Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nourishment Spiritual and Temporal

While we're on the subject of Mary Rowlandson:

I recently asked my U.S. History survey classes to read most of Rowlandson's captivity narrative, and to check whether any of them had actually done the reading, I asked which book of the Bible Rowlandson most frequently cited in her memoir. (Mrs. Rowlandson wrote that one of her captors gave her a Bible he'd plundered from an English settlement, and that it provided her with much solace during her ordeal.) The correct answer was Psalms - 15 citations in all. In the process of determining the answer, I calculated that there were 42 direct quotes or paraphrases of Judeo-Christian scripture in "The Sovereignty and Goodness of God," as follows:

Psalms: 15
Isaiah: 5
Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Job, Luke, Micah, I Samuel: 2 each
Corinthians, Exodus, Genesis, Hebrews, Hezekiah, Judges, II Kings, Proverbs, II Samuel, II Thessalonians: 1 each

That most of Rowlandson's citations (all but five, by my count) were from the Old Testament need not surprise us. Quite apart from its length relative to the New Testament, the first part of the Bible impressed the Puritans because they saw themselves as the new Children of Israel, to the extent that they described their relationship with God as a covenant, viewed their American settlements as a new Zion, and modeled their first law code after passages from Exodus.

While noting Mary Rowlandson's dependence on the Bible for spiritual sustenance, I suspect my students were more impressed with, or at least moved by, her description of the earthly foodstuffs she and her half-starved Indian captors choked down. These included tree bark broth, horse liver, peas, cornmeal mush, acorns, horse's guts, chestnuts, bear meat, biscuits, and horse's leg broth. "Many times," Rowlandson wrote in her memoir, "they would eat that that a hog or a dog would hardly touch," and she herself recalled that "now that was savory to me that one would think...[would] turn the stomach of a brute creature." Hunger is the best sauce.


Ian Kammann said...


Dave Nichols said...

Ah. Thank you for the correction. Rowlandson's actual quote was "I could tell the Lord, as Hezekiah, 'Remember now O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth.'" That's actually from Isaiah, Chapter 38, verse 3 (I think).

Jennifer said...

For my first TA assignment at Notre Dame, I taught Rowlandson's narrative. Unfortunately, we discussed old Mary on the Friday before the first home football game of the season. After my class gave me obligatory answers to my questions about women's roles in colonial society, religion, class, and authorship, I asked my freshmen what they thought of the narrative. This was their reply:

Them: "Mary Rowlandson is just Rudy."
Me: "How so?"
Them: "She's the underdog, but Mary's hanging in there. She's a fighter."
Me: "So you found her inspirational?"
Them: "Yes, we wanted to chant 'Rudy, Rudy, Rudy!' You wanted her to be freed and then she is. Just like when Rudy finally plays in a football game."
Me: "You liked her? And you believe captivity narratives are analogies for Notre Dame football?"
Them: "Yes, she's just like Rudy."

This is what happens when you paint a giant touchdown Jesus on your library. Personally, I believe God has better things to do than follow ND football.

Dave Nichols said...

I suspect God spends a good part of Sunday afternoons watching sports, but alternates between American football, basketball, soccer, and cricket (which is very popular in India).

Jennifer said...

An astute observation, although if Notre Dame's performance the past few years is any indication, then perhaps the Lord is pulling for a different Big 10 team. Or maybe if some good Protestant shimmied up to the top of the Basilica and chopped down that giant golden idol, Moses style, they'd start winning again. Despite my encouragement, I've yet to convince a student to accept that particular mission though.