Thanksgiving is a purely secular American holiday, right? You might be surprised to learn that Thanksgiving actually has Biblical roots.
Sukkot in November
One Biblical parallel is found in the work of Dr. Paul Jehle, Senior Pastor of The New Testament Church, Founder of The New Testament Christian School and Executive Director of Plymouth Rock Foundation, whose mission is “to preserve and spread the Pilgrim story and America’s rich Christian heritage.”
In his book Plymouth in the Words of Her Founders, Jehle wrote, “The origin of the harvest festival in England by the time the Pilgrims decided to leave was rooted in the Biblical practice of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).”
Sitting down to a meal of turkey and pumpkin pie on the fourth Thursday of November goes back to 1941, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially signed a bill that fixed that date for observing the annual holiday.
When Sukkot of 1621 was celebrated
But Jehle’s claim is supported by the fact that Sukkot of 1621 was celebrated from September 20-October 7. According to the site MayflowerHistory.com, “..the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving began at some unknown date between September 21 and November 9, most likely in very early October,” of 1621, corresponding exactly to the dates of Sukkot that year.
Replacement Theology Aboard The Mayflower
A second Biblical parallel is less savory. Suffering from religious persecution in England, the Pilgrims took the Biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt and refashioned it in their own image.
According to Rabbi Tuly Weisz, publisher of Israel365 News, “Those aboard the Mayflower referred to their voyage as an ‘Exodus’ from oppression to the ‘Promised Land.’”
For the original Puritans, it was a small leap from seeing themselves as fleeing persecution just like the original, Biblical Israelites did, to actually seeing themselves as the spiritual replacement for this iconic Biblical episode.
As Rabbi Ken Spiro explained it, “These Puritans viewed their emigration from England as a virtual re-enactment of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. To them, England was Egypt, the king was Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean was the Red Sea, America was the Land of Israel, and the Indians were the ancient Canaanites. They were the new Israelites, entering into a new covenant with God in a new Promised Land.”
Were the Puritans merely seeing an echo of the Biblical exodus from Egypt in their journey or were they actually co-opting the Biblical story for themselves?
In an essay called “The New England Puritans and the Jews”, historian Arthur Hertzberg, ascribed a dark motivation to the Pilgrims, all but accusing them of Replacement Theology.
“In their own mind,” he wrote, “they were the Jews, the ultimate and total heirs of the promises that God had made in the Hebrew Bible.”
As Israel365 News feature writer Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz previously noted, “This fascination with the Jews was not akin to admiration. The Puritans were Calvinists, following the teachings of John Calvin, the 16th century French pastor who played a major role in the Protestant Reformation. Calvin clearly stated that the Jews were a rejected people who needed to embrace Jesus to re-enter the covenant, a basic belief of replacement theology.
Indians As Lost Ten Tribes
A third Biblical parallel in the history of Thanksgiving is that the Puritans originally claimed that the Native Americans they encountered in New England were descended from the lost Ten Tribes of Israel who Isaiah, among other Biblical prophets, prophesied would be reunited at the end of days.
According to Weisz, “the Jewish Indian theory was accepted by scholars such as William Penn and was the subject of written correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson more than 100 years later.”
Unfortunately, like the echo of replacement theology in the the Pilgrims replacing the Israelites of the Exodus story, this notion that the American Indians were descended from the Ten Tribes was overshadowed by the Puritans efforts toward converting the very people the Bible teaches were supposed to be reunited with the rest of the Jewish world.