Puritanism and the Wilderness: The Intellectual Significance of the New England Frontier, 1629-1700

By Peter N. Carroll | Go to book overview

PART II
THE SYMBOLIC WILDERNESS

WHILE the Puritans obviously lacked direct knowledge of the New World prior to colonization, they possessed nevertheless elaborate resources to interpret the meaning of their endeavors. Biblical references to the wilderness are manifold, and the Puritans well understood the significance of the wilderness in historical Christianity. Such metaphors provided the founders of New England with adequate standards to assess their wilderness adventure in America.

The wilderness of the Old Testament is often depicted as a desert or wasteland. In Exodus, the Lord led the Israelites through these and areas in order to test their faith. The difficulties and hardships of this journey afforded the Puritans a useful precedent for explaining their problems in America. By viewing themselves as the children of Israel, the Puritans saw the hazards of settlement as part of a divine plan to purge the colonists of their iniquities before they could enter the Promised Land. The Puritans' need to surmount these temptations, moreover, constituted an important part of the moral battle against Satanic forces. Only by defeating the forces of evil concealed in the wilderness could the settlers of New England hope for salvation among the Elect.

Although a time of trial and temptation, the forty-year sojourn in the wilderness also signified an escape from the persecutions of Egypt. The concept of the wilderness as a sanctuary from worldly corruption persisted in Christian thought and influenced, in fundamental ways, the Puritans' understanding

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Puritanism and the Wilderness: The Intellectual Significance of the New England Frontier, 1629-1700
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Two Worlds 5
  • Chapter I - The Good Land 7
  • Chapter II - Sad Stormes and Wearisom Dayes 27
  • Chapter III - A New World 45
  • Part II - The Symbolic Wilderness 61
  • Chapter IV - A Sorrowful Estate 65
  • Chapter V - A Place of Safetie 87
  • Chapter VI - The Pleasant Gardens of Christ 109
  • Part III - A Wilderness Society 127
  • Chapter VII - The Welfare of This Commonwealth 131
  • Chapter VIII - The Unity of the English Colonyes 161
  • Chapter IX - The Further Improvement of the Wildernes 181
  • Chapter X - A Smart Rod and Severe Scourge 199
  • Epilogue 223
  • Selected Bibliography 225
  • Index 241
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