American Immigrant Literature &
World / Multicultural Literature: American Immigrant,
University of Houston-Clear Lake
the Jewish Exodus & the Pilgrims' Story? Why do they matter?
These parallels or extended comparisons
are often broad and speculative. Only occasionally do the Pilgrims themselves
consciously make these parallels. (Later Puritans, like Cotton Mather, make this
"typology" more explicit.) Sometimes, as with the comparison of American Indians
or Palestinians with Canaanites, readers make the comparison only much later.
The purpose is not to make a perfect
fit between scripture and history but to explore how
national behavior, consciously or unconsciously.
Besides narrative, the main interest for literary studies is
how command of language & literacy allows certain groups to "write themselves
into history." By not only repeating but building on
the Exodus narrative, the
Pilgrims maintain continuity with the past, yet the past also evolves into the
future. Thus scripture or literature is not the dead past but part of a living
continuum. (Contrast fundamentalist religion, which potentially imprisons the
present and future in the past.)
Broad parallels between stories /
Land from which group departs & why
Migrating / Conquering group
Ancient Egypt & Holy Land
England (& Holland), religious differences
Native American Indians
Palestine / Israel
Mostly Europe after Holocaust
Modern Jews, Israelis
Palestine / Israel; Jerusalem
Slave South / Free North
Southern USA, slavery or continuing oppression
African American fugitives,
Northern United States
More specific typologies or
The Jews are God’s “chosen people”;
Bradford implies the Pilgrims are “special” within "God's Plan"
Exodus 11: a
Egyptians and Israel
. . . chosen thee to be a special
people unto himself, above all people
Bradford 61 providence of
God working for
their good beyond man’s expectation
9.2 (66) a special work of God’s providence
(death of profane young man)
Bradford identified with Moses
Cotton Mather (3rd-generation
New England Puritan, 1663-1728), from Magnalia Christii Americana; or, The
Ecclesiastical History of New-England
 writes of
Bradford leading the Pilgrims: "The leader of a people in a wilderness had
need be a Moses; and if a Moses had not led the people of Plymouth
Colony, when this worthy person [Bradford] was their governour, the people had
never with so much unanimity and importunity still called him to lead them. .
. . "
Bradford as Moses were both lawmakers
Civilizations depend on literacy and
record-keeping. Political leadership depends on force of arms
of language. (Religious leaders use scripture to advocate
Moses inscribes the Ten Commandments and other laws
(Exodus 20) and is often shown writing (e. g., Numbers 33.2
"Moses wrote their goings out").
Bradford as a writer is the primary historian and
record-keeper of Plymouth Plantation.
Of Plymouth Plantation records
Compact" (ch. 11), often described as a forerunner to the U.S. Constitution. This
Compact, the Pilgrims' first constitution or set of laws, is styled as a
"covenant" (p. 84 "in presence of God and one of another,
and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic")—a term the Bible uses
repeatedly for the relationship between Israel and God (e. g., Exodus 2.24,
Mather comments on Bradford’s knowledge of
languages: "9. He was a person for study as well as action; and hence, not
withstanding the difficulties through which he had passed in his youth, he
attained unto a notable skill in languages." (Bradford was mostly self-taught.)
Ancient Jews cross Red Sea and Jordan River /
Pilgrims cross Atlantic Ocean
- Joshua 24.2 Your fathers dwelt on the other
side of the flood [river] in old time . . . 8. And I
brought you into the land of the Amorites, which dwelt on the other side
Jordan . . . 11. And ye went over Jordan
7.2 (49) So being ready to depart, they had
a day of solemn humiliation, their pastor taking his text from Ezra viii.21:
“And there at the river, by Ahava, I proclaimed a fast, that we might humble
ourselves before our God, and seek of him a right way for us, and for our
children, and for all our substance."“ [river / sea]
9.5 (69) Being thus arrived in a good
harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed
God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean
9.9 (70) the whole country, full of woods
and thickets, represented a wild and savage hue. If they looked behind
them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed and was now as a main
bar and gulf to separate them from all the civil parts of the world
* Joshua 24.2 Your fathers dwelt
on other side of the flood [river] in old times . . . .
9.11 (71) What could now sustain them but the
Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these
fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great
ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the
Lord . . . .” [blending of scripture and modern history / language;
Bradford, relating Pilgrims' present to biblical past, attempts to write the
Pilgrims into future history.]
Ancient Jews and Pilgrims find themselves in
Moses asks Pharaoh for permission to leave Egypt for
Exodus 5.1 Let my people go > feast in the
Numbers 33.12 wilderness of Sin
9.11 (70) quotes Psalm cvii.1-5, 8: . . .
they wandered in the desert wilderness . . . and found no city to dwell in, both
hungry and thirsty . . . "
Discontent, "murmurings," yearning
for "the fleshpots of Egypt" (compare stage 5 of immigrant narrative
re nostalgia or rediscovery of earlier identity)
Exodus 14.12 For it had been better for us to
serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.
Exodus 16.2 And the whole congregation of the
children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
Exodus 16.3 Would to God we had died by the
hand of the Lord in Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, and when we did eat
bread to the full
11.1 (83) [Mayflower Compact] was
"[o]ccasioned partly by the discontented and mutinous speeches that some of the
strangers amongst them had let fall . . ."
11.4 (84) In these hard and difficult
beginnings they found some discontents and murmurings arise amongst some, and
mutinous speeches and carriages in other; but they were soon quelled and
overcome by the wisdom, patience, and just and equal carriage of things, by the
Governor and better part, which clave faithfully together in the main.
14.8 (143) Some wished themselves in England
again; others fell a-weeping
Decline of later generations,
worshipping of heathen gods, etc. (compare to betrayal of
Old World by assimilation)
Every man went to inheritance to possess the land
Judges 2.10 And there arose another generation
after them, which knew not the Lord
2.12 the children of Israel
followed other gods . . . of the people that were round about them
23.2 (281-283) Also the people of the
Plantation began to grow in their outward estates . . . . by which many were
much enriched and commodities grew plentiful. And yet in other regards this
benefit turned to their hurt, and this accession of strength to their weakness.
For now as their stocks increased and the increase vendible, there was no longer
any holding them together . . . . By which means they were scattered all over
the Bay quickly and the town in which they lived compactly till now was left
very thin and in a short time almost desolate.
And if this had been all, it had been less, though too
much, but the church must also be divided. . . .
And this I fear will be the ruin of New England, at
least of the churches of God there, and will provoke the Lord's displeasure
Later Puritan generations were sensitive of
having "fallen off" or "declined from" the heroic "Pilgrim Fathers" and
anticipated God’s punishment. The Salem Witch Trials of the 1690smay be seen as
an event in this narrative.
Compare Canaanites and Native
American Indians (status as "God's chosen people" carries a heavy price for
Exodus 15.14 sorrow . . . on the inhabitants of
Exodus 15.15 inhabitants of Canaan shall melt
Exodus 15.26 no Egyptian diseases on Israel
Numbers 33.52 drive out all inhabitants
[of Canaan] > your
dispossess the inhabitants of the
land, and all therein; for I have given you the land to possess it
those remain shall be pricks [i.e. thorns,
no covenant, no marriages [with Canaanites]
12.5 (97) the late great mortality, which
fell in all these parts about three years before the coming of the English,
wherein thousands of them died
19.8 (227) [Morton's people condemned for]
inviting the Indian women for their consorts
19.9 (228) So they [Morton & men] or others
now changed the name of their place again and called it Mount Dagon (note:
after the God of the Philistines, Judges xvi. 23)
Treat, James, ed.
Christian: Indigenous Voices on Religious Identity in the United States and
Canada. New York: Routledge, 1996.
Warrior, Robert Allen. "Canaanites,
Cowboys, and Indians: Deliverance, Conquest, and Liberation Theology Today."
95 Most of the liberation theologies
that have emerged in the last twenty years are preoccupied with the Exodus
story, using it as the fundamental model for liberation. I believe that the
story of the Exodus is an inappropriate way for Native Americans to think about
95 Yahweh the deliverer became Yahweh
The obvious characters in
the story for Native Americans to identify with are the Canaanites, the people
who already lived in the promised land. As a member of the Osage Nation of
American Indians who stands in solidarity with other tribal people around the
world, I read the Exodus stories with Canaanite eyes.
98 the Canaanites should be at the
center of Christian theological reflection and political action. They are the
last remaining ignored voice in the text, except perhaps for the land itself.
Other specific references to the
Exodus texts in Bradford:
3.4 (20) . . . some of their adversaries
did, upon the rumor of their removal, cast out slanders against them, as if that
state had been weary of them, and had rather driven them out (as the heathen
historians did feign of Moses and the Israelites when they went out of Egypt)
than that it was their own free choice . . . .
Deuteronomy 3.25 [Moses:] I pray thee [Yahweh],
let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly
mountain, and Lebanon. . . . .27 [But Yahweh said,] Get thee up into the top of
Pisgah . . . and behold it with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this
9.8 (70) Neither could they, as it were, go
up to the top of Mt Pisgah to view from this wilderness a more goodly country
10.5 (74) And so, like the men from Eshcol,
carried with them of the fruits of the land and showed their brethren . . . .
[note: Numbers XIII. 23-6]
Notes on the Exodus story and African
Luther King (1929-1968) sometimes styled himself or was styled as a "Moses of
his people," owing to speeches such as the one he delivered at Bishop Charles
Mason Temple in Memphis on the eve of his assassination on 4 April 1968, titled
"I See the Promised Land":
I would take my
mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the
wilderness on toward the promised land. [But] I wouldn't stop there . . . .
whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a
favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves
fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something
happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the
slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us
maintain unity. . . .
I don't know
what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter
with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like
anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not
concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will, and he's allowed me to
go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I
may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a
people, will get to the promised land. . . .
Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed.
James M. Washington (Harper & Row, 1986), pp. 279-286.
At least two
other African American leaders have been associated with Moses.
A title for the
autobiography of Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), the "conductor of the Underground
Railroad" during the Abolition movement, is Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her
A biography by E. D. Cronon and J. H. Franklin of the
Jamaican-born leader Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), director of the United Negro
Improvement Association of the 1920s and 30s in Harlem, is titled
Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey.
Manchild in the Promised Land (1965) concerns a young man growing up in
the Harlem ghetto, the child of migrants from the southern USA.
themes of the American South as Egypt, the African Americans as slaves like the
Hebrews in Egypt, and the North as the Promised Land, may also involve
River, which separated slave territory from free territory, as the Jordan
River. In chapter 7 of Uncle Tom's Cabin
(1852), the great Abolitionist
novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a slave mother escaping with her child to keep
him from being sold reaches the Ohio River: "Her first glance was at the river,
which lay, like Jordan, between her and the Canaan of liberty on the other
Purposes, advantages, or insights of this exercise:
1. A dominant culture often operates with the authority of religion or myth: a transcendent story
or narrative authorizes action, character, values.
distinguishing characteristic of “national migration” (e. g., the Jews to
Canaan, the English to America, the Mormons to Utah) may be a compelling,
over-arching religious story (compared to normal immigrants’ economic story).
biblical backgrounds and models for Puritan settlement has
no evangelical or
political purpose. Instead, this exercise has students read and gain
knowledge of foundational texts
while practicing a standard form of
literary interpretation (typology)—in a hurry!