Do you know that America was founded on the Hebraic roots of Christianity and the Laws of Moses?
Dr. Richard Booker
There were three great influences that shaped the Pilgrims and Puritans understanding of how to govern and how to live. All three were based on their connection to their Hebraic-Jewish roots. This is why America should be called a “Judeo-Christian Nation.” If we want to “Make America Great Again” we must rediscover the faith of those who made America the greatest nation in the history of nations.
In this three-part series, you will discover what the Pilgrims and Puritans understood had to be the foundation of the new nation. This information is taken from my book, Christians, Jews and Israel: Standing Together in Troubled Times which you may order from our on-line store.
The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)
The second great influence on the Pilgrims and Puritans was the Hebrew Bible. Unlike traditional Christianity in England which considered a relationship with God strictly on a personal basis, the Pilgrims and the Puritans believed they were called by God to establish a national covenant in the new land with the God of the Bible as the Hebrews did at Mount Sinai. They wanted to be a “nation under God.”
When the Pilgrims and Puritans read the Hebrew Bible, they saw that God and His chosen people entered into a national covenant at Sinai. Their clear intention in the new world was to do likewise. They wanted to establish a new nation that had a covenant with God that would be based on the moral laws of God given at Sinai. The citizens of this new nation would willingly agree to live by the laws which would constrain their natural evil impulses.
John Adams, the second President of the United States said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passion unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”6
In his book, Judaism and Democracy, Louis Witt gives the following warning, “Democracy presupposes a moral basis and background. Democracy is moral before it is political. That people may rule, there must prevail among the people justice and righteousness and a passion for liberty for oneself and one’s brothers. Without these virtues a people, even when living under a democracy in form, will find itself living under tyrannous masters in fact.”7
Before the Pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower, they made a compact among themselves that they called, “a covenant” in which they agreed to live by the ordinances and laws they passed for the common good of the community. This covenant was modeled on their separatist congregation in England. We know of this covenant as “The Mayflower Compact.”
In his book, The Puritan as a Colonist and Reformer, Ezra Hoyt Byington records that the colonist in Salem wrote these words in their covenant, “We covenant with the Lord and one another, and do bind ourselves in the presence of God, to walk together in all His ways, according as He is pleased to reveal Himself unto us in His blessed word of truth.”8
John Winthrop was a Puritan minister and served as the Puritan governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Using Biblical language, right from the Torah, he said, “If we keep this covenant, we shall find that the God of Israel is among us, but if we deal falsely with our God, we will be consumed out of the good land where we are going.”9 The Biblical covenant the Hebrews had with God and the moral laws given at Sinai was the basis for governing the Puritan communities.
The Hebrew Bible with its teachings on the Ten Commandments and the holy laws of God was their guide. The Torah instructions on justice, morality and ethics were the foundation of the judicial and legislative enactments of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These moral laws of God would be enshrined as the legal code of the new nation.
While the Puritans had a perfect model in the covenantal laws of God given at Sinai, they, like us, were not perfect in implementing those laws. In their religious zeal, they often neglected grace, mercy and compassion. This is best seen in the Salem “witch trials” in 1691-1692. In their efforts to apply Exodus 22:18 to rid the land of sorcerers, they clearly applied the letter of the law to the exclusion of the spirit of the law. While we may be quick to judge them for their human failings, the Pilgrims and Puritans laid the moral foundation for what would become the greatest nation in the history of the world.
There is some discussion today about American exceptionalism. Historically, Americans have believed we have a special responsibility to be a light of justice, goodness and freedom to the world. Now new voices are saying we are just like any other country.
Let’s read what the founders said. As the Puritans prepared to sail to the new world, John Winthrop said to them, “ … we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill, and that the eyes of all people are upon us.”10 Regardless of what some might say, America is exceptional because it is the only nation in history born as a democratic republic based on Judeo-Christian values from the Bible.
These Judeo-Christian values found their expression in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. It was these Judeo-Christian values that inspired Thomas Jefferson to write in the American Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Puritan leader John Davenport said to the first assembly of New Haven in 1639, “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.”11 The assembly unanimously agreed with Davenport that the Word of God would be the only guide consulted in organizing the affairs of their government.
Following John Davenport’s speech, the Connecticut legislature in 1655 established governing laws based on the teachings in the Torah. They adopted a legal code containing 79 statutes, 38 of which contained biblical references from the Hebrew Bible. The Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Pilgrim Colony at Plymouth had similar laws governing themselves.
Abraham I. Katsh was a revered scholar and pioneer in Jewish studies. In his classic work, The Biblical Heritage of American Democracy, He noted the Jewish undertones of the Pilgrims and Puritans and said that “many classic Hebraic values became woven into the fabric of American civilization.” He further said, “There can be very little doubt that the Puritans were almost solely influenced by the Hebrew Bible.” He added “The Bible became for the Puritans a call to individual and national righteousness.”12
Regarding the Puritans connection to their Hebraic roots, Katsh writes, “The knowledge of the Hebrew language enabled the Puritans to breathe more deeply of the spirit and meaning of the Old Testament. This particular Hebraic type of idealism, as the Puritans chose to interpret and apply it, not only dominated their theology but permeated the pattern of their daily life. It helped them to discipline their minds; it fortified their will; it confirmed in divine terms the principles for which they stood; and these were the factors which enabled them to survive.”13
In his book, Landmarks and Goals, Jewish scholar and historian, Abraham Aaron Neuman wrote, “Puritanism was, in essence, the Hebrew Spirit in the Christian conscience.”14
In The Indestructible Jews, Jewish historian Max Dimont wrote that “The Puritans regarded themselves as Hebraists and took the Old Testament as their model of government.”15
Katsh explains, “Since Puritanism was essentially a return to the Hebraic concept of a “compact or covenant” with God, it followed that the laws, regulations, ordinances by which the Puritan society was to be governed should be those contained in the Hebrew Bible.”16
“The Puritans accepted the concept of covenant with God as the bedrock of their society and its legal structure. The most series implication of this concept of covenant was its exaction of righteousness and moral behavior. And since the boundaries of the moral behavior of the individual and the body politic were scarcely perceptible, the ethical laws regulating the activity of the community as a whole were virtually indistinguishable from those pertaining to the individual.”17
“Throughout the period of colonization in New England, the Mosaic rulings and Biblical laws were considered the supreme authority in any question requiring the citation of a precedent. … For therein, the colonists felt, was found to be the model of society as they envisioned it. From these initial efforts, Hebraic laws and principles extended and prevailed throughout the colonies, and still later, in the national system of American constitutional law.”18
Author and Scholar, P. Marion Simms, in his book, The Bible in America says, “The American people owe more to the ancient Hebrews than to any ancient people. More than to either the Greeks or the Romans, because to the Hebrews we owe our ethical and spiritual ideas.”19
One more quote by John Adams. This is from a letter he wrote to F. A. Van der Kemp dated February 16, 1808. He writes “I will insist that the Hebrews had contributed more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations.
“They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited the earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”20
We will continue to explore this Hebraic connection and the founding of America in Part 3 by discovering the remarkable role the Hebrew language in the lives of the Pilgrims and Puritans. For more information, please order Christians, Jews and Israel: Standing Together in Troubled Times. How about getting copies for your family, friends, co-workers and Bible teachers.