American Indian Religion: Parallels to Judaism

Parallels to Jewish beliefs

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In the 1600s, missionaries detected similarities in some beliefs of American Indians and the Jewish people. In Chrysostom Verwyst’s book Missionary labors of fathers Marquette, Menard and Allouez, he discusses  that “they observe … some Jewish customs.” He then explains an example: they do not use a knife to cut meats at certain festivals. When women give birth they do not sleep in the same tent with their husband for 84 days.[1] The same custom applied among Jews for 80 days.[2] In Mallery in his Israelite and Indian: A Parallel in Planes of Culture (1889), he explains among Indians persons with running sores were kept confined at a distance from others. This was true for Jews under the Mosaic Code.[3] Mallery notes a missionary, Adair, recorded cleansing and bathing customs very similar to the Jews were practiced by the Indians. At the annual expiation of sin, there was the cleansing of homes too.[4] One tribe followed the procedure of the scapegoat, just as the Jewish people followed.[5]

In Frederick Webb Hodge, Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico (1911) at 775, we read: “Antonio de Montezinos, a Marano (secret Jew), while journeying in South America, claimed that he met savages who followed Jewish practices. This story he repeated in Holland, in 1644, to Manaaseh ben Israel, who printed it in his work, Hope of Israel.”

Mallery claimed that despite these similarities, it is not true that American Indians believed in a single supreme being prior to contact with missionaries.[6] Despite this, as Hodge mentions: “Certain identities and resemblances in customs, ideas, institutions, etc., of the American Indians and the ancient Jews are pointed out by Mallery in his Israelite and Indian: A Parallel in Planes of Culture (Proc. A. A. A.S., xxxvm, 287-331,1889), though the address contains many misconceptions.”[7]  Mallery’s words were:

” After careful examination, with the assistance of explorers and linguists, I reassert my statement that no tribe or body of Indians before missionary influence entertained any formulated or distinct belief in a single overruling ‘Great Spirit,’ or any being that corresponded to the Christian conception of God. But I freely admit, with even greater emphasis, that an astounding number of customs of the North American Indians are the same as those recorded of the ancient Israelites.”[8]

One example is the dress of the high priest in the yearly atonement of sin in Indian practices and the dress of the high priest in the same annual ceremony in the Hebrew Bible.[9]

Thus, it is not implausible to suggest some connection between the Hebrew religion and the Indians of North America — as mysterious as that might sound. It would at least seem that Columbus was not the first to discover America. Perhaps a culture infused with Hebrew religion crossed the Bearing Straight and found their way to North America.

References

  • http://books.google.com/books?id=UJJ6AAAAMAAJ&dq=indians%20missionary%20followed%20jewish%20customs&pg=PA193#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  • http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA19#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  • http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA23#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  • http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA25#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  • http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA26#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  • http://books.google.com/books?id=I4FOAAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA88#v=onepage&q=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian:%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&f=false
  • http://books.google.com/books?id=ze4YAAAAYAAJ&dq=indians%20missionary%20followed%20jewish%20customs&pg=PA775#v=onepage&q=indians%20missionary%20followed%20jewish%20customs&f=false
  • http://books.google.com/books?id=I4FOAAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA88#v=onepage&q=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian:%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&f=false
  • http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA19#v=onepage&q=&f=false