Strangers and Pilgrims (and the American Turkey)

Strangers and Pilgrims ©WikiC

Strangers and Pilgrims ©WikiC

Strangers and Pilgrims

by James J. S. Johnson

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  (Hebrews 11:3)

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.  (1st Peter 2:11)

The phrase “strangers and pilgrims” occurs twice in the New Testament (KJV), in Hebrews 11:3 and in 1st Peter 2:11, as quoted above.

The English word “pilgrim” is a translation of the New Testament Greek noun parepidêmos, which refers to a foreigner who immigrates as a settler, taking up residence in a new land, beside the original inhabitants of that place.  A similar thought appears in 1st Peter 1:1, which refers to believers who are “strangers”, dispersed (“scattered”) like seeds in foreign lands belonging to other peoples.

Even today Christians live in and among lands dominated by nonbelievers (Psalm 73:12).  Because we are “in” the world, yet not “of” the world (see John 17:14-17), we live “near” our non-Christians neighbors, yet our Christ-focused lives are noticeably separate from “the world” (e.g., in our beliefs, priorities, moral values, etc.).

A similar word appears in the Old Testament, translated as “pilgrimage” (Hebrew: magûr, derived from the Hebrew verb gûr, meaning to “sojourn” or “migrate”). The noun “pilgrimage” appears in Genesis 47:9 (twice); Exodus 6:4; and Psalm 119:54.  [See Young’s Analytical Concordance, page 752, column 3.]

Like the English Pilgrims of old, our “pilgrimage” is a holy journey, through this earthly lifetime, adventurously walking with our great God, in spiritual fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ.  That “pilgrimage” is an ongoing  witness to the watching world (1st Corinthians 4:9)  – because we each live our lives in the presence of observing nonbelievers “near” us, whose lives are spiritually separate from us (Daniel 5:22-23).

During Thanksgiving season, in America, we remember God’s historic providence at Plymouth Plantation, which was celebrated by a thanksgiving feast, a sacred occasion where the Pilgrims (a/k/a “Separatists”) shared their harvest bounty with many local Indian tribesmen, who themselves contributed quite a bit of wild game to the festive event.

Strangers and Pilgrims ©WikiC

The American Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).

But is there any historical record of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feast (AD1621) really featuring wild turkey?

Strangers and Pilgrims ©WikiC

Yes.  One of the original Pilgrims, William Bradford, kept a careful chronicle of the important events at Plymouth, and he reported the context of the Pilgrim’s harvest-time during the fall of AD1621:

[During the autumn of AD1621 the Plymouth Pilgrims, with the help of Squanto] found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty.  For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion.  All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees).  And besides waterfowl there was a great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc.  Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.  Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

Quoting  William Bradford,  Of Plimouth Plantation  1620-1647  (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989; edited by Samuel Eliot Morison), page 90.

Strangers and Pilgrims ©WikiC

But it was another Pilgrim, Edward Winslow, who reported (within a letter dated December 11th of AD1621) on the specific activities at the Pilgrim’s historic Thanksgiving feast that season:

Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling (i.e., hunting wild birds, such as turkeys, quail, etc.), so that we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.  They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week.  At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms [i.e., used their firearms for target practice], many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their [i.e., the Wampanoag tribe’s] greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.  And they went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor and upon the Captain [Miles Standish] and others.

Quoting Edward Winslow, in Mourt’s Relation, pages 60 et seq., as quoted by Samuel Eliot Morison in Footnote 8 on page 90 of Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647 (noted above).

The first Thanksgiving was spontaneous.  Years later the Pilgrims celebrated other days of thanksgiving, sometimes at the direction of the colonial governor. [See above, William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, at page 132.]

By combining William Bradford’s report of the “wild turkeys” (as the most notable wild-fowl hunted by the Pilgrims) with Edward Winslow’s report of the wild fowl hunting for the first Thanksgiving feast, we can fairly conclude that America’s wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) rightly belongs as part of the American Thanksgiving feast tradition.

But Thanksgiving is not just about being thankful for harvested food  –  we should also be thankful as “pilgrims and strangers” who are now living “in” the world, yet not “of” the world, because our true citizenship is actually in Heaven (Philippians 3:20), where our Lord Jesus Christ, Who Himself is our greatest Blessing, is seated at the right hand of God our Heavenly Father  –  until the day He returns, as King, to the world that He created.   Maranatha!


More Thanksgiving post coming.

More James J. S. Johnson’s Articles


7 thoughts on “Strangers and Pilgrims (and the American Turkey)

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