Puritans! These somber men in black hats inhabit such a unique mythical space in the American imagination they rarely avoid an accusing finger or two. Americans are said to have sexual hang-ups? It’s because of the Puritans. Americans, on average, tend to be more religious than other Western people? Puritans, that’s why. Americans read the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, which depicts a post-rapture world, and consider this the end time? Why here, too, stand the Puritans, holding their William Tyndale-inspired Geneva Bibles close as they prepare to hand out a scarlet letter to a young woman or, even better, burn her as a witch.The problem with this lively understanding of the American mind is not that it isn’t interesting – simplistic, pop history with it’s clear parceling of good, evil and action scenes usually is. It’s just untrue, which makes it a stumbling block to understanding. If the Puritans really did plough such a deep burrow in the soil of the new world to shape the future harvests of generations, making fun of farming chores won’t help us understand it.In January 2019, at a special conference on Post-Secular Perspectives of the Sacred at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, Philip Gorski, a professor of sociology at Yale University, smiled as he quoted journalist Jim Sleeper, who described the Puritans as “America’s very first serious people.” Noted for his in-depth studies of Dutch and Prussian Calvinism, the first rising up from the people and the other trickling down from the rulers, Gorski arrived in Israel to honor the centennial to the publication of Rudolf Otto’s Das Heilige (The Holy).