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Land Across the Waters?
There are a surprisingly large number of odd correspondences between the native people of North America and the ancient Hebrew culture as we know it from Biblical and nonbiblical sources.
Between Aboriginal American Cultures
And Ancient Hebrew and Shemite Tribes
Simon Wiesenthal discusses the long held belief that the ten lost tribes of the Jews were to be found in the undiscovered lands to the West. Columbus to the end, believed the islands he reached were close to India.
To what extent he hoped the Jewish people would be found there is of course not known. [For a review of Sails of Hope.] But among his contemporaries the belief was slow to die. And since the first voyagers and colonists carried this notion with them, it is not surprising that they regarded the natives from this angle and looked for whatever sign might link the "Indians" with the ten lost tribes of Israel.
The first to broach this possibility was Bishop Las Casas, who spent much of his life in the New World and wrote a number of invaluable accounts of the Indians and their customs. When the Spaniards reached the mainland of South America and conquered the kingdom of Peru, they were again disposed to look for evidence that the Peruvians were of Jewish origin. In 1607, Gregorio Garcias expressed the view that the first inhabitants of the Americas had been Jewish. In 1650, this same opinion was put forward by the Englishman Thomas Throrowgood. Manasseh ben Israel, a Portuguese rabbi who lived in Amsterdam and was responsible for persuading Cromwell to readmit Jews to England, also shared this conviction. He had been assured by a Portuguese Marrano from Villaflor, who called himself Montesinos and then assumed the name of Aron Levi, that in South America he had associated with Jews who belonged to the ten lost tribes of Israel. Manasseh ben Israel issued a pamphlet in which he tried to support this contention. The essay created such a stir that it was soon published in Latin, Spanish, Dutch, and Hebrew.
In 1823, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon sect, wrote a lengthy treatise propounding his own version of the idea. The theory was to excite interest throughout the nineteenth century. In 1881, Santiago Perez Janquera reissued Smith's treatise in Spanish. Lord Kingsborough devoted the greater part of his time and his fortune to publishing a collection of American documents that might serve to prove that the original inhabitants of the Americas had descended from Jews. The Spanish ecclesiastic Roldan came to the same conclusion; his unpublished manuscript on the subject may be found in the Bibliotheca de San Pablo in Seville.
Scholars now began to approach the problem from a scientific point of view, drawing upon the old accounts of the first voyagers, explorers, and missionaries. They noted many parallels in basic religious customs, in the organization of the priesthood, in prophecies and dream interpretation, in religious sacrifices, and in the appointment of a day of rest -- a sabbath. Similar features could also be found in the myths of the Indians and the ancient Hebrews,
The Spanish ecclesiastic Roldan undertook to prove a common origin between the Jews and the original inhabitants of America on the basis of linguistic evidence. He had studied the language of the Indians on Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, and the neighboring islands and maintained that it showed similarities to Hebrew. According to him the islands had been given their names by the first caciques, the tribal leaders of the nomads who had discovered or populated them. The names Cuba and Haiti were, to Roldan's mind, of Hebrew origin. He believe that much of the basic vocabulary and the common names in use among the Indians likewise came from the Hebrew. Thus, he argued, the word haina (water) came from the Hebrew aim (spring), Yones from Jonah, Yaque from Jacob, Ures from Urias, Siabao from Sebah, Maisi from Moysi. The names of some Indian tools, of the narrow trails they used (cansas), the word axi for pepper, the word for a corn granary and from grain in general suggested kinship with the Hebrew language.
The anthropological approach also yielded some interesting parallels. Sixteenth-century accounts of Indian customs proved a rich source of information. The Indians had been required to practice frequent ritual washings in rivers and springs. They had been forbidden to touch the dead, to drink blood, or to eat on certain specific fast days. They married their sisters-in-la if these were widowed while childless; they also divorced women who remained childless. Like the Israelites, they sacrificed first fruits and made offerings to their god on high mountains under shady trees. They had temples and a sacred object that in wartime they carried before them as the Israelites had borne the Ark of the Covenant.
The fundamental religious view of both Jews and Indians consisted in belief in a single omnipotent God. Nevertheless there were vestiges of an earlier polytheism among both peoples. The Israelites had been nomadic Semites and like all primitive peoples had lived in a world that their imaginations had peopled with supernatural beings. This may account for the many different names they had for their supreme being. For the Indians, natural phenomena played a great part in their conception of God, so much so that it is difficult to say where the forces of nature end and pure godhead begins. But we must remember that the Jehovah of the Jews was also a God of storms, of thunder, and lightning.
In the Old Testament there is frequent mention of places that were hallowed by dreams or by singular events. The Israelites would mark these places by putting up a pillar. There was a similar custom among the Indians.
Indians conceived of the souls of the dead as gathering in the "fields" of their fathers; the Jews, too, believed that people were "gathered to their fathers" after death. Both Jewish and Indian belief was strongly opposed to suicide; those who had taken their own lives were not admitted into the realm of their fathers.
The religiously based ceremonies of daily life among Indians bore an extraordinary resemblance to those of the Jews. This was particularly true of childbirth, naming, the first haircut, the ritual upon entering manhood, marriage, recovery from illnesses, plowing of the soil, and fishing. Similarities can be observed in the Indian and Israelite priesthood. Both peoples emphasized the use of white at high festivals. The Indian shamans adorned themselves in white goatskins, pearls, and white moccasins. The robes of the ancient Hebrew priests were also white.
Both the Jews and the Indians were highly concerned about pollution and purification. Thus the Indians had special tents to which their women were banished for those periods when they were considered unclean. After confinement a woman lived apart from her husband for three months. By the Levite laws the mother of a female child was separated from her husband for eighty days. If the child had been born male the period of separation was only forty days. Among both Jews and Indians, the room or tent of a deceased person was considered unclean for seven days.
The Jews offered their God the daily sacrifice of a lamb, which they burned to ashes. The Indians, too, brought a portion of every slaughtered animal to their god and this piece was burned. Like the Jews, the Indians had a Day of Atonement on which all insults were forgiven and all disputes buried. The Indian totem corresponded in significance with the Israelite Ark of the Covenant. The latter was a chest that must never be allowed to touch the ground and was therefore carried on poles. In wartime the Israelites carried their Ark, the Indians their totem, with their army. Among the Israelites the new moon was linked with the Sabbath, and the festival of the new moon was a religious feast. Among the Indians, too, ceremonies of the new moon were of great importance.
Indian legends bear a remarkable resemblance to the ancient Israelite myths -- quite aside from the legends of the flood, which appear in some form in every religion. Scholars have found analogies between the account of the life of M
The social order of the Indians bore a great resemblance to that of the Israelites in the time of the Judges. The Indian penal code corresponded in many respects to the Israelite code, for example, in regard to feuds and compensation payments. Of particular interest was the institution of sanctuary provided in both Indian and Israelite law. If a criminal succeeded in fleeing to a place outside the domain of the court -- a sanctuary -- he could no longer be punished. Both peoples recognized the right of asylum.
The practice of tattooing, common among the Indians, was not unknown to the ancient Israelites; we find mention of it in Leviticus 19:28, where, to be sure, it is specifically prohibited. Among the Israelites as among the Indians, land belonged to the clan not to the individual. There were also food prohibitions among the Indians: They were, for example, forbidden to eat the flesh of animals that were related to the emblem of their clan.
The similarity in marriage customs ins striking. A widow could not remarry without the express permission of her brother-in-law. This custom existed only among the Israelites and the Indians; it is not to be found in any other religion of the world. This matter, along with many other points of kinship, is thoroughly discussed in [the American] Mallery Garrick's Israeliten und Indianer -- eine ethnographische Parallele (Leipzig, 1892). Originally in English.
But aside from such parallels, no concrete proof has ever turned up of any direct link between the ancient Israelites and the peoples of the American continent. The possibility continued to tantalize a fair number of scholars over the centuries, but it was not until very recently that two separate discoveries, from two entirely separate quarters, seemed to give fresh life to such speculations. In August 1970, Cyrus H. Gordon, Professor of Archaeology at Brandeis University, made the startling announcement that he had found an American stone bearing a Hebrew inscription. To be sure, the stone had long been known, having been deposited in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington by a previous archaeologist who had found it back in 1886 in a burial mound at Bar Creek, Tennessee. The inscription had been photographed upside down and identified as Cherokee Indian script. Gordon pronounced that a mistake and declared that the characters were Hebrew. The inscription reads "For the land of Judah." There are similar inscriptions on ancient Hebrew coins. Gordon argues that the inscription had probably been carved a thousand years before Columbus's voyage. (For more Old World connections to New World peoples, see Salvatore Michael Trento. The Search for Lost America)
The excitement heightens as we trace the story farther. For the place in Tennessee where the stone was found was the territory of the Indian tribe of Melungeons. These Melungeons were light-skinned and were said to have the facial features of a Caucasoid race.
It would be rash to jump to any conclusions on the basis of these few facts. But perhaps the persistent legend of the lost tribes finding their way to the Americas will be substantiated after all. In 1970, the Norwegian scholar and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea in a frail papyrus boat. His feat convincingly demonstrated that people of the Near East could have reached the American continent in their primitive vessels. And this gives an entirely new credibility to the dream of those who sent out the three caravels from the port of Seville.
Ancient "Reports" of an unknown land to the west
"Sails of Hope - The Secret Mission of Christopher Columbus," Segel der Hoffnung - Die geheime Mission des Christoph Columbus [translated from German by Richard and Clara Winston, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1973.] ISBN 9780026284004
The Book of Mormon, speaking to Native Americans, states as part of its purpose to reveal to them "what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers."
According to the Book of Mormon, a small band of Israelites under Lehi migrated to the Western Hemisphere about 600 BC. Upon Lehi's death his family divided into two opposing factions, the Lamanates and the Nephites. In course of time, the Lamanites became dark-skinned, the Nephites light-skinned. After numereous wars and alliances, intrigues and conflicts, the Nephites were destroyed.
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