How Moses Invented Thanksgiving

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It's that traditional time once again to pay tribute to the pointy-hatted immigrants who gave us the holiday Americans so enjoy. But Thanksgiving, bless the Pilgrims, may have less to do with peace, love and puritanism than with another icon who's had "his fingerprints are all over our turkeys" for the last 3,000 years. We're speaking, of course, of the man who brought the Israelites to the promised land: Moses.

In a Huffington Post essay, Bruce Feiler, not-coincidentally the author of How the Story of Moses Shaped America, makes the case that the age-old story of the prophet is the foundation for the contemporary American national holiday. His reasoning goes something like this: the tale of how the Israelites escaped the clutches of the Egyptians (through the Red Sea, into the wilderness and finally to the "promised land" of Canaan) was retold by countless generations of Christians. And by the time the separatist movement decided to leave England, these pilgrims "saw themselves as fulfilling this biblical story."

As they set sail on the Mayflower (with Bibles emblazoned with images of Moses) they referred to themselves as the "chosen people" fleeing the "pharaoh" of the English monarch. "And when they got to Cape Cod, they thanked God for letting them pass through their fiery Red Sea," Fieler recounts.

So just remember, he entreats, "if your gathering threatens to descend into a familiar fracas among different faiths, factions and political persuasions," remember the Biblical origins of this "most secular of American holidays." Perhaps "Moses, precisely because he has been used by believers and non-believers alike, Republicans and Democrats, Jews, Catholics and Protestants, may be the one figure who can unite the family and allow them all to enjoy their pumpkin pie."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.