WERE MORE JEWISH THAN PROTESTANTS
A Puritan is a name often misunderstood. During the
17th century English Civil War (known as the Puritan Revolution),
the Puritans were Protestant fundamentalists who wished to “purify” the Church
of England. Some of the Puritans, known as Separatists “separated,” forming
their own church. The Puritans felt that Parliament, and not the King, should
have the final say and that the moral guidance for all legal decision should
come from the Jewish Bible which they considered to be the highest authority in
The Puritans were obsessed with the Bible and came
to identify their political struggle against England with that of the ancient
Hebrews against Pharaoh or the King of Babylon. Because they identified so
strongly with ancient Israel,
they chose to identify with the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). (World Book
Encyclopedia & Encyclopaedia Judaica) In 1620, the “Separatists” sailed for America on the
Mayflower. The Separatists/Puritans who settled at Plymouth Colony called
themselves “Pilgrims” because of their wanderings in search of religious
freedom. The Puritan culture of New England
was marked from the outset by a deep association with Jewish themes. No
Christian community in history identified more with the Israelites of the
Bible than did the first generations of settlers of the Massachusetts Bay
Colony, who believed their own lives to be a literal reenactment of the
biblical drama of the chosen people―they were the children of Israel and the
ordinances of God’s Holy covenant by which they lived were His divine law.
Since they viewed themselves as the persecuted victims of the sinful Christian
establishment of the Old World (England), the
Puritans also had a natural sympathy for the Jews of their own time. The
Protestant Puritan leader Cotton Mather repeatedly referred to the Jews in his
prayer for their conversion as God's "Beloved People.” The New Israel―The influence of
the Hebrew Bible marks every step of the Puritan exodus to their Zion in the wilderness of
the New World. The Jewish Bible formed their
minds and dominated their characters; its conceptions were their conceptions.
The "Separatists,” ready to depart from England
for the new land, fasted in a manner reminiscent of the fasts held by the
Israelites before any new undertaking. Their Pastor Robertson read I Samuel
23:3-4 and then they sailed to the New Canaan
The biblical basis for this procedure is manifest; just as the ancient
Israelites prayed and fasted before undertaking an uncertain venture, so did
the Puritans. And once settled in America, the custom was retained
and frequently renewed. Early in 1620, the very year of the Pilgrims' landing
in the new Plymouth,
a solemn day of prayer was observed; Pastor Robinson spoke, again quoting from
I Samuel 23:3-4, by which he strove to ease their fears and strengthen their
determination. This custom, combining prayer and fasting with biblical readings
on momentous occasions, persisted and as late as 1800, President Adams likewise
called a national day of prayer and fasting.
The next major group of Puritan settlers to arrive
in New England (1630) was headed by John
Winthrop (1588–1649) and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They were ruled
initially by an elite of leading Puritan families - since the colony itself was based on
biblical principles and was moved by the Puritan spirit of the Scriptures—was
the Holy Jewish Bible. The Puritans wholeheartedly believed that it was their
special mission to establish in America
a society precisely modeled on the precepts of Sacred Jewish Scriptures. The
Massachusetts Bay Colony was at the very least a state inspired by and
thoroughly devoted to the Jewish Bible. "If we keep this covenant,"
Governor John Winthrop assured his people, "we shall find that the God of
Israel is among us, but if we deal falsely with our God... we be consumed out
of the good land whither we are going." The Jewish covenant concept was thus the bedrock of all Puritan
When the Puritans, a bitterly persecuted people by
the English government, reached America,
they drew clear analogies between themselves and the Jews of antiquity. They
constantly referred to the Hebrew Bible, renewing the similarities to their own
experience, so that its philosophy and spirit came to permeate their lives. Also, like Israel of old, the Pilgrims (and
their fellow Puritan counterparts) regarded them-selves as the elect of God, so
that throughout the Revolutionary War they visualized their enemies as
Amalekites or Philistines. And in a manner reminiscent of the traditional
Jewish Passover night, the Pilgrims too memorialized their passage into
freedom. In searching the Scriptures for readings pertinent to their own
situation, the Puritans readily discovered the general similarity between
themselves and the ancient Israelites, and proceeded to draw from it some very
particular conclusions. They firmly believed that the Hebrew prophets were
speaking to them as directly as they had spoken to the Israelites. Thus the
history of the Israelites as related in the Bible served, according to the
ministers of the day, as a mirror in which the Puritans could see their own
activities reflected. Still considering themselves as Christian Protestants,
the Puritans related to the Israelites and their Jewish belief for their fundamental
In this respect they differed sharply from the
majority of traditional Christian
theologies. To the Puritans the primary lesson of the Old Testament was
that a nation as well as an individual could enter into a covenant with God.
The Puritans reasoned in America
the concept of the covenant would assume new dimensions. Once they reached the
colonies a new factor entered into the matter of the covenant. In this New
Israel the Puritans established a completely new society based solely upon the
Jewish concept of a covenant between God and man. Thus the Puritans made
certain of the biblical system they wished to establish in the New World. When, during a convention of Puritan ministers
at Boston on May 26, 1698, they
confirmed the belief that "under the Old Testament, the Church was
constituted by a covenant." Because of this concept, the Puritan Church
was not ruled by a formal and rigid
papal hierarchy but derived its direction immediately from God, ruled by His
word as revealed in the sacred Jewish Scriptures.
The Bible was in all circumstances and for all
occasions the ultimate source of knowledge and precedent. The Jewish Bible was
the inspired word of God which was for them a matter of absolute conviction,
and, hence, indisputable. Accordingly, failure to abide by the strict reading
and literal interpretation of the Scriptures was severely punished: If any "Christian, so called,” spoke
contemptuously of the Scripture, or the holy penmen thereof, they were to be
punished by fine or whipping. Laws were also passed punishing those who
violated the Sabbath. Laws and
regulations adopted by them, which, at the present day, are stigmatized as
singularities, were in many instances, the legitimate fruits of their strict
adherence to the teaching of the Bible.
Most of the official acts of the colonies were
determined by the Jewish Scriptures. One of these, the Connecticut Code of
1650, adopted a near Mosaic form of government. Its fifteen Capital Laws,
Pentateuchal citations and language are later found in the Massachusetts Code
of 1660. The guide of early Connecticut
was Thomas Hooker, a man deeply touched by the Bible and its spirit, and called
by some "the founder of American democracy." He wrote in a letter
(1648) to Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts
on the subject of liberty under the law: Sit liber judex, as the lawyers speak. Deuteronomy 17:10–11: "Thou shalt observe
to do according to all that they inform, according to the sentence of the law.
Thou shalt seek that Law at his mouth: not ask what his discretion allows, but
what the Law requires." The Puritans' incorporated the Mosaic code and
injunctions from the Old Testament into their own legal framework. It is worthy
of note that fully half of the statutes in the Code of 1655 for the New Haven
colony contained references to or citations from the Old Testament, while only three
percent referred to the New Testament.
Accordingly, the first settlers in New England called themselves "Christian Israel." Comparison of the Puritan leaders with the
great leaders of ancient Israel—especially
Moses and Joshua—were common. So the names of Daniel, Jonathan, Esther, Enoch,
Ezra, Rachel and a host of others were in constant use among the Puritans.
Interestingly enough, there was a conspicuous
absence of the names of Christian saints. Names of cities, towns and settlements
likewise derived from Hebraic sources.
This widespread use of biblical names, however, was not confined to the
naming of offspring, cities and towns - names of many biblical heights were
eventually bestowed upon the great mountains of America. Mount
Carmel and Mount
Horeb, home of the
Prophets, were popular names, as was Mount
Nebo, the final resting
place of Moses. Names like Mount
Ephraim, Mount Gilead,
Mount Hermon, Mount Moriah,
Mount Pisgah, were all popular as well. Some
mountains in the New World were even called
and Mount Olive. .
Puritan obsession with the Bible led them to try and incorporate many aspects
of the Jewish commandments into their lifestyle based on their literal
interpretation of Hebraic laws. One of the most significant was the concept of
the Sabbath as a day of rest and meditation. Puritan Sabbath observance began
at sundown and no work of any kind, even household chores, was allowed for the
next 24-hours. Sabbath observance was strictly monitored by local officials.
In summary: The majority of the earliest settlers were Puritans
Unlike their cousins back home, these American Puritans strongly identified
with both the historical traditions and customs of the ancient Hebrews of the
Old Testament. They viewed their emigration from England as a virtual re-enactment
of the Jewish exodus from Egypt:
the English king was Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean
their Red Sea, America was the Land of Israel,
and the Indians were the ancient Canaanites. They were the new Israelites,
entering into a new covenant with God in a new Promised Land.
These settlers found themselves in a New World
which had no existing laws or govern-ment. Their first task, therefore, was to
create a legal framework for their communities and the first place they looked
for guidance was the Hebrew Bible. Thus most of the early legislation of the
colonies of New England was determined by
Scripture. The most extreme example was the Connecticut Code of 1650 which
created a form of fundamentalist government based almost entirely on Jewish law
using numerous citations from the Bible. The same held true for the code of New Haven and many other
At the first assembly of New Haven in 1639, John Davenport clearly declared the
primacy of the Bible as the legal and moral foundation of the colony:
"Scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule for the direction and government
of all men in all duties which they are to perform to God and men as well as in
the government of families and commonwealth as in matters of the church ... the
Word of God shall be the only rule to be attended unto in organizing the
affairs of government in this plantation."
Thanksgiving which has evolved into a
national day of feasting and celebration was initially conceived by the
Pilgrims, in 1621, as a day similar to the Jewish Sukkot, the holiday of joy as
told in Leviticus 23:40. It was for the Puritans and is for the Jews a day
of great joy because it was the time of the year for the
gathering grain and fruits from their fields into their homes. A time for
introspection and prayer, because it was God, not man who allowed the first
1. H. B. Alexander, "The
Hebrew Contribution to the Americanism of the Future" in: The Menorah Journal, VI, no. 2 (1920),
2. W. De-Loss Love, Jr., The Fast and Thanksgiving Days (1895),
3. Cf. S. Morgan, "Responsibilities
of a Puritan Parent," More Books:
The Bulletin of the Boston
Public Library, XVII, no. 4 (1942), 141–159.
4. S. Broches, Jews in New England
5. J. Davis, New England's Memorial (1669), 36.
6. C. Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), III, 100; cf., Appendix, Bay Psalm Book.
7. P. Miller, The New England
Mind (1939), 475.
8. Ibid., 477.
Mather, The Order of the Gospels
10. P. Miller and T. H.
Johnson, The Puritans (1938), 49, 54.
11. J. Banvard, Plymouth and the Pilgrims (1856), 204, 231–2.
12. R. Calef, More Wonders of the Invisible World
13. P.M. Simms, The Bible in America (1936), 337–342.
14. L. I. Newman, Jewish Influence on Christian Reform
Movements (1925), 641.
15. P. Masserman and M.
Baker, The Jews Come to America
16. C. Mather, op. cit. I, 109–110.
17. J. Davis, op. cit., 272.
18. G. R. Stewart, Names on the Land (1945), 123 ff.
19. C. E. Whiting, Studies in English Puritanism from the
Restoration to the Revelation, 1600–1688 (1931), 445 ff.
20. C. Mather, op. cit. I, 63.
21. G. R. Stewart, loc. cit.
22. L. M. Friedman, Jewish Pioneers and Patriots (1942), 96.
23. Sivan, Gabriel, The Bible and Civilization, Jerusalem: Keter
Publishing House, 1973, p. 236.
24. Katsh, Abraham I., The Biblical Heritage of
American Democracy, New York:
p. 97. Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1977, Chapter 3 & 5.