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Introduction The Quest for the Origin It was on a hot, humid day in the summer of 1832 that the discovery was made. For several weeks Henry Schoolcraft and his men had been traversing lakes, portaging through thick forests, and winding along streams in pursuit of their goal. For 290 years, the object of their pursuit had been a mystery. Others had tried, only to be thwarted by Minnesota’s impenetrable terrain and unforgiving climate. But this expedition was destined to succeed. Plunging down a thorny trail discernible only to the eye of their Ojibwa guide, crossing a shallow pond, and ascending one last hill, Schoolcraft at last caught sight of it: “At length, the glittering of water appeared, at a distance below, as viewed from the summit of one of these eminences. It was declared by our Indian guide to be Itasca Lake,” the source of the Mississippi.1 With this discovery, one of the last geographical mysteries of North America had been solved. The birthplace of the continent’s greatest river had been found. Schoolcraft stands in a long line of adventurers, historians, philosophers, scientists, and theologians who have been driven to discover. The quest for origins is a common theme in the narrative of Western civilization. A river is a mystery until its headwaters are found. A historical event cannot be comprehended apart from its 1. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers (Kindle Edition, 2012), 388. ix antecedents. And a natural phenomenon is indecipherable until the physical laws driving it are understood. Often times, great discoveries are significant beyond their practical value. For those of us living in the twenty-first century, the identification of the “true source” of the Mississippi might seem like a minor issue. But in the days when the Western part of the United States was veiled in mystery, such a find had enormous symbolic value. Knowing the geography of North America opened the door for new territories to be settled, new farms to be planted, new forests to be harvested, and new trade routes to be established. Our understanding of the continent was the precursor of its colonization. The principle at work here applies to much more than geographical discovery. In Western civilization, we have come to equate knowledge of the source with the ideas of freedom and opportunity. We are persuaded that the discovery of truth—the unveiling of false assumptions and interpretations—is the path to liberation. When we arrive at the ideas behind the rules or the doctrines or the laws that govern us, we are free to decide whether we agree or disagree. We’re no longer dependent on others to interpret reality for us. We escape deception, control, and manipulation. As for religious thought in the West, our watershed moment came with the Protestant Reformation. In its wake ordinary Christians, for the first time in history, were able to individually engage with the source of their faith: the Scriptures. The promise of the Reformation was that this “discovery” of the source would lead to liberation. Luther and others had argued that by restricting translation and discouraging personal access to the Bible, the Roman Catholic church had maintained a tight control over its teachings. The common people were at the mercy of the priests, who were no longer to be trusted. The church had adulterated the truth of God’s word. The Reformers argued that if the people could read the Scriptures for themselves, they would find no mention of Purgatory or prayer to the saints, or any other of the many encumbrances of tradition. If given access to the source, the pure word of God, they would find spiritual freedom. ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN x Five hundred years later, it comes as no surprise that we who are the heirs of the Reformation are obsessed with the idea of encountering the Bible at its place of origin. To decipher the original language, to find the historical author, to unravel the mysteries of ancient cultures, to engage the communities that produced the texts, to determine the historical circumstance behind every parable and teaching—this is our endeavor. We walk in the conviction that armed with a proper understanding of the Bible, we as individuals will need no teacher. We will not be at risk of deception or control. When we as individuals have discovered the original sense of Scripture, we will know the truth...


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MARC Record
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