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5 - The creation of sacred errand

Exile and Kingdom: the redemptive significance of the Puritan Errand into the Wilderness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 September 2009

Avihu Zakai
Affiliation:
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Summary

ESCHATOLOGY AND APOCALYPSE OF THE PURITAN ERRAND INTO THE WILDERNESS OF AMERICA

Any discussion of the Puritan mission in the settlement of America, clearly must take into account not only Perry Miller's famous essay “Errand into the Wilderness,” but the revisions of his arguments as well. Such discussion ought to deal, for example, with the important contention that “the fathers may have founded the colonies, but the sons invented New England.” This powerful argument, along with other attempts to revise Miller's thesis about the presence of a well-defined and highly coherent founding Puritan errand in the settlement of New England, has led some critics to accuse later generations of Puritans as having created the “myth of New England,” or even to the bold assertion that

had the founders of Massachusetts actually intended an overarching Errand, surely it would have been a persistent theme in their many explicit statements of purpose, and especially in the tabulation of “arguments” by Winthrop, Cotton, Thomas Shepard and Richard Mather, and others. But it was not.

This important contention of modern Puritan historiography, that a conscious “invention” of New England and a deliberate fashioning of its “myth” was perpetrated by the Puritans of the second generation, inevitably raises serious suspicions about the very existence of any founding Errand on the part of the first generation of American Puritans who emigrated from England to New England during the 1620s and 1630s.

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Exile and Kingdom
History and Apocalypse in the Puritan Migration to America
, pp. 156 - 206
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1991

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