Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pre-Contact Amerindian Christianities?

As I recently read Eric Andrews's excellent new book, Native Apostles (Harvard UP, 2013), I was struck by his report that Native New England peoples who converted to Christianity identified their new religious beliefs as "a rebirth of spiritual knowledge that the ancestors possessed but had long been forgotten by later generations. An oral tradition taken down in the seventeenth century reminded audiences that far from introducing novel concepts and cosmologies, Christian missionaries were simply picking up where the ancients had left off. . . . Christianity was, according to this narrative, an ancestral Indian religion that needed to be revitalized" (36-37). As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who believes in the Book of Mormon as a largely reliable historical source, this was tremendously exciting, so I checked out Andrews's sources.

Turns out Andrews was relying on the book Spirit of the New England Tribes: Indian History and Folklore (UP New England, 1986), by William S. Simmons. The sources that Simmons draws on in compiling his book are accounts of Native Americans converting to Christianity, written by white ministers in the seventeenth century. So: there was more than a little conflict of interest for these Christian missionaries, who naturally wanted to find evidence that Indians were predisposed to accept Christianity or that they were remnants of the lost tribes of Israel and who had considerable interpretive leeway in translating and transcribing Native American oral histories. Nonetheless, a few of these accounts are suggestive for Mormon readers pre-disposed to believe in ancient American Christianities and Book of Mormon prophecy (the following are all from Simmons):

"Fourthly, a fourth and last observation wee took, was the story of an Indian in those parts, telling us of his dream many years since, which he told us of openly before many witnesses when we sate at meat: the dreame is this hee said 'That about two yeers before the English came over into those parts there was a great mortality among the Indians, and one night he could not sleep above half the night, after which hee fell into a dream, in which he did think he saw a great many men come to those parts in cloths, just as the English now are apparelled, and among them there arose up a man all in black, with a thing in his hand which hee now sees was all one English mans book; this black man he said stood upon a higher place then all the rest, and on the one side of him were the English, and on the other a great number of Indians: this man told all the Indians that God was moosquantum or angry with them, and that he would kill them for their sinned, whereupon he said himself stood up, and desired to know of the black man what God would do with him and his Squaw and Papooses, but the black man would not answer him a first time, nor yet a second time, untill he desired the third time, and then he smil'd upon him, and told him that he and his Papooses should be safe, and that God would give unto them Mitcheu, (i.e.) victuals and other good things, and so hee awakened" (66-67).

"These very things which Mr. Eliot [Puritan minister] had taught them as Commandements of God, and concerning God, and the making of the world by one God, that they had heard some old men who were now dead, to say the same things, since whose death there hath been no remembrance or knowledge of them among the Indians untill now they heare of them againe" (67; How ancient are these "old men"?).

"And an Indian said, before the English came, that a white people should come in a great thing of the sea, and their people should be loving to them and receive them; but if they did hurt or wrong the white people, they would be destroyed. And this hath been seen and fulfilled, that when they did wrong the English they never prospered and have been destroyed. So that Indian was a prophet and prophesied truly" (68).

"They had a sixth child (a son) born about the year 1638, which was a a few years before the English first settled on [Martha's] Vineyard. The mother was greatly perplexed with fear that she should lose this child, like the former. . . . musing on the insufficiency of all humane help, she felt it powerfully suggested unto her mind, that there is one Almighty God who is to be pray'd unto: That this God hath created all the things that we see. . . Hereupon this poor blind Pagan resolv'd, that she would seek unto this god for that mercy, and she did accordingly. The issue was, that her child lived. . . . [She] presently concluded, that [English] assemblies were for prayers; and that their prayers were unto that very God, whom she had addressed for the life of her child. She was confirm'd in this, when the gospel was not long after preached by Mr. Mayhew to the Indians there; which gospel she readily, and cheerfully, and heartily embrac'd. And in the confession that she made publickly at her admission into the church, she gave a relation of the preparation for the knowledge of Christ, wherewith God in this wonderful way had favour'd her" (68-69; Shades of Abish?).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was very informative. There are bits and pieces that keeping coming out about the Native Americans from North America through South America. Critics like to ignore these things.

Another thing they like to ignore is the knowledge of Christ people had before Christ was born. Mainstream Christianity can not accept this. But it has been proven. And there is so much more!