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Johann Phillip Fabricius (22 January 1711 – 23 January 1791) was a German Christian missionary and a Tamil scholar in later part of his life. He arrived to South India in 1740 to take charge of a small Tamil Lutheran congregation in Madras and expanded it during his stay. In his time in Madras he wrote several Christian hymns in Tamil and published the first Tamil to English Dictionary. Of his works his translation of the Bible to Tamil is considered to be most noteworthy.


Early life

Johann Phillip Fabricius was born on 22 January, 1711[1] in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He graduated in both law and theology in Germany.[2]


He arrived to South India in 1740 to take charge of a small Tamil Lutheran congregation in Madras. After initial setbacks, the congregation grew from 300 to 2200 members in his 30 years of ministry.[2]

Literary contribution

Johann Phillip Fabricius published a collection of 335 Tamil hymns, most of them translated from German. Some of his hymns are still in use.[2] In 1761, British East India Company forces invaded Pondicherry, which was then a French colony, and acquired a printing press. When the spoils of war were brought to Madras the printing press was passed on to Fabricius to aid his missionary work as well to be used for East India company's publication. Thus the first printing press in Madras was born under Fabricius in 1761. Initially Fabricus had problems with importing paper for his press from Europe, but the problem was sorted with Indians in Madras starting to manufacture their own paper leading to first paper industry in Madras.[3] In 1779 he published the first Tamil to English dictionary containing 9000 headwords. This work laid the foundation for his future works in Tamil literature.[2] It was published under the title: "A Malabar and English dictionary, wherein the words and phrases of the Tamilian Language, commonly called by Europeans the Malabar Language, are explained in English, By the English Missionaries of Madras. Printed at Wepery in the Year M.DCC.LXXIX."

Bible translation

Of Johann Phillip Fabricius's works his translation of Bible in Tamil is considered most noteworthy. This was the first effort ever made to translate the Bible in any Indian language. His version of the translation is termed as the "golden version". Nevertheless, Fabricius himself did not live to see his work in print. The translated Bible was published in 1796.[2] The work on the Bible translation was itself started by another German missionary in India, Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg.[1][4] Later versions of translation were also popular of them the most was that of Arumuga Navalar.


Johann Phillip Fabricius died on 23 January, 1791[1] in Madras.[2] His last days in ministry were clouded by mismanagement of the mission, unsuccessful financial transactions among other failures.[2]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Johann Philipp Fabricius". Mission Manual. 15 April 2007. Retrieved 2009-01-23.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Anderson, Gerald (1999). Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 207. ISBN 9780802846808.  
  3. ^ Prashant More, J. B. (2004). Muslim Identity, Print Culture, and the Dravidian Factor in Tamil. Orient Blackswan. pp. 80. ISBN 9788125026327.  
  4. ^ Robert, Dana L. Robert (2007). Converting Colonialism. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 24. ISBN 9780802817631.  


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