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American Indian Religion: Parallels to Judaism

Parallels to Jewish beliefs

By Standford Rives

In the 1600s, missionaries detected similarities in some beliefs of American Indians and the Jewish people. In Chrysostom Verwyst's book Missionary labors of fathers Marquette, Menard and Allouez, he discusses  that "they observe ... some Jewish customs." He then explains an example: they do not use a knife to cut meats at certain festivals. When women give birth they do not sleep in the same tent with their husband for 84 days.[1] The same custom applied among Jews for 80 days.[2] In Mallery in his Israelite and Indian: A Parallel in Planes of Culture (1889), he explains among Indians persons with running sores were kept confined at a distance from others. This was true for Jews under the Mosaic Code.[3] Mallery notes a missionary, Adair, recorded cleansing and bathing customs very similar to the Jews were practiced by the Indians. At the annual expiation of sin, there was the cleansing of homes too.[4] One tribe followed the procedure of the scapegoat, just as the Jewish people followed.[5]

In Frederick Webb Hodge, Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico (1911) at 775, we read: "Antonio de Montezinos, a Marano (secret Jew), while journeying in South America, claimed that he met savages whofollowed Jewish practices. This story he repeated in Holland, in 1644, to Manaaseh ben Israel, who printed it in his work, Hope of Israel."

Mallery claimed that despite these similarities, it is not true that American Indians believed in a single supreme being prior to contact with missionaries.[6] Despite this, as Hodge mentions: "Certain identities and resemblances in customs, ideas, institutions, etc., of the American Indians and the ancient Jews are pointed out by Mallery in his Israelite and Indian: A Parallel in Planes of Culture (Proc. A. A. A.S., xxxvm, 287-331,1889), though the address contains many misconceptions."[7] Mallery's words were:
" After careful examination, with the assistance of explorers and linguists, I reassert my statement that no tribe or body of Indians before missionary influence entertained any formulated or distinct belief in a single overruling 'Great Spirit,' or any being that corresponded to the Christian conception of God. But I freely admit, with even greater emphasis, that an astounding number of customs of the North American Indians are the same as those recorded of the ancient Israelites."[8]
One example is the dress of the high priest in the yearly atonement of sin in Indian practices and the dress of the high priest in the same annual ceremony in the Hebrew Bible.[9]
American Indians also held the view about a worldwide flood. In Marianne Edwardes, Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology, she records the Antis-Indians in Bolivia had a "deluge myth," as she calls it. (Page 43.) The Arawok Indians of Northern Brazil believe a tree flowed water that flooded the entire earth. (Id., page 44.) The Macusis indians taught "the only person who survived the flood" repeopled the earth by throwing stones over his shoulder, comparable to Greek mythology. The Arawokis regarded God as the "Great Spirit." Id., at page 45. Athapascan Indians of North West America believe when a flood of waters receded that a lone bird gave them life. Id., at page 45. The Ascochimi Indians of California had a "flood myth which recounted the flooding of the world so that no man escaped." Id., at 46. The Carib Indians of the Antilles believed "excessive rains brought about a great flood, from which humanity was saved by the Ibis..." Id., at 47. And so on it goes on and on.
While the Biblical story of the flood exists in many cultures, the fact the Indians held this view, and practiced legal rules found in the Mosaic law, and held some beliefs about God similar to the Mosaic Code, suggests some connection between the Hebrew religion and the Indians of North America -- as mysterious as that might sound. It would at least seem that Columbus was not the first to discover America. Perhaps a culture infused with Hebrew religion crossed the Bearing Straight and found their way to North America.

Study Notes by Doug

An 1836 work by Barbara Allan Simon entitled The ten tribes of Israel historically identified with the aborigines of the  Americas --  by which she means the Indians - details parallels of circumcision, theocratic government, the law of slaves, calendars, festivals, religious observances, etc.

Also the article "Los Lunas Decalogue" Wikipedia describes a stone found in New Mexico that has a serious potential to be a copy of the Decalogue written between 500 and 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, there is controversy about whether it is a fake. Interestingly, one scholar dismisses its relevancy because there is no sign of Hebrew-peoples encampents anywhere nearby. But if Indian culture resonates with Hebrew-Bible practices, then perhaps that scholar would acknowledge there is a greater possibility of its genuiness. 
On the positive side, this article mentions the following:
The Los Lunas Decalogue Stone is a large boulder on the side of Hidden Mountain, near Los Lunas, New Mexico, about 35 miles south of Albuquerque, that bears a very regular inscription carved into a flat panel.[1] The stone is also known as the Los Lunas Mystery Stone or Commandment Rock. The inscription is interpreted to be an abridged version of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments in a form of Paleo-Hebrew.[2] A letter group resembling the tetragrammaton YHWH, or "Yahweh," makes three appearances. The stone is controversial in that some claim the inscription is Pre-Columbian, and therefore proof of early Semitic contact with the Americas.[3]

The first recorded mention of the stone is in 1933, when the late professor Frank Hibben (1910-2002), an archaeologist from theUniversity of New Mexico, saw it.[4] According to a 1996 interview, Hibben was "convinced the inscription is ancient and thus authentic. He report[ed] that he first saw the text in 1933. At the time it was covered with lichen and patination and was hardly visible. He was taken to the site by a guide who had seen it as a boy, back in the 1880s."[5] However, Hibben's testimony is tainted by charges that in at least two separate incidents, he fabricated some or all of his archaeological data to support his pre-Clovis migration theory.[6][7][8]

The reported 1880s date of discovery is important to those who believe that the stone is pre-Columbian. However, the Paleo-Hebrew script, which is closely related to the Phoenician script, was well known by at least 1870, thus not precluding the possibility of a modern hoax.[9]

Los Lunas Decalogue Stone after 2006 vandalization of first line

Because of the stone's weight of over 80 tons, it was never moved to a museum or laboratory for study and safekeeping. Many visitors have cleaned the stone inscriptions over the years, likely destroying any possibility for scientific analysis of the inscriptions' patina. Nevertheless, comparing it to a modern inscription nearby, geologist George E. Morehouse, a colleague of Barry Fell, estimated that the inscription could be between 500 and 2000 years old and explaining its freshness and lack of patina as being due to frequent scrubbing to make it more visible.[10]

Here is an article a friend sent me -- photographed -- that only in 1949 was recognized by a Harvard professor to be Paleo Hebrew. He did not me the name of the book ...sorry.Hidden Mountain 10 Commandments


  1. http://books.google.com/books?id=UJJ6AAAAMAAJ&dq=indians%20missionary%20followed%20jewish%20customs&pg=PA193#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  2. http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA19#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  3. http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA23#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  4. http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA25#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  5. http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA26#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  6. http://books.google.com/books?id=I4FOAAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA88#v=onepage&q=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian:%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&f=false
  7. http://books.google.com/books?id=ze4YAAAAYAAJ&dq=indians%20missionary%20followed%20jewish%20customs&pg=PA775#v=onepage&q=indians%20missionary%20followed%20jewish%20customs&f=false
  8. http://books.google.com/books?id=I4FOAAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA88#v=onepage&q=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian:%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&f=false
  9. http://books.google.com/books?id=EpV1AAAAMAAJ&dq=Mallery%20in%20his%20Israelite%20and%20Indian%3A%20A%20Parallel%20in%20Planes%20of%20Culture&lr=&pg=PA19#v=onepage&q=&f=false