You are here

View of the Hebrews (1825 edition) — Chapter 3g

Printer-friendly version

View of the Hebrews (1825 edition) — Chapter 3g

Ethan Smith

[beginning of page 155]

emblems of their Great Spirit. Of one of these pyramids demolished, the writer says; “We still discover the remains of a staircase built with large hewn stone, which formerly led to the platform of the Teocalli.”

The Archaeology informs of a pyramid toward the Gulf of Mexico discovered by Spanish hunters about thirty years ago, in a thick forest, as though concealed. “For the Indians (says the writer) carefully conceal from the whites whatever was the object of their ancient veneration.” Various authors unite in this trait of Indian character; which accounts for the fact, that so many of their Israelitish rites should remain so long concealed from us. This newly discovered pyramid was built wholly of hewn stone of vast size and very beautiful. The writer says, this pyramid “had six, perhaps seven stones.” “Three staircases lead to the top. The covering of its steps are decorated with hieroglyphical sculpture, and small niches, which are arranged with great symmetry.”-- These niches are three hundred and eighteen.

The Teocalli, or pyramid of Cholula, near Mexico, (noted before from M. Humbolt) is given on a plain in the Archaeology, with its temple on its summit, and with its staircases of one hundred and twenty steps, leading up its lofty stories. This huge majestic place was called, “The mountain made by hand of man.”

In the interiors of various of these great pyramids were found considerable cavities for repositories of the dead. A square stone house was found in one of them, containing two skeletons, some images or likenesses, and many vessels curiously painted and varnished.-- This room was “covered with bricks and strata of clay.” Large bricks were laid, each upper layer jutting over the one next below, and strengthened by beams of cypress. The same manner of laying the bricks, instead of an arch, as “been found (says the writer) in several Egyptian edifices.” In a similar cavity, he informs in the tomb of a Peruvian prince, massy gold was found to the value of “more than five millions of francs.”

In the time when the Spaniards invaded the Mexicans, the Cholula was by the natives deemed a holy city. Here existed a great number of priests. And “no spot displayed greater magnificence in the celebration of public worship, or more austerity in its penances and fasts.”

It is true that similar huge ancient piles have existed in some various regions of the east. But the writer of the Archaeology says;

[beginning of page 156]

“The pagodas of Indostan have nothing in common with the Mexican temples.” Of the pyramids of Mexico, of Egypt, and of similar piles found in some parts of Asia, he says; “their destination was altogether different.” He means in relation to those of Mexico having temples, and altars, and being sacred to worship. This surely affords an argument in favour of the idea, that the occupants of those high places in Mexico, originated from Israel, where all their high places were for sacred worship.

On the pyramid of Cholula was an altar dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, or the serpent of green feathers; as the name imports. Of their tradition relative to this Quetzalcoatl, the writer says; “this is the most mysterious being of the whole Mexican mythology.” An account is then given of this person, sufficiently indeed intermixed with fables; as is usual in the pagan mythologies of events, even founded on revelation. Passing over various of the immaterial fictions, I will sketch the leading points of the picture.

The character to whom their most noted altar was dedicated, whose name imported a serpent of green feathers; was at the same time (in their own description) “a white and bearded man.” “He was high priest of Tula, legislator, chief of a religious sect who inflicted on themselves the most cruel penance.”

“He introduced the custom of piercing the lips and ears; and lacerating the rest of the body with prickles and thorns.” “He appeased by his penance divine wrath.” “A great famine prevailed in the province of Culan.”

“The saint (this legislator) had chosen his place of retirement--on the volcano Catcitepetl, or speaking mountain, where he walked barefoot on agave leaves armed with prickles.”

“The reign of Quetzalcotl was a golden age of the people of Anahuac. The earth brought forth without culture the most fruitful harvests. But this reign was not of long duration.”

“The Great Spirit offered Quetzalcotl beverage, which in rendering him immortal, inspired him with a taste for travelling, and with an irresistible desire of visiting a distant country called Tlapallan.”

In passing “towards the plains of Cholula and thence to the eastern coasts of Mexico and making his way from the north-west to the south-east, “he yielded to the entreaties of the inhabitants, who offered him the reins of government.” He dwelt twenty years among them, taught them to cast metals, ordered fasts, and regulated the intercalations of the Taltic year.”

[beginning of page 157]

“He preached peace to men, and would permit no other offerings to the Divinity than the first fruits of the harvests.”

“He disappeared, after he had declared to the Cholulans that he would return and govern them again, and renew their happiness.”

The writer of the Archaeology says; “It was the posterity of this saint whom the unhappy Montezuma (the most noted and venerable Mexican chief when the Spaniards first arrived at Mexico) thought he recognized in the soldiers of Cortez, the Spanish general. “We know by our books,” (said Montezuma, in his first interview with that Spanish general,) “that myself and those who inhabit this country, are not natives, but strangers, who came from a great distance. We know also, that the chief who led our ancestors hither, returned for a certain time to his primitive country. We have always believed that his descendants would one day come to take possession of this country. Since you arrive from that region where the sun rises; and as you assure me you have long known us; I cannot doubt but that the king who sent you is our natural master.” (p. 263.) It has generally been the fact, that events in pagan mythology, which are founded on ancient revelation, have yet been confused, and blended with much fable. Much of the mythology of the heathen is thought to be of this character. Some of the events can easily be traced to ancient revelation; while others are so fabulous, that to reduce them to such an origin is more difficult. While considerable fable is involved in this historic tradition of the Cholulans; it appears to offer a singular facility to trace it to the inspired records of Israel.

Though their ancient “legislator” is called by a name importing the serpent of green feathers; yet he was an ancient man, a white man and bearded; called by Montezuma, a saint who led them to this country, and taught them many things. Who could this be but Moses, the ancient legislator in Israel? The Indians in other regions have brought down a tradition, that their former ancestors, away in a distant region from which they came, were white. And the Cholulans, it seems, teach that they wore their beards; which was the fact; in opposition to the Indians, who pluck them out with their tweezers. How exactly does Moses answer to this their ancient legislator, and chief of their religious community, as may appear.

As Moses inducted into office Aaron, the high priest; so this office, in their mythology, is blended in him. I will remark upon these points in their order. This religious community, under their “legislator

[beginning of page 158]

and chief,” inflicting on themselves cruel penance, may be but a traditional notion of the strictness of the Mosaic laws and religion.

The name of the serpent of the green plumage being given to this legislator, leads the mind to Moses’ brazen serpent in the wilderness; and now in Indian tradition, adorned with their most noted amulet, and article of “medicine,” the green plumage. This has ever been the most precious article known in their holy ark, and their “medicine bag ,” through various tribes. Hence it is their most natural emblem of the healing power annexed to the ancient brazen serpent made by Moses; and thus annexed to the name given to him.

This legislator and chief’s introducing the custom of “piercing the ears;”--reminds of the noted law of Moses, of boring the ear of the servant who was unwilling to leave his master.

This teaching to lacerate the body with prickles and thorns, is a striking Hebrew figure of the many self-denying services demanded in the Mosaic rituals.

His appeasing divine wrath, may have a striking allusion to the system of the Mosaic sacrifices, including also the mediation of Moses as a type of Christ, and God’s turning away his fierce wrath from Israel at his intercession, as was repeatedly the case.

The great famine in Culan naturally reminds of the great famine in Canaan and its adjacent nations; which famine brought Israel into Egypt.

This legislator’s retiring to the place of a volcano, and a speaking mountain, most naturally leads the mind to Moses retiring, in the land of Midian, to the backside of the wilderness, to the mount of God, where God spake to him in the burning bush, and in after days made the same mountain appear like a tremendous volcano indeed, as well as like a speaking mountain;--when from the midst of the terrible fire, and sound of the trumpet, God commanded his people in the giving of the law.

This legislator’s walking barefoot; naturally alludes to Moses’ “putting his shoes from his feet,” at the divine direction, before the burning bush.

The golden age, with spontaneous harvests, naturally suggests the seven years of plenty in Egypt; and may include also (and especially) the happy period during the theocracy in Israel; and the vast fruitfulness of the land which flowed with milk and honey, while the people of Israel walked with God.

[beginning of page 159]

His preaching peace to men, and “offering to the Divinity the first fruits of the harvests,” alludes to the preaching of the gospel under the Old Testament; and to the signal institution of the offerings of the first ripe fruits; a rite which the various tribes of Indians have most scrupulously maintained; as has been made to appear.

His yielding to the entreaties of the people who offered him the reins of government, and his teaching them useful things, may be a general traditional view of Moses’ government of Israel, and the benefits resulting from it. They would naturally ascribe whatever knowledge of the useful arts, and of astronomy, they had, to this their noted chieftain.

The close of this golden age strikingly exhibits the expulsion of Israel from that happy land.

The giving of the beverage, which rendered immortal, is an impressive representation of the immortality of the human soul, as taught in ancient revelation.

And the producing of an ardent desire for transmigration to a distant region of the world, is a most natural tradition of the fact, that Israel were disposed to emigrate (and did indeed emigrate) from the station in Media where they were first lodged when carried from Canaan, to some remote and unknown part of the world, where they were outcast and lost from the knowledge of civilized man; as has been the fact.

And their coming from the north-west to Mexico, indicates to what region, and in what direction, they came; over Beering’s Straits into America, and south-ward through the continent. This accords with the testimonies of Robinson, Humbolt, and all the most intelligible writers of Indian tradition. All bring them from the north-west coasts of America.

The venerable Montezuma (over whom our hearts have so often bled) was prepared to receive the blood plundering Cortez, and his armies, into his bosom; believing them to be sent by their ancient legislator (in the distant part of the world from which they came) to reign again over them, and to make them happy! Abundantly are we assured of Indian tradition which well accords with this.

Israel had read in Moses, of God’s “scattering them from one end of the earth to the other;” and again recovering them. Amos, the prophet to Israel, had assured them of God’s scattering them in a “famine of the word, from north to east, from sea to sea,” wandering to and fro over a vast continent between those

[beginning of page 160]

extreme seas; and had expressly predicted their being again recovered, as had some others of the prophets before their expulsion. They would then naturally carry down these ideas with them in their broken traditions. They would retain the expectation that the Being who banished them, would again, at some time, and in some way, appear and meliorate their condition. And our native Americans generally, if not all the most intelligent among them, have (with the venerable Montezuma) retained something of this idea. Often have we had information from Indian chiefs, and others from different regions, that they have ever understood from their traditions that the time is coming which shall make them more happy. The same tradition led the aged wife of the Indian chief (related by our missionaries) to say, after the missionaries had unfolded their object in her hearing, to the following effect. We have ever understood that at some time good people are to come and teach us the right way. How do we know but these are those good people come to teach us?

What account can be given of this expectation brought down by the natives, but that they derived it from the ancient prophets in Israel; and from the fact that God had promised them the everlasting possession of the land of Canaan; and had repeatedly recovered them in ages past from their states of bondage and captivity.

The piece of Mexican mythology, which has been explained, and which is pronounced “the most mysterious,” can receive probably no rational explanation, if applied to a Tartar origin, or to any other eastern nation beside Israel. But if applied to Israel, its application is most striking;” and it contains such facts as might in such a case be expected. If our natives be of Israel, it is natural to expect the most enlightened of them would have some tradition of their noted lawgiver Moses. These Cholulans probably were among the most enlightened. And here is their ancient lawgiver bearing a traditional assemblage of various of the distinguishing religious insignia of ancient Israel.

This reminds of the testimony of Baron Humbolt, before noted, who speaking of the “theocratic forms of government” of the Zac, Bogota, and Peru, notes the tradition of the former; and of their having been founded by a “mysterious personage” who, according to the tradition of the Mozcas, (possibly followers of Moses) “lived in the temple of the sun at Sogamozo rising two thousand years.” Nothing can be more natural than to view this a traditional notion of Moses’ administration in Israel in the wilderness. The place of their mysterious

[beginning of page 161]

founder was at Sogamozo--perhaps explained by Sagan Moses as before noted.

This their tradition relative to their ancient lawgiver, and the structure of their pyramids, so similar to those of Egypt, suggest much relative to the origin of this people. Could the advocates for their Tartar descent find so much in favour of their hypothesis; could they truly exhibit the fact, that the whole Tartar race had, in ancient times, served an apprenticeship of a number of centuries to the art of making such brick and pyramids as are found in America; (as the children of Israel are supposed to have done in Egypt;) how forcibly would they adduce this argument to show that the authors of those pyramids of America must have been of Tartar descent! And indeed there would be in my humble opinion, much more force in it, in favour of their hypothesis, than in all the arguments they have ever been able to adduce.

One more argument I shall adduce from facts furnished in the Archaeology, to show that the American natives are from the tribes of Israel. The argument is a tradition of a trinity in their Great Spirit. Evidence of different kinds, and from different regions, relative to such a sentiment, is exhibited; not that the writer of the Archaeology makes this application of it. An Indian article, called by this writer a “triune vessel,” and noted as a religious article, and an emblem of their gods was found on the forks of the Cumberland river, in alluvial earth, four feet below the surface. It may now be seen; and its perfect drawing is given in the Archaeology. It is composed of fine clay of light amber colour, rendered hard by fire; and parts of it painted with vermilion; which paint is very brilliant. The vessel contains about a quart, and is of the following figure. The top is a hollow stem of three inches diameter, and swelling in size downward like a gourd shell, Against the bulge, there is the accurate resemblance of three human heads, joined each one to the shell by the back of the head, and each face outward in a triangular form, and all of the same dimensions. The workmanship of the faces and features is excellent; so that (says the writer) “even a modern artist might be proud of the performance.” The writer in the Archaeology conceives of it to be an emblem of three of their principal gods, and seems to think of deriving an argument from it in favour of the natives being of East Indian extraction. He says of this triune vessel; “Does it not represent the three chief gods of India, Brahma, Vishnoo, and Siva.” This certainly seems very far fetched! Why should they be supposed to be a representative of those

[beginning of page 162]

three East Indian gods, any more than three other heathen gods on earth? Brahma, Vishnoo, and Siva are three distinct ideal gods. But this triune vessel is one entire thing. It must rather then have been designed to represent one God with something like three faces, or characters. One of the faces denotes an old person; the other two, younger persons. The vessel stands on the three necks of these three heads, each projecting from the bottom of the middle part of the vessel one inch and a half. If the writer of the Archaeology may imagine he discerns in this an affinity with the East Indian worshippers of Brahma, Vishnoo, and Siva; I may certainly be allowed in my turn to conjecture, that here may be discovered a striking affinity with the ancient worshippers of the one Jehovah in three persons; as in ancient Israel. The thought perfectly accords with the idea of our natives being the descendants of Israel, that this triune vessel was a designed emblem of the triune God of Israel. The doctrine of a mysterious three in the one God of Israel, runs through the Bible,--Old Testament as well as New. This plurality in their one God, Israel had always read from the days of Moses. They found a plurality in God’s name, and various appellations. They found him speaking in the plural, we and us. They found who this plural were--God; the Seed of the woman, and the Spirit of God; always three, and only three. They had read, “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou on my right hand--.” In the first three chapters of their Bible, they found this three in God, as well as in all subsequent parts of their sacred book.

Long had Israel read, or heard read, abundance of such sacred language as the following; which ancient critics assure us relates to a mysterious trinity in the one God; “When God, they caused me to wander,” in the Hebrew. “Remember now thy Creators in the days of thy youth.” “For thy Makers is thy husbands.” “The knowledge of the Holy, (Hebrew plural, Holies, or Holy Ones) is understanding.” Nouns, adjectives, and verbs, applied to God, they had abundantly found to be plural; and yet absolute divinity ascribed to each. Their infant to be born, was “the mighty God, the everlasting Father.” And their Spirit of the Lord, they had read of, as the Being who garnished the heavens, who created the world. Of this mysterious three in one God, Israel had ever read, or heard. When the intelligent among them thought of God, this triune view of him must have been familiar. And when their distant descendants had lost (or were losing) the knowledge of reading, it is natural to suppose they would construct an emblem, to

[beginning of page 163]

perpetuate the memory of their God. The Indians are known to make great use of hieroglyphics and figures of speech; and they never form them for no purpose. As circumstances indicated that this triune vessel was a religious emblem, as the narrator of it believes; so this affords an argument of some weight that the inventors of it were of Israel.

Another argument going to the same point is this. The writer in the Archaeology says; “One fact I will here mention; whenever there is a group of tumuli, three are uniformly larger than the rest; and stand in the most prominent places. Three such are to be seen standing in a line on the north side of Detroit.--Three such are to be seen near Athens; and at a great many places along the Ohio river. There are three such near the town of Piketon. “Were they not altars, (he inquires) dedicated to their principal gods?” Permit me to reply; They were much more likely to have been emblems dedicated to the one triune God of Israel.

The numerous ancient inhabitants on the Mississippi were the same race with those of Mexico and Peru. And the latter have exhibited similar ideas of the triune God. The writer of the Archaeology says of those ancient people of the Mississippi; “Their religious rites were, it is believed, the same with those of Mexico and Peru.” And he further notes, “Clavigero, who was well acquainted with the histories of the Mexicans and Peruvians, professes to point out the places from whence they emigrated; the several places they stopped at; and the times they continued to sojourn there. According to him they arrived at Mexico in 648, and came across the Pacific not far from Beering’s Straits.” Thus all these people were of one stock.

And the writer of the Archaeology speaks of the native South Americans as having three principal gods. He says; “One of the three principal gods of the South Americans was called by a name, which signifies the god of the shining mirror. He was supposed to be a God who reflected his own supreme perfections, and was represented by a mirror, which was made in that country of polished obsidian, or of mica, like ours. The scarcity of obsidian, which is a volcanic production, may well account for its absence in this country. The numerous volcanoes in South America equally account for the abundance of mirrors of obsidian there. This deity was represented as enjoying perpetual youth and beauty. Other gods had images placed on pedestals in the Mexican temples; this one had a mirror on his. This divinity was held in awful veneration as the great unknown God of the

[beginning of page 164]

universe. Who does not here discover (continues the writer) a strong trace of a knowledge of the true God, derived by tradition from the first patriarchs?” Truly we may exclaim with this writer; “Who does not discover here some knowledge of the true God of Israel and a manifest traditionary view of him?” But who does not discover also, that what the writer calls the three principal gods of the South Americans, is truly but one God?--the great unknown God of the universe! No evidence is here, or elsewhere exhibited, that those people held to three principal divinities, only that the images of the other two gods were placed on pedestals; and the mirror representing the other was not. But it is not evident from this, that they believed in three distinct gods; or that the builders of these temples designed any such thing. The view they had of the God of the mirror, shows they could not hold to three principal deities. And it has been universally testified of the great body of the Indians of America, that they hold to but one great Supreme Spirit. But yet when they represent this one God, there is something in him threefold. The South Americans must have three temples, while yet they had but one temple of the mirror or Supreme God. The North Americans must have three (and only three) huge high places or pyramids in a place. And the writer informs that only in one of these is found the mirror; as in the three temples of South America, only one has the mirror. The triune vessel explains the idea;--three heads combined in one; three faces, and but one vessel;--one of an old man; the other two younger. Here is Indian tradition relative to their one Great Spirit--God; the Shiloh; and the Spirit. And the sentiment is further corroborated by the following fact, given also in the Archaeology. Another emblem was found in a tumulus near Nashville, Tennessee, and is now in the museum of Mr. Clifford of Lexington, Kentucky. It is formed of clay, like the triune vessel aforenoted; and is made to exhibit three views of a man’s head and body to the middle with the arms cut off close to the body. It gives a side view of one of these heads, with strong and well formed features.

It gives a front view of another of them. And a view of the backside of the head and shoulders of the third. Each head has upon it a fillet and cake, with the hair plated. This too was deemed by the writer a religious emblem. The figures are given on a plate, as is the triune vessel. They are considered as three devices for the same object. As it is well ascertained the Indians hold to one Supreme Spirit; they cannot be said to hold to three principal gods. No evidence

[beginning of page 165]

of such a thing exists, but in these various triune emblems. And these, it is contended, do not amount to any such thing; but to their ancient belief in the triune God of Israel.

Let the reader here recollect the account given by the Rev. Mr. Chapman, in the Union Mission, of the Ossage Indians. Stating their religious customs, when about to form a treaty of peace, he says; “About two feet in advance, and in a line with the path, were three bunches of grass, which had been cut and piled about three feet apart, as an emblem of him, whom they worshipped.” Here was the station for the priest to stand and pray. And all the Indians must then step on each of these piles of grass. Proceeding on about forty rods, they halted, and formed with grass another emblem of the Great Spirit;--a circle of about four feet diameter. By this was offered another long prayer. Then each one stepping on the circle, they passed on. The chief informed that both these were representations of their God. Mr. C. upon the incident remarks “Perhaps the curious may imagine that some faint allusion to the lost ten tribes of Israel may be discovered in the select number of dreamers; (which he had before stated, they being ten) and to the trinity in unity, in the bunches, and in the circle of grass!” These various Indian traditions from distant regions of the continent, and different ages, appear to form some striking evidence that the Indians had indeed brought down traditionary impressions of their one Great Spirit’s consisting of a trinity in unity! Could so great an argument be found in favour of the Indians having descended from the Tartars, the advocates for such a descent would not fail on making much of this argument. No rational account can be given of these various and distinct triune emblems of their Great Spirit, but that they were derived from ancient revelation in Israel, which did throughout present the one God of Israel as God; the Lord; and the Spirit of the Lord;--God; the seed of the woman, who was likewise the “mighty God;” and the Spirit! No rational account beside this can be given of these various Indian emblems of their God.

These emblems of their one God explain the noted triune emblems of the other ancient Indians further south, and in different regions; the triune vessel of three faces; the three other faces; the three chief pyramids;--and the three temples, with one of them containing the mirror. These three piles of grass in one of their emblems of God, are not to represent “the three chief gods of India, Brahma, Vishnoo, and Siva;” as has (without any evidence) been conjectured of southern triune emblems. But the Indians expressly inform, “they are an

[beginning of page 166]

emblem of him, whom they worshipped.” And the same one God of the Indians was in the same Indian rites denoted by three bunches of grass; and also by one grass circle, with a bunch of grass in its centre. We thus have from different Indian regions, different ages, and a variety of emblems, a complete union of evidence of an Indian tradition of trinity in unity in their God. And this is the God of whom they boast, as the head of their nation; the God exclusively in covenant with their ancient fathers. This has appeared from ample testimony; to which is added the following. The celebrated Boudinot informs, that while he was at the seat of government, at a certain time, chiefs and leading characters were present from seven different distant tribes of Indians. He says, on the Sabbath he was much pleased to see their orderly conduct. They learned that this was a day in which the white people worship the Great Spirit. An old sachem addressed his red brethren very devoutly. Mr. Boudinot asked the interpreter what he said? He replied, “The substance of it is, the great love which the Great Spirit always has manifested toward the Indians; that they were under his immediate direction; and that hence they ought gratefully to acknowledge him, obey his laws, do his will, and avoid every thing displeasing to him.”

Some readers have said; If the Indians are of the tribes of Israel, some decisive evidence of the fact will ere long be exhibited. This may be the case. But what kind of evidence shall we expect? Must some miracle be wrought? It is generally thought the days of miracles are past. Probably no evidence ought to be expected in this case, but such as naturally grows from the nature of the subject, and the situation of Israel. Would evidence like the following be deemed as verging toward what would be satisfactory? Suppose a leading character in Israel--wherever they are--should be found to have had in possession some biblical fragment of ancient Hebrew writing. This man dies, and it is buried with him in such a manner as to be long preserved. Some people afterward removing that earth, discover this fragment, and ascertain what it is,--an article of ancient Israel. Would such an incident, in connexion with the traditional evidence already exhibited on this subject, be esteemed of some weight! Something like this may possibly have occurred in favour of our Indians being of Israel.

The Rev. Dr. Griffin, President of Williams College, communicated to the writer, while preparing his first edition of the View of the Hebrews, the following account, with liberty to insert it in his

[beginning of page 167]

book, if he pleased. The late venerable Dr. Boudinot stated to Dr. Griffin that the Rev. S. Larned (who died in New Orleans) informed him that while he was living in Pittsfield, Mass.--his native place--after he left college, there was dug up in Pittsfield by one of his neighbours, probably from an Indian grave, some written parchments enclosed in a cover of skins. These parchments he obtained, took them to Boston, had them read, and found them to be the same with the parchments used in Jewish phylacteries, and well written in Hebrew. Mr. Larned added that he left them with the Rev. Dr. Elliot of Boston. Dr. Boudinot obtained leave of Mr. Larned to send and take them. He sent; but for some reason could not obtain them. Dr. Elliot soon after died; and nothing more was done upon the subject. On receiving this information from Dr. Griffin, the writer wrote to Rev. Dr. Humphrey, then minister of Pittsfield, requesting him to see what further information might be there obtained relative to this matter. He returned an answer. It was just as Mr. Humphrey was about leaving his people for the Presidency of the Amherst Collegiate Institution; and he could not pay much attention to the subject. He made considerable inquiry, however; but without much success. But he informed that he had a distinct recollection, that when he came to Pittsfield, not long after the said parchments were found, he heard considerable said upon this subject. And he found an impression on his mind that it was then said that some Jew probably lost these parchments there. The author wrote also to J. Everts, Esq. of Boston, desiring him to see if the parchments could be found. An answer was returned, that they were then in the hands of the Antiquarian Society. He stated also, the same account with that of Mr. Humphrey, that they were supposed to have been left in Pittsfield by some Jew. The writer afterward speaking of this thing to a celebrated minister in the centre of the state of New York, was by him informed that he had heard of the finding of these parchments; but that a Jew from Germany was known to have resided in Pittsfield, and probably lost them. Another supposed the Jews had a custom of burying their phylacteries; which might account for this phenomenon. The public mind had thus been laid to rest relative to the parchments. The writer concluded to pay no further attention to the subject. But being advised by one whom he highly respected, and who apprehended there might be something about this, not yet investigated, he took a journey to Pittsfield. With some of the first characters of that town he took pains to ascertain whether any Jew was ever known to have resided or been in Pittsfield? Inquiry was made of different aged

[beginning of page 168]

people, and who it was thought would be likely to give the most correct information--one or two who had been there from within several years of the first settlement of the place. One and all answered in the negative, that no Jew was ever known in Pittsfield, as they believed, till Rev. Mr. Frey was there a few weeks before. The man was then found who first discovered the parchments under consideration. This was Joseph Merrick, Esq. a highly respectable character in the church of Pittsfield, and in the county, as the minister of the place informed. Mr. Merrick gave the following account; That in 1815, he was levelling some ground under and near an old wood shed standing on a place of his, situated on Indian Hill, (a place in Pittsfield so called, and lying, as the writer was afterward informed, at some distance from the middle of the town where Mr. Merrick is now living.) He ploughed and conveyed away old chips and earth, to some depth, as the surface of the earth appeared uneven. After the work was done, walking over the place, he discovered, near where the earth had been dug the deepest, a kind of black strap, about six inches in length, and one and a half in breadth, and something thicker than a draw leather of a harness. He perceived it had at each end a loop of some hard substance, probably for the purpose of carrying it. He conveyed it into his house, and threw it in an old tool box. He afterward found it thrown out of doors, and again conveyed it to the box. After some time he thought he would examine it. He attempted to cut it, and found it hard as a bone. He succeeded in cutting it open, and found it was formed with pieces of thick raw hide, sewed and made water tight with the sinews of some animal; and in the fold it contained four folded leaves of old parchment. These leaves were of a dark yellow, and contained some kind of writing. Some of the neighbours saw and examined them. One of these parchments they tore in pieces; the other three he saved, and delivered them to Mr. Sylvester Larned, a graduate then in town, who took them to Cambridge, and had them examined. They were written in Hebrew with a pen, in plain and intelligible writing. The following is an extract of a letter sent to Mr. Merrick by Mr. Larned, upon this subject.


“Sir; I have examined the parchment manuscripts, which you had the goodness to give me. After some time and with much difficulty and assistance I have ascertained their meaning, which is as follows; (I have numbered the manuscripts.)
[beginning of page 169]

No. 1 is translated by Deut. vi. 4-9 verses inclusive.

No. 2, by Deut. xi. 13-21 verses inclusive.

No. 3, Exod. xiii. 11-16 versus inclusive.

I am, &c.



The celebrated Calmet informs that the above are the very texts of scripture which the Jews used to write on three out of four of their leaves of phylacteries; from which it is presumable that the fourth leaf, torn in pieces, contained the texts which belong to the fourth leaf. The leaves of their phylacteries were ever four. Calmet, on the article Phylactery, says; “This word from the Greek signifies a preservative. These phylacteries were little boxes, or rolls of parchments, wherein were written certain words of the law. These (boxes or rolls, containing their four leaves of parchment on which their texts were written) they wore upon their foreheads, and upon their wrist of their left arm. They founded this custom upon Exodus xiii. 9, 16.”

Various authors noted by Calmet contend that the phylacteries were used in Israel from the days of Moses.

Mr. Merrick informed that a Dr. James was living in Pittsfield when these parchments were found, and felt much interest in the event. He soon moved into New York. He afterward informed Mr. Merrick, that he had laid this matter before an aged Jew, who also felt interested in the event; and who, after considering the subject some time, concluded that he could give no account of the leaves being found in such a condition in Pittsfield from any custom of the Jews.

I asked Mr. Merrick if he had ever known of any Jew as having resided or been in Pittsfield? He said he had not; nor did he believe one had ever been there. I further inquired whether he could account for the story of some Jew having left them in Pittsfield? He said it originated as follows. At the time the parchments were found, there were British prisoners residing in Pittsfield, taken in the late war. As much wonder was excited relative to these leaves, some neighbour expressed his conjecture that perhaps some of these British prisoners were Jews, and they had dropped or buried this thing there. Mr. Merrick viewed it wholly unlikely. But to ascertain the point, he went to the prisoners and asked if any of them were Jews? They said they were not. He inquired of their officers, and received the same assurance. He asked if any of them had any knowledge of this thing? and was answered in the negative. Mr. Merrick assured me, he had ever

[beginning of page 170]

believed it to have been of Indian origin; and that Col. Larned (father of the late Rev. Mr. Larned) lived and died in the same belief. It seems no evidence has appeared to the contrary; notwithstanding the above groundless conjecture, which when it got abroad was magnified into a satisfactory account.

The writer conversed with the Rev. Mr. Frey (the celebrated Jewish preacher in this country) upon this subject; who could give no account of the incident from any Jewish custom. He informed that the Jews have a custom of burying their leaves of phylacteries when worn out and illegible; as they had also any old leaf of a Hebrew bible. They would roll it up in some paper, and put it under ground from respect. But these leaves were whole and good, and were sewed up (as has been stated) in thick raw hide, and with the sinews of some animal; a thing which no Jew in Christendom would have done.

The writer left Pittsfield for Boston with a view to obtain these parchments, and to have them examined by the Hebrew professor at Cambridge, and professor Stuart of Andover. In Boston the Rev. Mr. Jenks informed him the parchments were at Worcester, in the care of the Antiquarian Society. He said he had seen them; and spoke of the story of the Jew’s having lost them at Pittsfield. He added that the Rev. Dr. Holmes of Cambridge had seen and examined them. On my way returning to Worcester, I called on Dr. Holmes. He said he had carefully read the three parchments under consideration, and found them to be three out of four of the leaves which compose the Jewish phylacteries, containing the very passages which have ever been selected for their phylacteries; that they were written with a pen, and in fair Hebrew. He was shown the copy of Rev. Mr. Larned’s letter to Mr. Merrick, which he said was correct. Rev. Dr. Holmes is known to be a correct Hebrew scholar. His wonder (with that of others) had been laid to rest by the rumour of a Jew having been known to leave them in Pittsfield. He was asked whether upon supposition of these leaves having been of Indian origin, any thing occurred to his mind relating to the parchments or writing, which might militate against the idea of their having been written in ancient Israel? He replied in the negative.

The writer returned to Worcester with full expectation of finding the parchments; but to his no small disappointment they could not be found. Dr. Thomas, president of the Antiquarian Society, said that such a leaf (he thought there was but one) was some years ago lodged in his care; and he presumed it was safe in some of the

[beginning of page 171]

Antiquarian depositories. But among the many boxes of articles he knew not where to look for it. He too had received with it the rumour of its Jewish origin; and hence had not viewed it of great consequence. We searched several hours, but in vain. It is hoped the leaves may still be found, and further examined.

The Rev. Chauncey Cook of Chili, New York, at my house, gave the following information, with liberty of inserting it with his name. He has lately been credibly informed by a minister, (he cannot recollect his name, as several within six months have called on him from New England) that Rev. Dr. West of Stockbridge gave the following information. An old Indian informed him that his fathers in this country had not long since had a book which they had for a long time preserved. But having lost the knowledge of reading it, they concluded it would be of no further use to them; and they buried it with an Indian chief. The minister spoke to Mr. Cook of this information of Dr. West, as a matter of fact.

The following remarks are submitted:

1. Mr. Merrick, who found these parchments, was in the best situation to investigate their probable origin; and he was and remains of opinion they were from the Indians. He views the conjecture of their having been brought thither by some Jew, as without foundation. Rev. Mr. Larned, who carried them to Boston for examination, being a man of letters, must have been decently qualified to investigate and judge of this matter. He it seems was fully of opinion they were Indian. His father, Col. Larned, was a man of note, and would not be likely to be imposed upon in this thing; and he lived and died in the belief they were Indian. And the writer could find no person in Pittsfield who could state any reason for believing otherwise. The conjecture of their Jewish origin gained importance by travelling abroad; but appears to have been without foundation at home.

2. Upon supposition of the Indians being descendants of Israel, there is no essential difficulty, but something very natural in the event. Calmet informs that Origen, Chrysostom and others, deemed the use of the phylacteries in Israel to have been ancient as the days of Moses. He says that Lightfoot, Sealeg and Maldon insisted that the custom of wearing them was general in the time of our Saviour; and that Christ did not reprove the Pharisees for wearing them, but for their affectation in having their phylactery cases wider than those of others. We conclude then the wearing of these phylacteries was a noted custom in Israel at the time of their final expulsion from Canaan. And it is

[beginning of page 172]

natural to believe that Israel, being in exilement, would preserve these fragments of their better days with the utmost care. Wherever they went then, they would have these phylacteries with them. If they brought them to this country, they would keep them with diligence. They would most naturally become some of the most precious contents in their holy ark, as their nation formerly kept the holy law in the ark. Here such a phylactery would be safe through ever so many centuries. This is so far from being improbable, that it is almost a moral certainty. After their knowledge of reading had long been lost, some chief, or high priest, or old beloved wise man, (keeper of their tradition) fearing these precious leaves would get lost, or parted, might naturally sew them in a fold of raw skins with the sinews of an animal, (the most noted Indian thread,) and keep this roll still in the ark; or carry it upon his belt. All this is what might most naturally be expected in such a case. This thing might have been thus safely brought down to a period near to the time when the natives last occupied Indian Hill, in Pittsfield; perhaps in the early part of last century. Its owner then might lose it there; or (what is most probable) it was buried with some chief, or high priest; and hence was providentially transmitted to us. This I venture to say (on the supposition the Indians are of Israel) is by no means so improbable, as that some modern Jew left it there in the situation in which it was found. The style of the preservation of these parchments appears to be Indian; but not Jewish. No modern Jew would be likely to hide his precious leaves of phylacteries in a roll of raw hide, sewed with the sinews of an animal. Nor would he leave them, had he done it, on Indian Hill under ground. Sooner would he sacrifice his life than thus rudely to profane the most sacred symbols of religion! It is incredible.

Mr. Merrick observed that the colour of these parchments was dark yellow. Doctor Thomas, of Worcester, showed me, among his Antiquarian curiosities, an Arabic parchment manuscript, which he informed was written long before the Christian era. This was dark yellow; but the parchment and writing were in good preservation. And one of these written parchments might thus long have been preserved as well as the other.

3. This view of the subject may give an intelligible view of the account of the old Indian in Stockbridge to Dr. West, that his fathers had buried, not long ago, a book which they could not read. And it may give a striking view of the vigilant care of the Watchman of Israel, who never slumbers, in relation to laying in train this singular

[beginning of page 173]

item of evidence among many others, which should combine to bring to light that outcast people, who were to be exhibited to the world in the last days. The government and vigilance of the God of Jacob have ever been wonderful. And great things have been found to depend on a strange combination of minute events, that the unremitting care of the Most High might appear the more conspicuous. In ancient Israel many such instances might be pointed out. And when God’s bowels shall yearn for Ephraim, earnestly remembering him still, and about finally to restore him, it will prove that he has not been unmindful of that providential train of evidence, which must eventually identify a people long outcast and lost from the knowledge of the literary and civilized world, with his ancient beloved children of Abraham. Show a people on earth who have a greater claim from the most natural kind of evidence, than our natives, to be received as the descendants of Israel; and it is hoped that to such claim no objection will be offered.

[beginning of page 174]

page 174 is a blank page



Chapter 4a >>