt to study the circulation of the Bible and its effect on ordinary people, especially those who sold them. The aim of this chapter is to begin to rectify this omission, to narrate the intriguing story of its dissemination and its impact on some of those who read it. In order to illustrate this, I will look at the significant role played by colporteurs, a group of men and women employed by the British and Foreign Bible Society, whose specific task was to sell the Bibles door to door. Their activities constitute a significant element in the singular aim of the Bible Society to promote the Bible as the Book. They were dedicated hawkers whose specialization lay in carrying the Bibles, Testaments and biblical portions in a sack, and selling them through persuasion or through personal testimonies, thus effecting changes in the lives of the purchasers that eventually led to their conversion. The colporteurs acted not only as hawkers of the Bible, but also as brokers between the Bible Society and the people who bought