Friday, July 22, 2011

Promised Land

"And thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity." - William Bradford

     Several years ago, our family took a trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts. We saw the completely overrated Plymouth Pebble, and got caught in some National Geographic crowd shots aboard the Mayflower 2. But one of the most interesting highlights of the day trip, was our walk through Burial Hill. Not that I like Cemeteries or anything. Quite honestly, they freak me out. But we saw the tombs of some very famous people. Among them were Adoniram and Emily Judson's memorial stone, and John Howland's grave. But the most interesting stone that we saw was William Bradford's. It was a very simple stone; not extravagant or even the focal point of the cemetery. What really caught our attention though, was an inscription on the stone in Hebrew. The inscription was short; only three words long. As I have studied the Hebrew language for somewhere around five years, I recently translated the words on the tombstone to find out what they said. (Actually, Google Translate helped me out a bit.) Consistent from what I know of Bradford's character, the inscription simply said, "More be the Lord."
     Over the past month, I have been reading William Bradford's book, Of Plymouth Plantation. It's a wonderfully interesting book, and I particularly enjoyed the part where Bradford called Plato a communist, but there is one thing about the book that really irks me. The entire 344 page recounting of the Plymouth settlement is written in the third person. Bradford's fellow pilgrims become "they," and even Bradford himself becomes "the Governor."
     For what reason is Of Plymouth Plantation written in this way? I think the general opinion is that Bradford was just being very humble; but could there be a clue in the Hebrew writing on his tombstone?
     As were many of the Founding Fathers, William Bradford was a lover of the Hebrew scriptures and language. In fact, his own journal was littered with Hebrew verses and definitions. The following poem was written by Bradford, and is typed as best as I can interpret from his own handwriting.

Though I am growne aged, yet I have had a longing
desire, to see with my owne eyes, something of that most
ancient language, and holy tongue, in which the Law,
and oracles of God were write; and in which God,
and angels, spake to the holy patriarchs of old
time; and what names were given to things,
from the creation. And though I cannot
attaine to much herein, yet I am refresh-
ed, to have seen some glimpse hereof;
(as Moses saw the Land of ca-
nan a farr off) my aime and
desire is to see how the words,
and phrases lye in the
holy texte; and to
discerne somewhat
of the same
for my owne

     The first five books of the Bible were written down by Moses, the Hebrew slave turned Egyptian prince turned savior of the Hebrew people. Though Moses experienced, first hand, four fifths of the things written in the Bible's first five books, (called the Pentateuch or the Torah) each book is written in the third person. Moses wrote down the entire Torah before he died on Mount Nebo, but nowhere can there be found a "and the Lord spoke to me," or a "then I stretched my hand out over the water."
     Is it possible that William Bradford was emulating Moses as he wrote Of Plymouth Plantation? Could Bradford have pictured himself, as the head over the New England pilgrims, leading the Children of Israel to the Promised Land? Could Bradford's study and love of the Hebrew scriptures prompted the style of his book? Could New England have flowed with milk and honey as had the land of Canaan?
     We may never know the answers to the these questions here on this earth, but Bradford does tell us that America had never seen cows until several years after the pilgrims offloaded onto ye old Plymouth Pebble. Bees, I am sure, were quite prevalent.

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