Eventually, it dawned upon the scholars that the new continent caused a very peculiar problem: Where did the Americans come from?
The Bible is very specific on the origins of species. Some 1656 years after the creation most life on earth was reset when "every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground" (Gen 7:23), save the people and animals on Noah's ark. We all come from the slopes of Mount Ararat. Since those events took place around 2384 BC (Ussher's chronology), it gave less than 4000 years for mankind to spread to and across the Americas, build civilizations etc.
How this emigration took place was puzzling, given the primitive vessels that must have been used; had it not been for the obvious facts it would have been hard to believe it could have been possible. But when did it happen? And from where did the emigrants come?
From the middle of the 16th century, a number of more or less well conceived origins were proposed: The Indians came from Spain, Palestine, Greece, China, Atlantis... Or perhaps Carthage, which was the most popular candidate for a long time. However, the suggestion that was much later believed to be the most popular one, was anything but:
One puzzling aspect of the early thinking concerning Indian origins is the lack of serious consideration of the possibility that the Indians descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. "This truly monkish theory...," this "lunatic fancy, possible only to men of a certain class, which in our time does not multiply" (Baldwin, 1871:166-167), is generally believed to have been the most obvious and thus the earliest explanation of men in America (Wauchope, 1962:3).
On the contrary, this writer was unable to locate any early explorers and historians who expressed that idea in writing. There, however, hints scattered throughout the early literature which indicate that the opinion that the Indians were descendants of the Hebrews was current and discussed, even if no author did accept it.- Lee E. Huddleston, Origins of the American Indians: European Concepts, 1492-1729 (Institute of Latin American Studies, 1967), p 33
Note that the suggested Palestinian ancestors were not the Ten Lost Tribes but Caananites. That would explain why no Indians had found God. It would also place them under the "Curse of Caanan": "God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant" (Gen 9 27). This was used to justify why the Israelites could do as they pleased with the Canaanites, and much later used to justify why black people could be kept as slaves.
Another myth regarding the early ideas of the origins of the Indians is still widespread. Here's a modern example:
When the Europeans arrived in the "New World" the native inhabitants were strange to them. Initial opinions ranged regarding what to make of the "Indians." While Spanish priest Bartolomé de Las Casas was sympathetic to Native Americans, Spanish scholar Juan Gines de Sepúlveda argued that they might not even be human.
Major reasons offered by Europeans for why Indians were not human:- RationalWiki: Native Americans and Christianity
- They seemed incapable of embracing European notions of reason;
- Their passions and brutality made them only slightly better than animals;
- They could not master the “Arts of civil Life & Humanity.”
- Their sexuality was "animalistic" (as compared to the plain-old missionary position procreative sex that Christian missionaries held up as an ideal)
- They chose to show a little skin, and not cover their bodies like "decent" God-fearing people.
Here's what Huddleston had to say about it almost 50 years ago:
The assumption that the early Spaniards thought the Indians somehow "nonhuman" is evidently widespread (De Camp, 1954:30). But so far as can be determined from the literature published at the time, the impression is a wholly false one. The source of such an impression is unclear, but it apparently stemmed from a misunderstanding of the controversy over the ability of the Indians to understand and accept the Cristian faith, and their ability to reason.- Ibid, p 14