What: Two cultures collide in this Hebrew lexicon, printed in Europe but bound in the skin of an otter, hand-painted by an American Indian. It jostled in the saddlebag of David Brainerd, a legendary Christian evangelist.
In 1741, the wave of born-again enthusiasm known as the “New Light” movement inspired the Rev. Jonathan Edwards to give his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Later he became president of Princeton, itself a New Light project. Meanwhile at “Old Side” Yale, young Brainerd was expelled for New Light leanings and for saying that his tutor “had no more [divine] grace than a chair.” He became a missionary to Mohican and Delaware Indians, enduring wilderness hardships.
Brainerd founded an Indian church in Crosswicks, N.J., not far from Princeton, but soon started coughing up blood. He retreated to the Massachusetts parsonage of Edwards, to whose daughter he was engaged. Published after his death at 29, his diary became a worldwide evangelical classic.
Edwards’ descendants treasured the 1645 otterskin lexicon as a relic of Brainerd. Its author, Johann Buxtorf, was one of the most important Christian scholars of Judaism of his day.
Where: Jonathan Edwards Collection, Rare Books Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library