Religion Today

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

From King James to the First Pilgrims

Everyone thought he would be a good king. Queen Elizabeth did. Her Lords did. The Anglican bishops did. And especially the Puritans did. After all, James the VI had been King of Scotland for more than two decades. During that time he had advanced the cause of the Calvinist Reform Church—Presbyterianism—in Scotland. And why should he not have done so? Even though his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had baptized him as a Catholic, James had been raised from solely in the Scottish Reform tradition, ultimately becoming a learned proponent of its theology.

So certain of their man were the Puritans—the Calvinists within the English Church—that when James became James I of England at the death Queen Elizabeth in 1603, they could not wait until his coronation to present their proposals for the reform of the English Church. While traveling from Scotland to London, key Puritan leaders met James and presented him with a petition for purification of the Anglican church from elements they considered too “popish.”

When James held a conference in January 1604 to consider the petition at Hampton Court Palace, matters went wrong from the beginning. Not only were the Puritans missing from the opening-day guest list, but James turned down nearly all their requests. He furthermore threatened that if they did not conform, they would be driven from England. By February 1605, James ordered the Anglican bishops to defrock any minister that preached Puritan beliefs.

James’ dislike of Puritanism had a profound affect on a small church in Scrooby England, one which led them on the “pilgrimage” to America and to the first celebration of Thanksgiving. The local lord of the manor, William Brewster, had been active in promoting Puritanism in nearby parishes.

When Richard Clyfton was expelled from his nearby vicarage, Brewster brought him to the manor and made him pastor of the Separatist church he was gathering in Scrooby. Separatist activity had been outlawed over a decade earlier and King James was persecuting Separatists even more than Puritans. Indeed, the congregation, numbering about 100, decided in 1608 to leave for Amsterdam to preserve their ability to worship in accordance with their beliefs—an act which was also illegal.

The situation in Holland also threatened the community’s survival. At first, the Scrooby congregation joined with other English Separatists only to become involved in arguments over theology and morality which generated widespread distrust and dissension. Reverend Clyfton eventually joined the other side. Under Brewster’s leadership, the Scrooby group then settled in Leiden, where they were able to earn a living. Brewster even began teaching at the university. But Dutch city culture did not fit with Calvinist morality and as many of the children grew older they became more interested in Holland than in the church. They decided to leave.

Brewster and his followers had no funds to travel, so they made a deal with an investment group headed by Thomas Weston. These “venture capitalists” were interested in making money from the new world. They agreed to pay for the Scrooby believers to travel to America in return for their activities in acquiring raw materials that could be sold in England. The investment group charted a ship called the Mayflower and some 41 of the Scrooby congregation and 61 other adventurers sailed as passengers in September 1620.

The story of the trip’s difficulties is well known. They landed far north of their intended destination, half of them died in the first winter, and if the Native Americans had not helped them they would not have been able to grow sufficient food for the second winter.

The exact date of the first “Thanksgiving” is not clear, but it was a celebration after the last harvest in the fall of 1621. The three-day festivities were shared by 90 braves of the Massasoit tribe—the braves donating 5 deer to the feast. Given New England seasons, the celebration most likely took place before November.

The most important “November event” that first year was the arrival of the ship “Fortune.” It brought 35 new residents for the colony (only some from the Scrooby congregation). More importantly the ship was to take goods back to England. The 55-ton ship took aboard beaver and otter pelts (most gained from trading with the natives) and a large quantity of clapboards for house siding. Paying off the first installment of their agreement with Weston and the investment group must have been a major accomplishment to finish out the year and for which to give thanks.

Who were the Galileans?

The Land of Israel, often called Palestine, has frequently had a changing population. In recent decades, many Jews have migrated into Israel returning from their ancestors’ forced exile centuries ago. The Israeli-Palestinian talks which began this week after the Annapolis Conference will address the Palestinian desire for return of refugees and their descendants from their more recent exile.

The same was true of Palestine in the first century AD. Palestine is a narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Valley, divided into four regions south to north. Idumea was populated by immigrants from Arabia to the southeast, Judea contained descendants of Jews who had returned from Babylonian exile in the fifth and sixth centuries BCE, while Samaria was populated by the descendants of people whom the Assyrian Empire forcibly moved in the seventh century BCE (2 Kings 15-16).

And Galilee, the fourth and northernmost area of Palestine? Well, that has been a matter of debate. To be sure, the population there was Jewish, for Jesus is well-known for his mission among the Galilean Jews. But where did those Jews come from?

Many people may wonder why this is a question. Have not Jews been in Galilee since the Twelve Tribes settled there in the thirteenth century BC? Actually, no.

Certainly Galilee was settled by the tribes of Zebulon, Naphtali, Issachar and Asher. Later it belonged to David’s kingdom and then to the northern nation of Israel. But the Assyrian Emperor Tiglath-Pileser III conquered Israel in 733 BCE and the surviving rump state was obliterated by his successor Shalmaneser V in 722. All the population was relocated to other areas of the empire.

At this moment, Galilee drops out of history for the next 600 years. To be sure, 2 Kings 17 tells of the resettlement of Samaria, but Galilee is not mentioned.

Archaeological research now reveals this was not just an oversight of the Biblical writers. Surface surveys indicate no human occupation of the Galilee during the sixth and seventh centuries BCE. A few scattered, small settlements began to appear in following centuries, mostly military outposts and a few small farming communities which sent their harvests to the coastal cities. The same conclusions can be drawn from the excavations of major sites as well. So Galilee remains essentially empty for more than half a millennium following the Assyrian invasions.

The archaeological evidence reveals a sudden change about the start of the first century BC. Over a period of a couple decades, dozens of new villages appear. This indicates that a new, rather large, population comes into Galilee. The trend continues for the next half century or so, with many new settlements appearing and then growing larger.

Who were these new inhabitants? These new archaeological findings indicate that they were transplanted Judeans. The ancient historian Josephus relates how Alexander Jannaeus, the King of Israel from 102 to 76 BC, extended the northern boundary of his Judean-centered country into Galilee during his reign using military means.

Unfortunately, Josephus says nothing about Jannaeus’ management of the country once it came under his control. For a long time, scholars have held that he simply converted the people he found there, the Itureans, to Judaism. Since there was no large population in Galilee at the time, we now know this incorrect.

The archaeology instead reveals that the new inhabitants were Judeans. First, the currency of the region is now that of the Judean Janneaus and his successors; it is not that of the coastal cities or of Damascus further north in Syria. Second, excavated village areas reveal the same interest in religious purity common among Judeans, with ritual baths cut out of the bedrock and houses that contained stone bowls, cups and plates that were impervious to impurity. Third, the Galileans followed a Judean diet in that they did not eat pork; no pig bones are found in the garbage dumps.

So the archaeological research of recent decades now shows that the Galilean population of Jesus’ time were descendants of Judean immigrants of a century or so earlier.