Few individuals outside of Mormonism are respected more than Christopher Columbus. If you search “Christopher Columbus” on LDS.org you’ll find a number articles. Here, here, and here, for example. He’s part of a small group of influential non-LDS people LDS people like to quote and reference. C.S. Lewis is in that group, maybe a few others. Columbus’ reputation among the LDS stems from an alleged reference to the man Nephi’s vision,
“And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land. And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.” (Emphasis added for a reason. “In” is the key part.)
Gordon B. Hinckley said,
“A host of critics have spoken out against [Christopher Columbus]. I do not dispute that there were others who came to this Western Hemisphere before him. But it was he who in faith lighted a lamp to look for a new way to China and who in the process discovered America.” (1992 Conference, emphasis added.)
Earlier, Ezra T. Benson said,
“God inspired ‘a man among the Gentiles’ (1 Nephi 13:12) who, by the Spirit of God was led to rediscover the land of America and bring this rich new land to the attention of the people in Europe. That man, of course, was Christopher Columbus, who testified that he was inspired in what he did.” (Emphasis added.)
Two church presidents have interpreted “the man among the Gentiles” as Columbus. This is as good as God Himself declaring it. Daniel Peterson exercises a bit more discretion, but essentially tows the LDS line,
“One of the best-known prophecies in the Book of Mormon has generally been understood to predict the career of Christopher Columbus, who is usually reckoned the effective European ‘discoverer’ of the New World…” (Emphasis added)
Grant Hardy adds,
“First Nephi 13:12 tells how the Spirit of God was to come down upon a man who would go “forth upon the many waters” to discover the posterity of Lehi in the promised land. This verse has long been understood as referring to Columbus. In particular, Orson Pratt’s references in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon made this identification explicit. Dominant historical opinion, on the other hand, has seen Columbus led by science, reason, restlessness, and conquest. Recently, historian Pauline Watts has taken a new look at this issue and argues persuasively that Columbus was in fact deeply influenced by prophecy and revelation…the Book of Mormon boldly asserts that whatever else may have been involved, Columbus’s primary reasons for sailing were spiritual. Thus, it may be of interest to Latter-day Saints that much recent scholarship has come to agree with the Book of Mormon’s original assessment of Columbus.” (Emphasis added)
The Church’s study guide for 1 Nephi 13 makes the argument that Columbus discovered America so the Gospel could be “restored” through Joseph Smith in a free country. Joseph Smith was born 30 years after America declared its independence, so on the surface, it makes a lot of sense. It’s all pretty straightforward, right?
Not so fast. We have a problem. And it’s a big one. Christopher Columbus didn’t “discover America.” I don’t mean that one can’t discover a place people have lived for thousands of years. I mean that Columbus never set foot in what is known as America. Nor did he ever come within 100 miles of America. You read that correctly. Of Columbus’ Four Voyages to the “New World,” none took him to American shores. If the Promised Land is America, and everyone agrees that it is, then Columbus can’t be the “man among the Gentiles.”
What I wanted to find out is how and why Columbus became the “discoverer” of America. The Gentiles of the Book of Mormon, in my opinion, clearly reference the British who began migrating in the mid 1600s. Columbus, on the other hand, was an Italian financed by the Catholic monarchy of Spain, the very church the Puritans opposed, and sailed under the Portuguese flag. He had quite literally nothing to do with the British Gentiles who fled to America in hopes of establishing a New Jerusalem for themselves. But as America grew and asserted its independence, it sought to divorce itself from its British origins. Columbus—who was little more than a footnote in history—became the adopted symbol of a new National Identity, an explorer who was treated badly by a monarch, just as the early Americans were treated badly by King George III. Columbus came to symbolize the Spirit of America. So much so that America was known as Columbia in art, poetry and music up until the early 1900s. The reality, as we shall see, is that Columbus didn’t discover America. America discovered Columbus.
COLUMBUS’ MOTIVATIONS BEHIND THE FOUR VOYAGES
“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” If you were born before the 1980 like I was, you probably know well this line from the poem “In 1942.” It was as ubiquitous and recitable as “take me out to the ballgame” and “wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?” (I’m really dating myself.) As the story goes, Columbus set out to discover a Western route to China and India. The 1492 journey was only the first of four voyages to the “New World.”
From his own writings we know that he felt compelled to spread Christianity throughout the world. By all accounts he was a deeply religious and devout man. In 1527, the historian Bartolome De Las Casas wrote of Columbus,
“He observed the fasts of the church most faithfully, confessed and made communion often, read the canonical offices like a churchman or member of a religious order, hated blasphemy and profane swearing, was most devoted to Our Lady and to the seraphic father St. Francis; seemed very grateful to God for benefits received from the divine hand…”
Carol Delaney writes,
“[Columbus’] devotion is also illustrated by the names he bestowed, like Adam, on the islands he ‘discovered’, for example, San Salvador (for their salvation), Trinidad (for the Trinity), Santa Maria (for the Virgin Mary), Isla de la Ascunción (for the Assumption). He counted as friends a number of priests and men in religious orders and often stayed at monasteries for weeks and months at a time…”
But the spread of Christianity was not Columbus’ primary motivation. It was simply a part of a much bigger plan informed by apocalyptic expectation. Columbus, like most religious visionaries before and since, was profoundly influenced by “prophecy” and The Revelation, specifically the belief in the imminence of the Second Coming. (Joseph Smith also fits into this category). For Columbus, the prize wasn’t the riches of the New World, it was Jerusalem. For believers in Columbus’ day, and even our own, Jerusalem is the spiritual center of the world, the axis mundi, where “end-times” events take place. As such, Jerusalem had to be in Christian hands. Delaney continues,
“The 26 December 1492 entry in his journal of the first voyage, hereafter referred to as the Diario, written in the Caribbean, leaves little doubt. He says he wanted to find enough gold and the almost equally valuable spices ‘in such quantity that the sovereigns… will undertake and prepare to go conquer the Holy Sepulchre; for thus I urged Your Highnesses to spend all the profits of this my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem.’ This statement implies that it was not the first time Columbus had mentioned the motivation for his undertaking, nor was it to be the last. Columbus wanted to launch a new Crusade to take back the Holy Land from the infidels (the Muslims). This desire was not merely to reclaim the land of the Bible and the place where Jesus had walked; it was part of the much larger and widespread, apocalyptic scenario in which Columbus and many of his contemporaries believed. That scenario, derived from the biblical book of Revelation, claims that the conversion of all peoples to Christianity and the reconquest of Jerusalem are necessary preconditions for the ‘Second Coming’ when Christ will return before the ‘End of Days.’ Columbus felt strongly the imminence of this event; he also came to feel that he had a providential role to play in the drama. There is considerable evidence from his contemporaries and his own writings, especially in the little known Libro de las profecías, or Book of Prophecies, that these were long-standing beliefs of Columbus.” (Emphasis added)
De Las Cases likewise wrote, “[Columbus] was especially affected and devoted to the idea that God should deem him worthy of aiding somewhat in recovering the Holy Sepulchre.” For those unaware, the “Holy Sepulchre” is the tomb Jesus was allegedly buried in and seems to be a term synonymous with Jerusalem. On at least four different occasions, Columbus expressed his desire to reconquer Jerusalem for the Christians in anticipation of the Second Coming. A March 4, 1493 letter to King Ferdinand, for example, reads in part,
“…that in seven years from today I will be able to pay Your Highnesses for five thousand cavalry and fifty thousand foot soldiers for the war and conquest of Jerusalem, for which purpose this enterprise was undertaken.”
It doesn’t get any more explicit than that. A 1506 letter (unknown if it was sent) to Pope Alexander VI reads, “This enterprise was undertaken with the purpose of expending what was invested in aiding the holy temple and the holy Church.” In this letter he asked for the same 5,000 cavalry and 50,000 foot soldiers. On July 7, 1503 Columbus writes,
“Jerusalem and Mount Sion are to be rebuilt by the hand of a Christian; who this is to be God declares by the mouth of His prophet in the fourteenth psalm. Abbot Joachin said that he was to come from Spain.” (Emphasis added).
Then, on May 19, 1506, the day before his death, he ratified his will which designated a fund be set up for the liberation of Jerusalem.
[As a side note, we see again how scriptural misinterpretation, often unintentional and understandable, can influence one’s actions. Psalm 14 was likely written during the Exile and referenced the Israelites return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C., rather than the “end-times.” Joseph Smith, too, misinterpreted Psalm 102 as a reference to his Zion in Independence, Missouri. But it, too, deals with contemporary events. The Psalms are songs, not prophecies.]
I don’t know what Columbus envisioned when he imagined this grand conquest, but according to official census records, in 1526 Jerusalem had a population of 1,194 Jews, 3,704 Muslims, and 714 Christians. That’s 5,162 people. Jerusalem was barely a town. It could have been easily taken with 1,000 trained soldiers, maybe fewer. 5,000 cavalry and 50,000 foot soldiers would have been overkill, no pun intended. Perhaps Columbus viewed the conquest of Jerusalem in eschatological terms of the “end-times” battle or “Armageddon.” At the time beliefs circulated in Spain that a final world leader would do battle against the Antichrist. (Not much has changed). Columbus believed that ruler would be a Spaniard. In 1492 the Genoese Ambassador wrote to the Spanish crown, “we did read that Joachim the Abbot of Southern Italy has foretold that he is to come from Spain who is to recover again the fortunes of Zion.”It seems Columbus believed himself to be that person. In 1500 he wrote,
“Of the new heaven and earth which our Lord made, as St. John wrote in the Apocalypse, after he had spoken it by the mouth of Isaiah, He made me the messenger thereof, and showed me where to go.”
Here, again, we see a parallel with Joseph Smith. He, too, believed he had a part to play in the restoration of Israel in anticipation of the Second Coming. Just as Columbus’ motivating force was a crusade to retake Jerusalem, Joseph’s motivating force was to gather the righteous to Independence (“Zion”) in anticipation of the Second Coming. In 1833 Joseph Smith prophesied in the name of Jesus Christ that there would be people then living who would witness evil wiped off the face of the earth through natural disaster and desolating sickness. Both men were deeply influenced by prophecy, The Revelation and “the end-times.” And in the end, both passed away without realizing their visions.
Here we are in the year 2022 still waiting Jesus’ return.
AMERICA ADOPTS COLUMBUS AS A SYMBOL
If Columbus didn’t “discover” America, how did he become associated with its founding? It’s a good question and I think more than anything it had to do with a nascent nation eschewing its British roots. For the first hundred years the English spent in America, Columbus was never mentioned. 1692 passed without so much of a mention or celebration of the 200th anniversary of his maiden voyage. It wasn’t until the latter part of the mid 1700s, some 250 years later, that Columbia became toponym for the Thirteen Colonies and Americans were often called “Columbians.”
In 1777, the American Poet Phillip Freneau personified the United States as “Columbia, American as sometimes so called from Columbus, the first discoverer.” As I understand it, the Founders never considered “Columbia” in naming the country, but it did represent various aspects of American life. Thomas Schlereth observed,
“Christopher Columbus has proven to be a malleable and durable American symbol. He has been interpreted and reinterpreted as we have constructed and reconstructed our own national character. He was ignored in the Colonial era…Americans first discovered the discoverer during their quest for independence and nationhood; successive generations molded Columbus into a multipurpose American hero, a national symbol to be used variously in the quest for a collective identity.” (Columbia, Columbus and Columbianism, Journal of American History, Volume 79, Issue 3, December 1992.)
Christopher Kauffman also noted,
“A secular Columbianism first entered the consciousness of the American people as an element of ‘civil religion.’ As the colonies shifted from colonial to national identity, they harkened back to the origins of a foundation story and adopted Columbia, the Latinized form of Columbus, as the symbolic name of the new nation. Hence, Kings College became Columbia college, and the capital was the District of Columbia. In the pantheon of Latinized nations, one that included Hibernia (Ireland) and Germania, Columbia achieved its independence by severing itself from Brittania. (Columbus and Columbianism and the Knights of Columbus, 1882-1900.” American Catholic Studies, vol. 118, no. 4, 2007, pp. 93–100.)
Indeed, Columbia became the female personification of the United States. She is often depicted partially dressed in white robes. You’ve probably seen the images without understanding what they represent. For example, John Gast’s American Progress depicts Columbia as the Spirit of the Frontier and ties it to Manifest Destiny:
The most well-known example, at least today, is the Columbia Pictures logo:
And if you’ve ever played the video game Bioshock: Infinite, you’ll recall that it takes place on a floating city called Columbia. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the Statue of Liberty began to overtake Columbia as the symbol of America. But for 175 years Columbia was embodiment of American Identity and American way of life.
To this day, Columbus remains a lightning rod of controversy. He is either lionized or vilified; a God-inspired intrepid explorer who discovered America or a genocidal tyrant who wiped out a culture. I don’t want to get into that controversy, but I do find it interesting so much energy is expended on a man who didn’t figure into the America’s founding.
EXAMINGING THE PROPHECY: THE GENTILES AND THE PROMISED LAND
With a better informed historical and cultural knowledge of Columbus and America, let’s closely examine Nephi’s vision. There are two crucial items: the identification of the Gentiles and the spiritual promises attached to the Promised Land. The LDS Intelligentsia and Book of Mormon geography modelers focus primarily on geographical features while ignoring the spiritual promises. In my opinion, the geographical features, like the “narrow neck of land,” are far less important. That’s not to say they are unimportant. I believe Mormon included all the geographical references for a reason. But if we can identify the Gentiles, we will identify the Promised Land.
What do we know about the Gentiles? Nephi’s vision gives 10 identifiers, the things he “beholds,”
“And it came to pass that (1) I beheld manyof the Gentiles upon the ; and (2) I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were before the Gentiles and were smitten. And (3) I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and the for their inheritance; and (4) I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and , like unto my people before they were . And it came to pass that (5) I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was . And (6) I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them. And (7) I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together them to battle. And (8) I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations. And it came to pass that (9) I, Nephi, beheld that they did prosper in the land; and (10) I beheld a , and it was carried forth among them.”
Of utmost importance is that the Gentiles are “in” or “upon” the Promised Land, and it is the same land the Nephites were in. The same land Jesus visited. Jacob said, quoting God:
“And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles. And I will fortify this land against all other nations. And he that fighteth against Zion shall perish, saith God.” (2 Nephi 10)
At Bountiful Jesus said,
“But wo, saith the Father, unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles—for notwithstanding they have come forth upon the face of this land and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel; and my people who are of the house of Israel have been cast out from among them and have been trodden under feet by them…” (3 Nephi 16)
Jesus gives us another important qualifier:
“And behold, this is the thing which I will give unto you for a sign—for verily I say unto you thatthese things which I declare unto you, and which I shall declare unto you hereafter of myself, and by the power of the Holy Ghost which shall be given unto you of the Father, shall be made known unto the Gentiles that they may know concerning this people who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, and concerning this my people who shall be scattered by them; Verily, verily, I say unto you, when these things shall be made unto them of the Father, and shall come forth of the Father, unto you; For it is wisdom in the Father that they should be established in this land, and be set up as a people by the power of the Father, that these things might come forth from them unto a remnant of your seed, that the of the Father may be fulfilled which he hath covenanted with his people, O house of Israel;” (3 Nephi 21)
Who was made aware of “these things?” The Latter-Day Saints specifically, who are a subset of “white, exceedingly fair and beautiful” British Gentiles. It is also interesting to note that the chapter heading for 3 Nephi 21 reads that “the Gentiles will be established as a free people in America.” There’s only one group that fulfils these prophecies: the English Puritans. Consequently, there’s only one location for the Promised Land: New England.
Over the last year or so I’ve spent quite some time reading about the Puritans, their faith, their worldview and their expectations in coming to America. They fulfill every Book of Mormon prophecy to the letter. For example, the Encyclopedia Brittanica describes Puritanism as,
“…a religious reform movement in the late 16th and 17th centuries that sought to “purify” the Church of England of remnants of the Roman Catholic “popery” that the Puritans claimed had been retained after the religious settlement reached early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Puritans became noted in the 17th century for a spirit of moral and religious earnestness that informed their whole way of life, and they sought through church reform to make their lifestyle the pattern for the whole nation. Their efforts to transform the nation contributed both to civil war in England and to the founding of colonies in America as working models of the Puritan way of life.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Perhaps maybe more than any other people save the Hebrews themselves, the Puritans were “people of the book.” One writer notes,
“The Puritans wholeheartedly believed that it was their special mission to establish in America a society precisely modeled on the precepts of Sacred Jewish Scriptures. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was at the very least a state inspired by and thoroughly devoted to the Jewish Bible. ‘If we keep this covenant,’ Governor John Winthrop assured his people, ‘we shall find that the God of Israel is among us, but if we deal falsely with our God… we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.’ The Jewish covenant concept was thus the bedrock of all Puritan religious communities.”
Another likewise writes,
“The New Jerusalem was an important theme in the Puritan colonization of New England in the 17th century. The Puritans were inspired by the passages in Revelation about the New Jerusalem, which they interpreted as being a symbol for the New World. The Puritans saw themselves as the builders of the New Jerusalem on earth. This idea was foundational to American nationalism…
“The Puritan vision of America as New Jerusalem had particular roots. John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs implied that not only were the end times commencing, but England, with its history of bold confession, had a special role to play. England’s sixteenth-century unrest spawned eschatological speculation, and the Puritan project literally brought apocalyptic hopes down to earth. As Thomas Brightman argued, the “new Jerusalem… is not that city which the saints shall enjoy in heaven after this life, but a [transfigured] church to be expected on earth.” When Puritans lost hope of England’s reform, the redeemer nation birthed a saving remnant who sailed to America. Arguing that the Christological categories of prophet and priest had been restored with the Reformation, Cambridge pastor Jonathan Mitchell argued that “now the great cause and work of God’s Reforming People, is, to set up His Kingdom,” and he was unapologetic that “the public setting up of Christ’s kingdom…was our end in coming hither.” (America as New Jerusalem, Christopher Richman)
Hugh Fogelman writes that the Puritans were “more Jewish than the Protestants,”
“The Puritans wholeheartedly believed that it was their special mission to establish in America a society precisely modeled on the precepts of Sacred Jewish Scriptures. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was at the very least a state inspired by and thoroughly devoted to the Jewish Bible. ‘If we keep this covenant,” Governor John Winthrop assured his people, ‘we shall find that the God of Israel is among us, but if we deal falsely with our God… we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.’ The Jewish covenant concept was thus the bedrock of all Puritan religious communities.
BYU-I professor Ryan Gardiner gives additional context,
When the Puritan colonists came to the New World in the early seventeenth century, they sought not only a land of religious liberty, but also a land of ultimate religious achievement: the establishment of Zion and/or New Jerusalem. Many of them hoped to demonstrate that an ideal theocratic society was possible and would solve the world’s governmental dilemmas. They paved the way for a long-standing Zion tradition in America. During the eighteenth century, the dream for Zion faded due to the growing concern for individual salvation. The banner of revolution and independence also superseded the interest in the “ensign for the nations.” Unfortunately, during this era Zion and New Jerusalem became the watchwords for dissident charismatic truth-seekers with small congregations. Antebellum America presented a completely new environment. As America forged westward, more and more settlers became dissatisfied with mainstream organized religions.”
What do we know about the Promised Land? It’s a major theme of the Book of Mormon. We can go all the way back to the chronological beginning and the Brother of Jared,
“And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had for a righteous people…” (Ether 2)
And the Jaredite nation collapsed, God was already preparing another people. Said Lehi after arriving in the Promised Land,
“But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord. (2 Nephi 2)
Imagine you’re Lehi and you’ve lived your entire life in an arid, dry environment. Then you land somewhere along the East Coast of the United States or you make you through to the Great Lakes. What do you see when get off the boat? It depends on the season, of course, but anytime other then winter you’re going to see dense foliage, rolling green hills and miles and miles of forest. I’ve been back east and it is breathtaking to this day. A promised land indeed.
Nephi’s prophecy tells of a man who would come to the remnant of Lehi who were in the Promised Land. This is important. He’s not in the vicinity or neighborhood of the Promised Land. He’s in it. Since Columbus never set foot in America, he cannot be “the man among the Gentiles.” If the “man among the Gentiles” is Christopher Columbus, then the Promised Land is either Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador or Venezuela, and Joseph Smith invented the Book of Mormon and made a massive error. With all due respect to our wonderful Latin American neighbors to the south, the Promised Land is the United States, particularly New England. No one disputes that. It’s the only land obtained by “many multitudes” of “white, exceedingly fair and beautiful Gentiles.” If we look at a territorial map for 1790, we see the reach of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires. The eastern United States, however, which would include the Promised Land, belonged to the British immigrants:
Truly it was a land of liberty to the British Gentiles. A place where they would become a mighty nation, fortified against all other nations where no kings would come to power. By contrast, Central and South American were under Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and Italian control for many, many centuries.
WHO IS THE MAN AMONG THE GENTILES?
I don’t know. But I believe we can make a fairly educated guess. In 1631 a young, Puritan preacher named John Eliot left England and landed on American shores. He lived in Boston for a year then established a church in nearby Roxbury. Eliot established friendly relations with local Native tribes and established missionary work among them.
The account of his encounters with the Natives is pretty extraordinary and not that dissimilar to Ammon’s encounter with King Lamoni. Eliot described those encounters in a pamphlet titled, The Day Breaking If Not the Sun Rising of the Gospel with the Indians in New England. In it he writes,
“On October 28m 1646, four of us (having fought God) went unto the Indians inhabiting within our bounds, with desire to make known the things of their peace to them…”
And later continues,
“Having thus in a set speech familiarly opened the principal matters of Salvation to them, the next thing we intended was discourse with them by propounding certain questions to see what they would say to them, that so we might screw by variety of means something or other of God into them; but before we did this, we asked them if they understood all that was already spoken, and whether all of them in the Wigwam did understand or only some few and they answered to this question with multitude of voices, that they all of them did understand all that which was then spoken to them. We then desired to know of them, if they would propound any question to us for more clear understanding of what was delivered; whereupon several of them propounded presently several questions, (far different from what some other Indians under Kitchomakia in the like meeting about six weeks before had done, viz. I. What was the cause of the Thunder. 2. Of the Ebbing and Flowing of the Sea. 3. Of the wind) but the questions (which we think some special wisdom of God directed these unto) (which these propounded) were in number six.
How may we come to know Jesus Christ?
Our first answer was, that if they were to read our Bible, the book of God, therein they should see most clearly what Jesus Christ was; but because they could not do that; therefore, Secondly, we wished them to think, and meditate of so much as had been taught them, and which they now heard out of God’s book, and to think much and often upon it, both when they did lie down on their mats in their Wigwams and when they rose up, and to go alone in the fields and woods, and muse on it, and so God would teach them; especially if they used a third help, which was,
Prayer to God to teach them and reveal Jesus Christ unto them; and we told them, that although they could not make any long prayers as the English could, yet if they did but sigh and groan, and say thus; Lord make me know Jesus Christ, for I know him not, and if they did say so again and again with their hearts that God would teach them Jesus Christ, because he is such a God as will be found of them that seek him with all their hearts, and he is a God hearing the prayers of all men both Indian as well as English, and that English men by this means have come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ….”
That, to me, is just beautiful. A simple expression of faith. Ponder on the word. Let the seed grow. Pray. That’s how it should be. I highly recommend reading Eliot’s pamphlet in whole. You can click the link above which will take you to Archive.org, or you can directly download the .pdf here. It’s written in Middle English, so it can be a bit tricky to decipher. For whatever reason, “f” is used in place of “s” is most places. So, “most places” would look like “moft placef.” Just take it slowly and you’ll get it.
It wouldn’t be too terribly long before the Native Indians could read the Bible in their own language. Eliot’s major contribution was the Eliot Bible, the first Bible translated into a Native language and the first Bible published in North America. Eliot learned the Native dialect and spent 14 years translating the Bible The finalized 1663 version, which contained the Old and New Testaments, carried the inscription,
The Whole Holy His-Bible God, both Old Testament and also New Testament. This turned by the servant of Christ, who is called John Eliot.
From 1660 to the end of his life in 1690, Eliot was known as “Apostle to the Indians.” Eliot helped established 14 towns or villages, called “Praying towns,” comprised solely of Native peoples. The colonists were not allowed in that territory. It was important to Eliot and other missionaries that the Indians be evangelized by their own people. So, certain Indians were ordained to the work and became preachers among their people. It’s a remarkable story you probably have never heard. I know hadn’t.
Unfortunately, in 1675 King Phillip’s War, or the First Indian War broke out in New England between the indigenous tribes and the colonist aided by their indigenous allies. The Wiki entry reads,
“The war was the greatest calamity in seventeenth-century New England and is considered by many to be the deadliest war in Colonial American history. In the space of little more than a year, 12 of the region’s towns were destroyed and many more were damaged, the economy of Plymouth and Rhode Island Colonies was all but ruined and their population was decimated, losing one-tenth of all men available for military service. More than half of New England’s towns were attacked by Natives. Hundreds of Wampanoags and their allies were publicly executed or enslaved, and the Wampanoags were left effectively landless.”
History’s website describes the war as,
“…the Native Americans’ last-ditch effort to avoid recognizing English authority and stop English settlement on their native lands. The war is named after the Wampanoag chief Metacom, later known as Philip or King Philip, who led the fourteen-month bloody rebellion.”
At Bountiful Jesus said the Gentiles would scatter the remnant of Lehi. A “remnant” is a “small remaining quantity of something.” Is this the event? Again, I don’t know. But it sure makes a lot of sense to me. A lot more sense than Christopher Columbus circling the Caribbean. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that said remnant moved east from the Hill Cumorah in NY. 1,200 years passed between the Nephite destruction and arrival of the British Gentiles. That is an incredibly long time. And I think it’s very important to note that the Book of Mormon never claims that all of the “Native Americans” are descendants of Lehi. I think it’s plainly obvious from the text that the Lehi and his family encountered people who were already here. Who are the “many wives” the Nephites desired? Where did they come from? They were already here. Sherem is another good example of someone who was already here. Whatever remains of Lehi’s seed is necessarily small in number.
At this point I had planned to discuss how the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon developed, but this post is already long enough. We’ll save that for another time. In the end, however, why does any of this matter? So far as I know the remnant of Lehi is still waiting for the Book of Mormon. A seer is yet to rise up among them. In the early days of the church, Joseph Smith sent Parley P. Pratt and others to reclaim the Lamanites, but during that journey Pratt decided to stop by Kirtland and visit his friend Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon joined the church, became Joseph’s counselor and confident, and drastically altered the trajectory of Mormonism and the Church. Is the remnant of Lehi still out there? If the Book of Mormon is what it claims, I would have to think they are. If Joseph Smith invented the Book of Mormon, it’s all a moot point. But I don’t believe he did. I just know that whatever happens, I hope I’m around to see it.