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History of Yale

History of Yale – The Founders
The history of Yale College and University begins in the mid-1600s when some Puritans broke away from the Massachusetts colony and formed their own Bible-based settlement in the Hartford area of Connecticut. By the turn of the eighteenth century, some of these Puritans settled in New Haven. In 1700, ten clergyman, all of whom graduated from Harvard University, stood around a table and donated their books so that a new college could be started in order to train future ministers.

Known as “The Founders” in the history of Yale College and University, each of the ten Congregationalist ministers (Samuel Andrew, Thomas Buckingham, Israel Chauncy, Samuel Mather, James Noyes, James Pierpont, Abraham Pierson, Noadiah Russell, Joseph Webb, and Timothy Woodbridge) said: “I give these books for the founding of a college in this colony.”1

History of Yale – The Endowment
The history of Yale continues a year later when the General Assembly of Connecticut established a charter for the school. It was named after a wealthy Puritan who made his fortune in international trade. Philanthropist Elihu Yale (1649-1721) made generous donations to “churches, schools, and missionary societies.”2 Mr. Yale was born in Boston, but was uprooted to England when he was three-years-old. Later, he donated books and other valuable resources to the Congregationalists of Connecticut. For this endowment, Yale College and University was named after him.

History of Yale – The Foundation
The history of Yale was grounded in the two widespread intellectual movements of the founding period, the Great Awakening and the Enlightenment. Thus, Yale College and University was focused on religious and scientific specialties. Along with Latin and Greek, Hebrew was considered a classic language in the theology curricula of New England divinity schools. Ezra Stiles, an early president of Yale, was so committed to the study of Hebrew at the College that he was responsible adding the words “Urim” and “Thummim” to the Yale seal. Urim (“lights”) and Thummim (“perfections”) were special gemstones carried by the high priest of Israel in the “ephod” of his priestly garments. There was a mystical, spiritual element to the Urim and Thummim, but it’s unclear how and when these stones were actually used in ancient Jewish rituals.

At one point in the history of Yale, the Hebrew motto was clarified to mean, "Christ the Word and Interpreter of the Father, our light and perfection.” Later, the concept of the "Old Light" took on a new meaning. Math and metaphysics had to coexist with theology and ethics, so Yale's leadership began translating Urim V'Thummim to Lut et Veritas. The commitment was that Yale College and University would offer “the essentials of proper learning: the light of liberal education and the truth of an old New England religious tradition.” Thus, the current Yale motto: “Light and Truth.”

History of Yale – Lost Roots
The history of Yale is outwardly Christian, and it remained that way for the first two and a half centuries after its formation. There are still some Christian remnants there. William F. Buckley, Jr. caused quite a scandal in the early 1950s when he wrote a book, God, Man, and Yale, essentially documenting that Yale had largely jettisoned its Christian roots. This was news to some people; hence, the uproar.

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Rendered with permission from The Book that Made America Great: How the Bible Formed Our Nation, Jerry Newcombe (Nordskog Publishing, 2009). Compliments of Jerry Newcomb. All rights reserved in the original.

1 George Bancroft, History of the United States of America, From the Discovery of the Continent (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1890), 1:361.

2 Elihu Yale, entry in World Book Encyclopedia (Chicago: World Book, Inc., 1997), 21:551.

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